It certainly appears that the Doug Ford government is targeting Ontario’s education system in its stated priority of cutting government expenditures.
It really started shortly after the government’s election to office, when it cancelled Ontario’s cap and trade program.
For whatever philosophical reason that was done, one of the consequences of the move was the cancellation of millions of dollars generated from cap and trade revenue that was to go to much-needed repairs and upgrades to Ontario schools.
Then, of course, there was the revamping of the post-secondary tuition system.
Ford eliminated the free tuition for low-income families and drastically reduced the grants available to qualifying students.
That’s going to make it more difficult for financially challenged students to access post-secondary education, creating a concern that education may only be available to the financially well-to-do.
Adding to those concerns is the impact of the tuition reduction that was proposed.
Tuition fees are still one of the main financial resources for post-secondary institutions; with less money coming in, we’re likely to see programs and student services cut back and possibly fewer students accepted into programs.
That’s hardly the scenario for creating a vibrant, innovative education system that will prepare our students to be competitive and successful in the global economy.
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But last week’s announcement from Education Minister Lisa Thompson that class sizes in elementary and high schools will increase may be a bridge too far for teachers and administrators alike.
The target that the minister stated, about 28 students per class, is a little misleading; those calculations arrive at that number based on a complicated formula.
The president of the Ontario Secondary School Teacher’s Federation, Harvey Bischof, told us on The Bill Kelly Show on Monday, that many actual class sizes could increase to an unmanageable 40 students per class.
Bischof says that will mean less time for teachers to assist students with special needs or those who simply need extra help, but to make matters worse, the ministry also intends to eliminate teaching positions in an effort to save money.
The government says it will be done by attrition, but teachers and administrators are skeptical.
The Toronto Board of Education estimates that close to 1,000 teaching jobs will be eliminated in its board alone; the Hamilton Board of Education calculates that close to 200 teaching positions may disappear.
With negotiations with teacher’s unions on the horizon, it seems that the Ford government is on a collision course with the teachers and the school boards.
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The Ford government’s education agenda will most certainly give Ontario a cheaper education system, but does it really think that larger class sizes, fewer teachers, and more obstacles to post-secondary education will make this a more productive system?
It’s not going to help our students if the government insists on 19th-century solutions to 21st-century challenges.