Education under attack
op-ed by Harvey Bischof
Harvey Bischof is the President of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation
Ontarians have a great deal to lose if the Ford government cannot be convinced to change its approach to education. Widely recognized as among the finest in the world, Ontario’s publicly funded education system has a long tradition of providing students with the knowledge and skills they need to find success and contribute in a meaningful way to the social and economic life of the province. Publicly funded education is perhaps the province’s most important investment.
There is no dispute that the past fifteen years have been a period of continuous improvement in Ontario’s schools. High school graduation rates are more than 20 per cent higher now than they were in 2003.
Now, however, education in Ontario is under attack. The Ford government’s misguided move, announced in March, to increase average class size ratios in high schools from 22:1 to 28:1, and to impose mandatory e-learning courses on every secondary student, will have a devastating impact on the learning environment.
Over the next four years, Ontario high school students will lose 25 per cent of their teachers. That adds up to almost 10,000 teaching positions removed from our schools. Ten thousand fewer adults teaching courses, taking extra time to help students, coaching sports, and overseeing clubs and other student activities. Tens of thousands of course options will no longer be available to students. Thousands of support staff positions – professionals who work mostly with special needs students or students with mental health challenges – are also being eliminated.
Just a few weeks into the first year of this ill-conceived plan we are already feeling a profound impact in our schools. Across the province we’ve seen classes crammed with as many as 40 or 45 students. We’re seeing “stacked” classes, with a single teacher instructing multiple grades and curriculums – usually two or three, but in some cases as many as four – in a single period. Students with special needs have lost access to the support staff who gave them an equitable opportunity for success. Countless students are unable to fill their timetables or denied access to courses they will need in order to graduate.
As chaotic as things have been these past few weeks, that chaos will only get much, much worse over the next four years. By the time the 2022-23 school year rolls around, the cuts will be much deeper and the turmoil in our schools will have become unmanageable.
Students and educators, however, will not be the only ones to feel the negative effects of this government’s missteps. In June the Conference Board of Canada released a report entitled The Economic Case for Investing in Education. Their research found that each dollar invested in public education in Ontario generates $1.30 in economic growth. This positive impact is amplified by the fact that the higher graduation rates that come with more investment in education can save the province millions of dollars every year on costs associated with healthcare, criminal justice, and social assistance. Unfortunately, the exact opposite is also true. When investment is removed from the education system, as the Ford government is doing, the economy shrinks and costs increase.
While Doug Ford tries to undermine education in Ontario, the 70,000 members of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF/FEESO) are working hard, both at the bargaining table and in their communities, to protect the system and defend the interests of the students who rely on it. We’re talking to our families and to our neighbours about the devastating impacts of these cuts, and we’re making every effort to convince our MPPs that the government needs to reverse course.
The Doug Ford government poses the greatest threat in a generation to Ontario’s public education system. But OSSTF/FEESO has a century-long tradition of tenaciously defending that system, and we remain committed to doing just that until the current threat has passed.
You can learn more, and do your part to help save Ontario’s world-class education system, by going to HereForStudents.ca and sending a message to your MPP.