What’s the deal with Ontario’s Education Changes?
By Davin Caratao
A balanced look at what in the devil’s been going on with Doug Ford, your cell phone, and more!
There’s been a lot of talk regarding the Ford government’s changes to Ontario’s education system, especially on the social media realm, where student-advocacy groups plan for walkouts and protests, and in traditional media too, where pundits take shots at either Ford’s policies or teacher unions, depending on how sunny or starry the paper is. But amidst all these strong opinions and political posturing, what are the facts? I’m here to make clearer this complicated subject that’s very significant to students like ourselves.
What does the government say they’re doing?
Just about nobody does anything they think is wrong, and those who do just about never admit it. This case is no exception. Lisa Thompson, the Education Minister of Ontario claims, “Our plan will modernize the classroom, protect the future of the education system and ensure that Ontario students will acquire the skills they need to build successful lives, families and businesses right here in Ontario”...and “modernize” seems just about right. Ford’s new plan would require those starting school in 2020 to have at least 4 credits in e-learning in order to graduate. This is a smart move, both in terms of cost and “modernization.” But then again, anyone who’s ever used e-learning has had somewhere between a miserable and an abysmal experience, and how much preparation for a digital future would using an html-only version of Google Classroom give you? The government has loftier goals than online courses, though. The plan is to increase the average class size in high school from 22 students to 28 students, to align Ontario more closely “to the rest of Canada” all while promising that no teachers will lose their jobs. A new-ish sex-ed curriculum has also been promised; a middle ground between the progressive 2015 curriculum and the obviously outdated 1998 curriculum, and new hiring policies are likely to be implemented, including a recommended hiring freeze. The government and their supporters call attention to a great deficit that ought to be filled (or ought not, depending on how much you agree with John Keynes), and this is a great way to do so. Many blame teachers’ unions and student groups for exaggerating these new policies. Let’s see if they really are.
Obviously, the teachers union is not too happy. The Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association predicts roughly 5,000 jobs could be lost due to the changes, and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation expected at least 3,600 of their own members to be affected, or 5,500 province-wide. These predictions are not to be disregarded; even if that’s an exaggeration, those numbers didn’t come from anywhere. Combined with the very real possibility of a hiring freeze, these grim predictions could come to pass. The changes may balance the budget, but the possibility that 20% of Ontario’s teachers would be laid off, is just as possible. A recent memo from the Education Ministry lays out a plan to cut roughly 3,400 teaching jobs in Ontario, leading to savings of $850 million, making the fears of teaching unions manifest.
What say-th the students? A quick glance at the official Instagram of the Walkout-Which-Shall-Not-Be-Named, @studentssayno reflects some of these fears and policy changes. The main symbol of the organization, an oft-shared poster with short summaries of changes around a hexagonal inkblot (insert picture) warns of severe arts funding cuts and restrictive policies that hinder the learning of students. Some of these facts may be exaggerated (Arts funding has been cut, but not mainly in education, mainly to the Ontario Arts Council), but there are many grains of truth to what they say.
Whether you supported the walkout or not, or if you side with the government or not on these issues, it is imperative to make yourself heard. Many current students will not be able to vote anytime soon; as the next Ontario election will be in 2022 and most students will not be 18 in time for the 2019 general election, but there are many ways to make your opinion heard to those in positions of authority. School and student trustees, MPPs and MPs can still be contacted by their constituents, of voting age or no. No matter what your opinion is, the walkout ought not to be the be-all and end-all for your views. Every one of us has some responsibility to make their grievances or support known to those who can enact meaningful change, so you should do so.