Ontario to strengthen ‘back to basics’ in education

By MPP Bobbi Ann Brady

The Ontario Government introduced legislation recently that will overhaul the education system, strengthen ‘back to basics’ and gain greater control over school boards.

There will likely be all sorts of public debate on this bill. I will say from the outset that changes are needed in our education system because I feel the system is failing our young people. And from what I hear from local educators, they feel the same. That’s not a slight against our teachers, educational assistants (EAs), or support staff – these folks can only deliver what they are mandated to. Further, teachers, EAs, and support staff are continually asked to step into roles they previously weren’t expected to fill. 

According to the preamble of Bill 98 – Better Schools and Outcomes Act, the legislation will refocus on student achievement and prioritize hands-on learning and skills development in reading, writing, and math. A new investment of $175 million will help boost Ontario’s literacy rates. Part of this plan is to hire 1,000 new teachers for specialized math and literacy programs.

These changes will allegedly better prepare students to succeed in life and work by allowing Ontario students to graduate with a competitive advantage and lead them to a good-paying job. 

The moves result from low and falling standardized test scores despite the government saying Ontario is among the top-performing education systems. Parents know it is not a top-performing system; we must do better. 

As the government introduced Bill 98 it also unveiled a new $690 million investment for the coming school year, which represents a 2.7 per cent increase over last. Per student, funding is increasing, as well as funding for transportation, mental health, and special education.

Parents will be looking for some of those funds to hire more EAs, as many know full well that students’ needs are being left behind due to staff shortages.

I am eager to hear from local school board trustees concerning training. Some may embrace this, while others may feel the government is insinuating they are not doing a good job. On the front of leadership and governance of our school boards, there are 700 elected trustees in the province responsible for $32 billion of our publicly funded school system.

That’s a great deal of responsibility when dealing with our money.

Consistency in the skills and training required to be a school board trustee is good, especially regarding ethical conduct and codes of conduct. Ensuring school boards are practical and efficient is vital to the schools it manages also being effective and efficient. 

Of interest is that the legislation, while a school closure moratorium remains in place, changes in Bill 98 will allow the Minister to direct a board to dispose of a site, such as an empty school. Some boards sit on real estate despite the land being required by another school board or for long-term care homes or affordable housing.

In summary, most of the changes in the bill, if carried out genuinely, will be a step toward a renewed education system. We have a long way to go, but if this government listens to the experts – educators and parents – we will hopefully get there sooner rather than later.

Bobbi Ann Brady is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk