We all understand the importance of downsizing and cutting back on expenses when managing our own personal debt. Did you tighten your belt over the last few months to balance your budget after excess spending last Christmas? With that in mind it is easy to understand why the province of Ontario needs to manage well over $300 billion dollars in debt — essentially money they have borrowed from taxpayers and various investment vehicles like bonds.
This is the reality expressed by some taxpayers in the Valley who get angry as they watch our educators strike. Let’s take a look at the other side of the coin….. The sentiment expressed by our teachers and parents, not to mention the real cost of educational cutbacks to our rural students and our more vulnerable special education programs.
The one-day strike on February 21, 2020 by the four largest teachers’ unions emphasized the underlying issues of support staff, the adverse impact of larger classrooms on our rural teachers and our general student population. All of this culminating in problematic outcomes for our special needs students. Reality is, “… about a third of its 60,000 members (Ontario Teachers Federation of Ontario) work at a wide variety of other jobs. They include office administrators, custodians, social workers, IT staff, library technicians and educational assistants who work with special-needs children.” Click HERE for the full article in the Globe and Mail.
Educational Assistants earn less than half of what teachers earn and most boards require 16 students from a single grade to qualify for an Educational Assistant. In rural communities where we experience classrooms combining multiple grades we often do not qualify for an Educational Assistant. Research reveals other rural communities identify children with behavioural issues who are kept home half days as a risk management measure to ensure the safety of other students as there is no Educational Assistant to support children with significant challenges. Also, autistic children who are not considered flight risks are having trouble integrating into the standard classroom as they, too, are without educational support when rural schools don’t meet the urban eligibility requirements of the Ministry of Education, who don’t understand rural communities.
“All students require support from teachers, classmates, family and friends to thrive and benefit from their school experience. Some students have special needs that require additional supports beyond those in a classroom setting….. Special education programs and services in the Renfrew County District School Board (RCDSB) support classroom teachers in meeting the needs of our diverse group of learners with special education needs.” Special Education Click HERE to visit the RCDSB website.
Whether in elementary school or high school there are many kinds of learners. Some students are visual learners, some auditory learners and some are tactile learners. Our teachers, support staff and educational assistants facilitate different learning strategies to enable our children to succeed. Presently, some rural schools require teachers to teach elementary students spanning junior kindergarten to grade 3 in one classroom. Beyond that we expect professionalism in preparing classroom content, additional hours spent after school marking and provision of extracurricular activities that promote student health and well-being. As a society we want to be inclusive on so many levels but there is a cost.
“The Renfrew Country District School Board, for instance, was forced to cut about 30 courses and blend grades and academic levels into the same classroom at some of its schools this year. Grade 11 and 12 drama, music and guitar courses were eliminated at one school, while another didn’t offer any physics courses in Grade 11 or 12 and a third school cut French courses in Grades 11 and 12, offering e-learning instead.” Click HERE to read the full article in the Ottawa Citizen.
As a social worker I am aware of the varying developmental needs of different age groups. The residual impact of larger classrooms and online curriculum exacerbate the challenge of applying different learning strategies to benefit our rural student population. “…Staff (Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation) interviewed on the picket lines [say] they are concerned about the same issues cited by teachers: They want more support for kids with high needs and action on violence in the classroom. They oppose larger classes and mandatory online courses for high schoolers. They want full-day kindergarten preserved.” Miller, Jacquie; Feb 19, 2020; Ottawa Citizen
There was a time when one-room classrooms combined multiple grades, but 21st Century education requires so much more, when our children aspire to compete globally for a post-secondary education spots and need to learn in an inclusive classroom.
About the author: Elser Lee (Faith) Archer’s governmental experience both at the provincial and municipal level — the latter as a councillor — coupled with her professional expertise as a social worker and mediator, provides our readers with valuable commentary and insight. As a community volunteer, Archer has played a leading role in the Communities in Bloom success in recent years and has stepped up to ensure the Barry’s Bay Triathlon continued. She wears many hats including as a Rehabilitation Consultant and is an advocate for youth and people of all abilities.