TORONTO – Ontario will require school boards to offer virtual learning as an option for one more school year, given the evolving nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, but will bring back standardized testing.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced next year’s funding allotments for school boards Thursday, including investments to address learning loss during the pandemic.
He said that while his commitment is to keep children in school, about 150,000 of Ontario’s two million students opted for remote learning this year and valued that choice.
“The priority of this government is in-class learning,” Lecce said at a library in Vaughan, Ont.
“There’s nothing more important to the mental, physical and social emotional health of a child than to be in school with their peers, with their friends, in front of our educators.”
The province announced that $26.1 billion will go to school boards for operating funding for the next school year, amounting to $13,059 per student, an increase from the previous year.
Ontario is also putting $175 million to tutoring programs to address impacts of the pandemic on learning, $25 million to reading intervention programs, $15 million to summer programs, and an additional $10 million for mental health promotion.
Lecce said the tutoring will allow kids in all publicly funded schools to access tutoring in small groups – five students on average – after school, on weekends, or during spare periods.
The schools boards will have flexibility in deciding who delivers the tutoring, Lecce said, whether it is a teacher, educational assistant, early childhood educator, post-secondary student, or community organizations such as non-profits.
“This is going to make a massive difference to help your children learn the gaps that have emerged over the past two years,” Lecce said.
The province is also launching a consultation on the potential addition of a “resilience and mental well-being” graduation requirement.
Ontario Public School Boards’ Association president Cathy Abraham said she is pleased to see a focus on student mental health, including the announcement of $304 million in staffing supports to address learning recovery, destreaming Grade 9, special education, and remote learning.
As well, Ontario said standardized EQAO tests will resume for Grades 3 and 6 after a two-year pause, and those results will form a new baseline against which to measure targets.
Some school boards had asked the province’s permission to cancel the Grade 9 math assessment this year, but the government said that making the test digital gives students greater flexibility in writing it, so it is the expectation that boards will offer that test this year.