March Break is no time to stop thinking about education

By MPP Bobbi Ann Brady

I hope all the young kids out there had a great March Break last week – the weather was amazing and as I drove around the riding, I saw many on bicycles and playing outside. As I drive, I do significant thinking about our education system because it is responsible for turning out the leaders of tomorrow. 

Shortly before March Break, I had the pleasure of meeting with representatives from the Ontario Principals’ Council (OPC). The meeting reiterated what I have been hearing from Haldimand-Norfolk educators regarding the serious challenges and obstacles they face each day in the classroom.

Despite government attempts to mend our publicly funded education system I feel as all that has been done is tinkering while concrete action needs to be taken.  The OPC folks were concerned about many items, which I will summarize below.

There are not enough qualified teachers. The shortage continues to effect learning, engagement, safety for students and staff. Principals’ feedback indicates staff shortages in all employee groups and negative results are obvious. Absent staff with no replacement on hand has led to cancelled or combined classes. It has meant hiring unqualified adults, using parent volunteers, and moving Educational Assistants (EAs) to classrooms and/or cutting back on supervision.  I was told 32 per cent of school leaders deal with daily staff shortages — what a way to start each day.

We all read about American horror stories surrounding school safety, but you might be surprised Ontario schools are not as safe as they once were. Considering there are less staff and trained safety professionals on site, there is a safety gap.

Of great concern to me is teaching for vulnerable and at-risk students is hobbled as Educational Assistants (EAs) get reassigned from special needs to general classrooms.

The Minister often talks about student achievement, which is obviously important, and the government has implemented some good legislation in that regard.  Last summer, the government directed each school board to post a Student Achievement Plan. It is a document that lays out how the board will work on the education priorities laid out by government.

Those priorities include:

  • Core academic skills, with a focus on reading, writing and math. 
  • Preparing students for success, with attention to providing students with “the skills needed to succeed in life.” 
  • Student engagement and well-being, providing a safe and supportive learning environment. 

Who could disagree with a focus on those three areas?  Not me. But the OPC told me the literacy and numeracy goals of the ministry are in jeopardy due to the inconsistency of educators in the classroom.

With all this in mind, I cannot say I was surprised when teachers, principals and students are reporting higher rates of stress and mental health issues.

The OPC had ideas the Ministry of Education would do well to consider. The one that stuck out for me, among their ideas, was the return to a one-year Teacher College degree to move new teachers more quickly into schools which would help address many problems right across the board.

Education is a subject I could write endlessly about but for now, I will conclude with this closing thought: the government could start listening to those on the frontline instead of the people sitting in downtown Toronto towers. That would be a good start to making positive change for students, teachers, administrators, and parents.

Bobbi Ann Brady is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk