Pillar 1: Enhancing Equity

Equity in education is an imperative that should guide every decision undertaken in classrooms and at the board table. The Organization for Economic Development & Cooperation, a significant standard for education achievement used by provincial governments and policymakers, makes this point poignantly. In a report on enhancing equity in education, they state “The long term social and financial costs of educational failure are high. Those without the skills to participate socially and economically generate higher costs for health, income support, child welfare and security.” A core operating premise for Ontario’s schools must be ensuring student success for all pupils, regardless of who they are or where they come from.

In the 2017 OSPES conducted by OSTA-AECO, 1 in 3 students felt that student’s voices had no impact on decision making in their schools. 40% of these students self-identify as minorities.

Mandating Identity & Well-Being Data Collection

Ontario’s schools currently collect a host of data, however, it is limited to basic school information or academic demographic data, such as EQAO scores and the share of students receiving special education services. While this data is essential for certain policy and programming decisions, for students from marginalized backgrounds it does not go far enough. As Ontario continues to diversify every year, many of these students hail from diverse backgrounds and require specialized approaches that will enable them to break down barriers to their education. However, to best meet the needs of students, boards and schools need to know where barriers exist. The basis for this approach can only be attained through demographic data that collects more detailed information on race, ethnicity, disability status, gender identity, sexual orientation, and broader indicators of parental socio-economic status.[1] By 2031, it is forecasted that about 40% of children below the age of 15 will be racialized. [2] As demographics shift dramatically, it is critical to meaningfully break down barriers from a demographic standpoint through developing the means to do so. By carrying out a Student Census in every school board across Ontario, boards will have a much better idea of the types of students they must serve. A census should include questions on, but not limited to, race, ethnicity, disability status, sexual orientation, indigenous heritage, and broader indicators of socio-economic status. Additionally, it should include questions gauging information on student emotional well-being, perceptions of school environments, and barriers to student achievement. [3]

Recommendation 1.1: Thus, OSTA-AECO recommends that the Provincial Government fully implement proposed plans in the Education Equity Action Plan and work with boards to regularly undertake a Student Census in every school board across Ontario that collects voluntarily-disclosed student identity & well-being data.

Supporting Inclusive Curriculum

Ontario’s world-class education system continues to be a leader in many different areas. Nevertheless, significant achievement gaps continue to persist in our schools. For instance, graduation rates for Metis, Inuit, and First Nations students continue to be anywhere between 11%-27% below the provincial average. [4]  Additionally at the Toronto District School Board, through a representative sample analysis by the Ontario Alliance of Black School Educators in 2016 it is estimated that 41% of black students did not go onto post-secondary education. [5] One powerful tool that educators across jurisdictions have employed to support students from diverse backgrounds overcome barriers is a culturally responsive curriculum. Focus groups with students during studies on the benefits on this curriculum have stated that through culturally responsive pedagogy, students are able to take increased ownership in their learning, and this “increases the overall level of student engagement, participation and motivation.”[6] Increased student engagement will lead to increase credit attainment rates across the board and further benefit student success rates.

Recommendation 1.2: Consequently, OSTA-AECO recommends that the provincial government engage with educators and stakeholders to integrate diverse cultures, histories, and perspectives across the curriculum from, but not limited to, African Canadian, Caribbean, Latin American, South Asian, East Asian and Pacific Islander traditions.

“One of the most eye-opening moments of my schooling came this year In my Grade 12 World History class when we did a unit on the African slave trade. I never truly realized the duration or scale of the slave trade until we covered it in class, and it makes me wish I learned more about my African-Canadian heritage at school.” High School Student, Toronto DSB

Advancing Reconciliation in Ontario Schools

One of the cornerstone recommendations of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission was 63(i), which recommends that Ministers of Education maintains an annual commitment to indigenous education through “Developing and implementing Kindergarten to Grade Twelve curriculum and learning resources on Aboriginal peoples in Canadian history, and the history and legacy of residential schools.” It has been proven that student achievement benefits from the diversification of curriculum, and advancing reconciliation in schools is of utmost importance. [7]

Recommendation 1.3: For these reasons, OSTA-AECO recommends that the Provincial Government restart curriculum writing sessions to integrate enhanced Indigenous histories and cultural perspectives across the curriculum to honour the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Actions.

Helping Students Build Healthy Relationships: Modern Health & Physed Curriculum

Health and Physical Education is a cornerstone of a student’s school experience, for it provides a rare space for open conversations on some of the less-comfortable conversations that come with learning about sexual health and development. For this curriculum to be effective, it must be oriented around the modern-day realities that students face today and be applicable to the diversity of young people and their families. Today’s youth are faced with new challenges that they must learn to navigate in a healthy and smart way. Some of these realities include modernized themes such as online safety, sexual orientation and gender identity, contraception, good decision-making skills, and consent.

Recommendation 1.4: Thus, OSTA-AECO recommends that the province crafts a Health & Physical Education curriculum that is inclusive of the wide breadth of gender, sexuality, family diversity in Ontario and reflective of the broad range of backgrounds represented in classrooms.

Creating Equitable Academic Pathways: Reviewing Streaming

A hallmark of Ontario’s schools is its system of academic streaming. Streaming requires students at the end of Grade 8 to pick their level of study, which is known as academic, applied, and open in Grades 9/10 and college, university, mixed, or locally developed in Grade 11/12. However, since its full implementation in 1999[8] , many Ontario students have been left behind. Through examining a variety of metrics and participation measurements, a staggering achievement gap exists between academic and applied courses. For instance, in the 2018 Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT), 90% of students taking academic English passed compared to just 39% of applied English students, which is a 51%[9] achievement gap. Furthermore, options for upward academic mobility are extremely limited, as a 2019 analysis by People for Education found that 47% of high schools surveyed found that students “not very often” or “never” transferred from applied to academic. Crucially, 77% did not offer transfer courses – half-credit classes designed to cover the content gap between academic and applied to facilitate a transition in streams within school hours.[10] Additionally, an analysis by the Ontario Alliance of Black School Educators found there was a significant overrepresentation of students of colour in applied classes. For instance, it was found that in the Toronto District School Board, 41% of black students were enrolled in at least some applied classes compared to 12% of their white peers. [11]

An extensive review of streaming considering the curriculum and instruction of the different levels of courses, support staff levels in classes, the process for course-level selection, and the accessibility of transfer courses, should be undertaken in order to highlight the issues with the current system in order to create a more equitable one. This review must overarchingly examine the significant achievement gaps between diverse students and demographic overrepresentation in the different streams.

Recommendation 1.5: OSTA-AECO recommends that the provincial government undertake an extensive review of streaming in the education system, while directly consulting students who have been most disproportionately impacted by the current streaming system.

Opening the Door of Opportunity to Post-Secondary: Restoring OSAP

The Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) is a financial aid program to help students pay for post-secondary education. As Ontario faces the highest tuition rates in Canada, OSAP is critical in allowing students in middle- and lower-income families to obtain higher education and graduate while lessening the financial burden on these students and their families. Through structural and funding reforms, OSAP saw a 20% increase in the number of low-income students applying and a 35% increase in the number of self- identifying Indigenous students applying. [12]

“As a student with financial difficulties, my financial situation limits my application options for post-secondary. While going to a local university, OSAP gives me a chance to attend classes without worrying about my tuition costs. OSAP also saves me multiple hours of working a minimum wage job. Instead of investing those hours at my workplace, I can spend my time participating in activities that benefit my community.” Grade 12 Student, Toronto CDSB

These changes ensured that every single student, regardless of their background or ability to pay, was able to afford post-secondary education. In January 2019, changes to OSAP were announced that would lessen grants offered to post-secondary prospective students. [13] These grants provided through OSAP have allowed students to be more financially stable in their pursuit of higher education and, for many, have enabled them to attend school. Following the announcement of these changes,

Recommendation 1.6: OSTA-AECO recommends that grants provided to middle- and lower-income families be increased to allow students from more diverse socioeconomic demographics to obtain a post-secondary education.

References   [ + ]

1. The Ontario Ministry of Education, Ontario’s Education Equity Action Plan. (Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2017).
2. Statistics Canada, Proportion of the population belonging to a visible minority group by age group, Canada, 2006 and 2031. (Government of Canada, 2015).
3. Ibid., 3
4. People for Education, Keeping Up the Momentum in Indigenous Education. (Toronto: People for Education, 2018).
5. Black Demographic Data Advisory Committee, Black Student Achievement in TDSB. (Toronto: YCEC).
6. Taylor, Rosalyn, “The Role of Culturally Responsive Pedagogy in the Preparation of Secondary Teacher Candidates for Successful Teaching of Diverse Learners: a Multiphase Mixed Methods Case Study” (2018). Dissertations and Theses. Paper 4255.
7. Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action. (Winnipeg: Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2012).
8. People for Education, Streaming Students: Excerpt. (Toronto: People for Education, 2015).
9.  Ibid., 3
10. People for Education (2019). Roadmaps and Roadblocks: Career and Life Planning, Guidance, and Streaming in Ontario’s Schools. (Toronto, ON: People for Education).
11.  Ibid., 7
12. Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities, Affordability of Post-Secondary Education in Ontario. (Government of Ontario, 2019).
13.  Lea Batara, Ontario is Making Additional Changes to OSAP. (Ottawa: The Charlatan, 2018).