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I have been observing with concern the extended faceoffs happening in our school system. I believe it is time to streamline education in our province, and offer three suggestions for change, each of which is not only “doable,” but makes much better use of valuable resources.
First, there should be one publicly funded educational system in the province, not five. Ontario’s population is increasingly diverse with people arriving from all over the world. It no longer makes sense to support schools based on one brand of religion, in this case Catholic, with tax dollars. Furthermore, I contend that schools should always be places that bring young people together, regardless of religion, skin colour, ethnic background or sexuality.
There will be those who say that closing some school board offices and having fewer superintendents and directors will not save much money. It is, however, much more than that. My wife spent much of her career teaching in an elementary school in a rural southwestern Ontario village. There were two elementary schools, located about two blocks apart. One was a public school, the other, Catholic. As declining enrolment has hit, each school struggles, with awkward split classes and elimination of many programs. However, there are more than enough students between the two schools to have one truly viable entity. Only one principal and vice-principal would be required, probably one office manager, possibly even a single custodian. Wouldn’t it be better to have one school, close the other building, and save a bunch of money? As it stands, they are both in danger of closing. If that happens, the effect on the village will be significant.
My second suggestion is to integrate busing, all across the province. There are some school boards where elementary and secondary students ride the same busses, even a few examples where Catholic and public kids ride together. However, it’s not universal. Here in Simcoe County, it is my understanding that up to five different buses can go up and down the same road every day: public elementary, public secondary, Catholic elementary, Catholic secondary and French Catholic. Does this make sense? At this point, a word about French-language schools is appropriate. If we consider Canada to be a bilingual country, then we should have French-language schools where numbers warrant them. However, a student’s religious background should have no bearing on his/her acceptance in the school. Furthermore, there is no reason why French-language administrators could not share board offices with everyone else. Perhaps French schools could even locate in the wing of an English facility.
My third suggestion is to rethink standardized testing. Do we want to know if our students are literate and competent in basic mathematical skills? Obviously. I believe there is a place for some standardized testing. But does a test need to be couriered between Toronto and all provincial schools, then marked by teams of educators housed in expensive city hotels and meeting rooms? No. The tests should be centrally created and sent to schools electronically where sufficient copies could be produced. Classroom teachers could administer and mark them. Each school would then submit its results to the provincial testing authority for the calculation of province-wide statistics.
In summary, Ontario’s educational system could be streamlined and made more cost-efficient by having fewer buildings, administrators and support staff, better use of buses and simplified standardized testing practices. It can all be done, and furthermore, it would be good for kids. The money saved would maintain, even enhance what is going on in our province’s classrooms. It’s time.