What Lies Ahead for Ontario’s Schools
In the short time since the Progressive Conservatives have taken office, there has been a multitude of changes affecting the education sector which have put into question the promise that the new government will work “for the people”. Teachers, education workers and parents have expressed concern and disappointment in the choices the new government has made for Ontario schools.
As the new school year quickly approaches, these decisions bring uncertainty to Ontario classrooms, and could have major impacts on the safe and fair working conditions of those who work within our schools and their efforts to provide Ontario students with the learning environment they deserve.
Shortly after taking office, the government announced that it is cancelling a $100-million fund that was intended for school repairs. This cut comes as a result of Doug Ford’s campaign promise to eliminate the province’s cap-and-trade system. The province has an approximate $25 billion repair backlog at its 4,900 publicly funded schools.
School boards have faced years of inconsistent funding from previous governments, and their buildings have suffered from neglect. In recent years, the Liberals increased funding for school repairs, but even that only covered routine maintenance and the most critical repairs. Several boards have said that this cut would affect their backlog, and that planned projects may need to be reconsidered.
This cancellation will hurt the teachers, counselors, and education workers who experience first-hand the broken and deteriorating state of Ontario’s schools. Not only do these workers have a right to safe, healthy work environments, but their students need safe spaces to learn in order to reach their potential.
During the campaign, Ford repeatedly promised to replace Ontario’s sex-education curriculum. Ford’s government has decided to repeal the new curriculum that Kathleen Wynne introduced in 2015, and revert back to the previously used version – created in 1998.
A lot has changed in 20 years. The updated content of the 2015 curriculum includes discussions of consent, digital safety, and same-sex relationships. Many educators claim this is a necessary modernization; however, critics claim the material is not age-appropriate.
Rallies have taken place in both Ottawa and Toronto, protesting the turn back to the 1998 version. Many teachers, along with almost all the province’s English secular school boards, have said they will continue to address modern issues in class, regardless of the repeal. The head of Ontario’s largest teachers’ union, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), as well as their secondary school counterpart, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, have said they will defend all educators who use the modernized sex-ed curriculum in their classroom. Families of LGBTQ+ youth have launched a human rights challenge, stating the old curriculum will harm their children.
With only a couple weeks until the new term begins, Premier Ford announced the release of an interim sex-ed curriculum for teachers to use this September, as well as plans for a province-wide consultation process on education reform. Ford also issued a warning to those considering teaching the repealed content, suggesting there will be consequences if they do not adhere to the interim curriculum. The government is also launching a website for parents to anonymously report concerns on what is being taught in schools. Ford’s warnings drew criticism from teachers’ unions for bypassing systems already in place to deal with classroom concerns.
Not only do teachers and education workers deserve better communication and consideration from their government; it is their students who stand to lose the most with these recent decisions. Proper sex-ed is important for preventing sexual assault, STIs or unwanted pregnancies – and, with the updated content from 2015, discussions about gender identity and sexual orientation help make schools safer, more inclusive spaces for LGBTQ+ youth.
Soon after Ford entered office, Ontario’s Ministry of Education cancelled a project to update provincial curriculum documents with Indigenous content. Teachers were left in the lurch as sessions to revise the curriculum were cancelled last minute, including a session that involved responding to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
Ontario’s education ministry has faced significant criticism for this decision. The ministry stated it will continue to move forward with the curriculum revisions, but has not indicated when that would happen.
There are a lot of questions still remaining about the state of Ontario schools, and what teachers will do with the new curriculum. Workers deserve clear answers and greater understanding from their government about their workplace. Workers in the education sector are responsible for providing the best education possible to the next generation and the Ontario government needs to make this sector a priority.