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Province announces 'Back-to-Basics' math curriculum

'Shortly after we came to office we did what the previous government had been afraid to do - and threw the doors open to real, meaningful public and parental input into our education system'
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Ontario is implementing, what it claims, is stronger math, STEM, and financial literacy curricula, improved skilled trades opportunities, and a provincewide ban on cellphones in the classroom.

The move, called 'Education that Works for You,' was announced by Lisa Thompson, Minister of Education.

"We will make sure our students are leaving school with the skills they need to build good lives, families, and careers right here in Ontario while ensuring the system is both fiscally sustainable and respectful of parents," said Thompson

Education that Works for You, will "modernize curriculum, modernize classrooms and empower educators to better prepare students for the realities of today's modern world," says the government.

"Shortly after we came to office we did what the previous government had been afraid to do - and threw the doors open to real, meaningful public and parental input into our education system," said Thompson. "We heard from more than 72,000 parents, teachers, students, employers and organizations making this the largest consultation of its kind in Ontario history. The people told us what wasn't working and what we need to protect."

"The previous government left us an outdated system that did not prepare our students for the realities of today," said Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli.  The government is going to be investing in education and students in a way that is focused on student achievement and well-being."

The plan, according to Thompson, includes:   

  • Modernizing classrooms by expanding broadband, developing a new policy that will ban the use of cellphones during class except for educational purposes and modernizing the approach to assessment and evaluation with a renewed focus on equity across the province.
  • Introducing changes to education funding that keep resources focused on students in the classroom.
  • Supporting teacher mobility, greater transparency, fairness, consistency, and accountability to school board hiring practices of teachers.
  • Maintaining class sizes for Kindergarten to Grade 3, establishing a consistent approach to class sizes for grades 4 to 8 and aligning secondary class sizes more closely with other Canadian jurisdictions while introducing a new approach to e-learning and reducing pressure on school boards to put students in portables and split classes.

Curriculum reform will include: 

  • A new math curriculum that will focus on math fundamentals for all grades;
  • A renewed focus on STEM, skilled trades and financial literacy; and
  • A modern and age-appropriate Health and Physical Education curriculum that will keep students safe.

There will be clear provisions for parents who wish to exempt their child or children from sexual health education, and online modules will be available for parents who want to discuss sexual health topics at home.

The government says it is committed to discussing the key elements of the proposed plan, including hiring practices and class sizes, through a consultation process that allows partners to provide the benefit of their expertise, experience, and ideas.

"We welcome a conversation with any education stakeholder who is prepared to work with us in good faith to ensure our plan continues to serve the best interests of Ontario's students in a way that works for families and school boards and is fair to our educators," said Thompson.

"In January and February, we consulted with our partners and I look forward to continuing to work with them on this bold and transformative plan for Ontario's education system. Over the next few years, we will shift our focus towards helping our students build resiliency, as well as other relevant skills to create the best education system Ontario has ever seen," added Thompson.

"We will continue to look for better ways to improve student learning. We will continue to adapt the curriculum to address the needs of the modern world. And we will continue to take responsibility for every dollar spent," said Thompson. "Together we will build on a system that supports careers, promotes well-being and prepares every student for the future."

Take our poll: Do you think students today are better or worse at math than in your days at school?

Meanwhile, the Ontario Public School Boards' Association has concerns.

"The increase of the average class size in secondary from 22 to 28 students is dramatic and of significant concern. It’s too early to know the board-by-board impact but operationally, it clearly will be a challenge and teachers will be displaced.  The government’s decision to maintain class sizes in JK to grade 3 is appreciated, however, the flexibility offered by class averages versus capped class sizes is our preferred option.

OPSBA strongly supported the release of the new Health and Physical Education curriculum in 2015, which reflected health, safety and well-being realities faced by today's students. The updates, at the time, included healthy relationships, consent, mental health, online safety and the risks of "sexting”. The announcement today maintains the 2015 curriculum updates for the most part, which reflect the principles of equity, social justice, and inclusion and recognize Ontario's growing and diverse population. The delay in introducing certain topics such as gender identity could impact the self-esteem and well-being of students. In Health and Physical Education, as in all aspects of education, OPSBA highly values parents as partners in education and encourages parents to be actively involved."

Background Information


Jeff Turl

About the Author: Jeff Turl

Jeff is a veteran of the news biz. He's spent a lengthy career in TV, radio, print and online, covering both news and sports. He enjoys free time riding motorcycles and spoiling grandchildren.
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