Karen Littlewood is An Unyielding Force for Canadian Education
Few understand the ins and outs of the Ontario education system like Karen Littlewood. Littlewood entered her career with an honours Bachelor of Science in Language and a Bachelor of Education. She began teaching in 1991 and taught at the elementary and secondary level and also became a local and provincial leader. As the 11th female President of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) in the over 100-year history of the organization, Littlewood consistently represents the voices of education workers and students.
Littlewood is driven by her desire to make public education available to everyone regardless of their background or socioeconomic status. She is also a firm believer in the importance of solidarity and the role of labour councils. Her current position as the Vice President of the OSSTF led to her roles as a governor of the Ontario Teacher’s Federation and the Director of the Canadian Teachers Federation. She is also a member of the Canadian Council and Ontario Federation of Labour ‘Heads of Unions’.
However, in the last year, Littlewood encountered many barriers with the Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce. In August of 2022, Lecce claimed the OSSTF were demanding a ridiculous 52 percent pay increase. However, this claim was misinformed as the support staff requested the pay raise, not the teachers. This included custodians, secretaries, early childhood educators and youth development workers who, earning between $39,000 and $49,000 a year, were barely making a living wage. However, bargaining began a year ago with no changes except for reduced money towards education (with $600 less per student).
During COVID, the Ontario government received $2 billion of extra funding. However, this tax-payer money was given with zero accountability and was not properly spent. As a result, school boards are forced to dig into their reserves to find a solution. According to Littlewood, “Our members provided stability to the students of the province. We were there through the COVID waves providing that stability and the safe return to school so students had some sense of normalcy. Yet the government is continuing to not put anything on the table that would allow us to have a deal.”
The reality is that education is an essential investment because it generates wealth. In 2019, Littlewood, along with the provincial executive at that time, commissioned a report from the Conference Board of Canada on the value of education. Their data showed that every dollar spent on education in Ontario brings back $1.30 to the economy. However, since 2018 per pupil funding has been reduced by $1200, $600 of that in the last year.
Programs such as special education are cut to create a balanced budget, while the Ministry of Education refuses to invest. Littlewood understands education and support services are also a meaningful investment in the lives of Canadian children to “ensure we have citizens that are going out and joining the workforce and choosing a job for themselves and with all the skills and tools they need.”
Asides from her continued advocacy and bargaining efforts with the Ontario government, Littlewood also advocates for anti-violence efforts in schools and an Indigenous curriculum across grade levels. Littlewood’s persistent leadership is an essential influence to safeguard the futures of Canadian children and the well-being of education workers. Despite the complications of navigating a complex and frustrating situation, Littlewood’s years of experience, determination and expertise will create an impact on behalf of all Ontarians involved in the education system.
Littlewood wants to thank OSSTF/FEESO members for providing stability for Ontario students and hopes that the provincial government will recognize the need for investment in public education.
To hear more about Karen’s leadership and ongoing discussions with the Ontario government, check out the OttawaLife podcast.
For more information on the OSSTF, visit www.osstf.on.ca
Photo: Courtesy OSSTF