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System Modernization for 21st Century Learning

Pillar 5: System Modernization for 21st Century Learning

In OSTA-AECO’s Student Survey, students were asked to rate the extent to which they feel their education has prepared them for life (including work) post-graduation. On a scale of 1 to 5 (where 1 is ‘very poorly’ and 5 is ‘extremely well’), the vast majority (72%) of students answered between 1 to 3. As an institution that works with Ontario youth from childhood into young adulthood, publicly funded education has a responsibility to teach both theory-based knowledge and practical skills to its students. Through a variety of courses, programs, and curriculum changes, the Ontario education system can ensure that all of its students are aptly prepared to begin their lives after secondary school.

Civics and Careers

Civics & Careers is the combination of two mandatory half-credit courses offered to tenth-grade students over one semester. These courses are unique to Ontario and have the potential to expose students to some of the realities they will face once they leave the publicly-funded school system. Civics is a course that promotes civic literacy and engagement in youth, while Careers provides students with important information about post-secondary opportunities and managing their personal lives. These two courses offer applicable real-world knowledge that will affect a student’s civic and societal impact; however, there is much work that can be done to make a student’s time in this class worthwhile.

Careers: Structuring the Curriculum

The Careers curriculum focuses on three main points: “Personal Management”, “Exploration of Opportunities”, and “Preparations for Transitions and Change”.1Ministry of Education, Guidance and Career Education. (Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2006). These points are broadly-described in the curriculum and leave much room for interpretation, which can result in careers classes that are taught differently across boards, schools, and even classrooms in the same school.

A OSPES conducted by OSTA-AECO reported that 74% of students found the Careers course to be an expendable class that they would not find worthwhile to take if it were optional, even stating it to be a “waste of time”.2Ontario Student Trustees’ Association (OSTA-AECO), Ontario Student, Parent, and Educator Survey Report 2017. (Ottawa: OSTA-AECO, 2017).

To ensure that all students receive a beneficial and relatively-standard education through the Careers course,

Recommendation 5.1: OSTA-AECO recommends that the Ministry update the Careers curriculum with more detailed guidelines to achieve the outlined goals in the class, focusing on exploring various post-secondary pathways, the modern labour market, and applicable employment opportunities.

    Careers: Real World Skills

    A Careers course is only as valuable as the skills it teaches. It is the only mandatory course in the curriculum that focuses on teaching students applicable content that helps them explore several post-secondary pathways. It is meant to teach every student, regardless of their future endeavors, how to be a successful member of society in work and life after public education. However, a majority of the time in this course is still spent on personality tests and determining the student’s learning style, resulting in students feeling as Careers is not a worthwhile course for them to take.

    70% of students disagreed with the statement “my school provides me with up-to-date information about career pathways and job opportunities” within OSTA-AECO’s Student Survey.

    According to OSTA-AECO’s OSPES survey, it was found that

    70% of students believe that the education they receive regarding financial literacy is insufficient.3Ibid., 66

    As the only mandatory course in Ontario curriculum that focuses on potential post-secondary pathways and employment trends,

    Recommendation 5.2: OSTA-AECO recommends that the curriculum for careers teach transferable life skills including (but not limited to) professional etiquette, interview skills, personal branding, budgeting, paying taxes, and options for financing post-secondary.

    Civics: Creating Democratic Citizens

    Ontario’s youth voter turnout is at an all-time low, and many Ontario students do not feel ready to be voters.

    In OSTA-AECO’s Ontario Student, Parent, and Educator Survey, students were asked if their school prepares them to vote when they turn 18; 58% of students said no.

    The majority of the students surveyed did not feel educated enough to get involved in politics when they are of age, as the survey also found that

    42% of students do not feel that they DO NOT sufficiently learn about the different levels of government in schools.

    Every Ontario student should leave high school as an engaged and informed citizen with the knowledge necessary to become fully involved in the democratic process. Students need to leave high school with at least some basic knowledge of how Canada’s democratic system and its institutions operate to truly feel comfortable going to the polls. With an increased voter turnout of politically-informed youth, Canadian politics will in turn become a more accurate representation of Canadian society. Therefore,

    Recommendation 5.3: OSTA-AECO recommends the Ontario civics curriculum be re-evaluated and reformed to create more structured guidelines on what should be taught (e.g. branches/levels of government) and should feature content that reflects political issues and movements.

     “Since tenth grade, I have not had any interaction with politics. I know nothing about the different parties, nor what they represent, nor whom I should vote for. Being such an important part of Canadian life, this should definitely be more emphasized in our education.” Female Grade 12 Student, DSB of Niagara

    Co-op and Experiential Learning

    Experiential Learning is an umbrella term for student learning that happens “beyond the classroom”.4Ministry of Education, Experiential Learning. (Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2019). One of the most popular forms of Experiential Learning for Ontario high school students is co-operative education (Co-op). Co-op has been incredibly beneficial for Ontario students looking to receive a hands-on learning experience that gives them a head start in their career field of interest. It is also a highly attractive feature of numerous post-secondary programs as it provides students with specialized experiences that allow them to transition into high-quality and well-paying jobs within their fields of study. However, students should not have to wait until postsecondary to be provided with these immersive experiences.

     Changing the Credit Level

    Despite the broad array of benefits that co-op offers, many students simply do not consider co-op to be a valuable addition to their course calendar.

    The Student Survey conducted by OSTA-AECO found that 55% of students do not plan to participate in the co-op program. 5Ibid., 66

    There are several reasons for this, the most prominent of which being that all co-op credits are categorized as Open (O) courses. This poses an issue for university expectations, as university admission departments will only consider courses that are in the University (U) or Mixed (M) categories in their final decisions for admissions purposes. When a student chooses to enrol in the co-op program, they must tie their placement to a course they are taking. For example; if a student is interesting in gaining experience in the field of trades, their co-op might be tied to a college level technologies course.

    Similarly, if a student is interested in gaining experience at a local hospital, their co-op might be tied to a university or college level biology course. However, by categorizing all co-op courses at the open level, thousands of students are unable to justify committing two periods a day to working hard on a course which does not have an impact on their academic grade

    Recommendation 5.4: To incentivize co-op credits for students embarking on all post-secondary pathways, OSTA-AECO recommends that the credit level of co-op should match the course level that it is tied back to.

    Practical Skills

    Practical skills are affiliated with lessons learned in a classroom that will apply to every student’s life and ability to function in society. Ontario’s publicly-funded education system strives to set students up for a variety of post-secondary pathways and as smart, responsible citizens. This is accomplished through a dynamic curriculum and programs available to students to build on real-life skills.

    Digital Literacy

    As society makes significant technological advances, it is important to ensure that the students of Ontario are taught essential skills regarding technology usage in order to succeed within every aspect of the 21st century. According to a survey conducted by OSTA-AECO, 85% of students believe that technology is used effectively in their schools6 Ibid., 66 , signalling that schools have been able to use the advances of technology to better the educational experiences of students. However, there are very few ways for students to learn about using new technologies through the current Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) curriculums. Many students do not have meaningful opportunities to get exposure to technological education until their later years in high school, when many courses become available in computer sciences. To rectify this early on,

    Recommendation 5.5: OSTA-AECO recommends that the Provincial government engage in consultations with school boards and stakeholders to integrate instruction around computer science into elementary curriculum.

    First Aid and C.P.R.

    One of the most useful skills a student can learn is how to act in the case of a medical emergency. Although some students are able to learn CPR through specialized programs, every student knowing First Aid and CPR is an invaluable resource that has the potential to save lives. Through OSTA-AECO’s Student Survey, it was found that

    73% of students agree that CPR and First Aid should be taught as an essential life skill.7 Ibid., 54

    Due to the critical learning opportunity that this training provides and the widespread student interest in the program, the

    Recommendation 5.6: Grade 9 Health and Physical Education curriculum should be altered to mandate First Aid & CPR training as a part of the course for all students.


    Online courses, otherwise known as E-learning courses, are typically offered when there is an insufficient number of students or educators at a school to offer in-person classes. E-learning offers a virtual learning environment that works best for students who excel in self-regulation, have a dynamic schedule, or want to take a course that is not offered in their school and board.

    Issues With E-learning

     These online courses are used as alternative courses, and still, many students find that learning complex concepts via an online course is extremely difficult and may not always replicate the personalized support offered by traditional classes. Students tend to obtain lower marks with e-learning courses in comparison to courses taught in schools. Additionally, the online platforms used for e-learning can be extremely difficult to navigate and use, especially for young students.

     In OSTA-AECO’s Student Survey, students were asked to rate the extent to which online classes provide comparable-quality learning capabilities as in-person classes. On a scale of 1 to 5 (where 1 is ‘not at all’ and 5 is ‘exactly the same’), 75.4% of students answered a 1 to 3.

    In early 2019, the provincial government announced that they would be mandating that all students complete 4 E-learning courses in order to graduate. This new mandate not only provides issues with accommodating diverse learning styles, but also poses major equity issues as some students across Ontario do not have consistent access to the technology needed to complete their work online. Due to the severe equity issues, incomparable experiences students have with in-person classes, and lack of research which proves that students will excel at the same level through e-learning courses,

    Recommendation 5.7: OSTA-AECO recommends that the government reverse the mandate of 4 E-learning courses as a graduation requirement.

    “I have taken three online courses throughout my high school career. I find that the information I learn from an online class to be much harder to retain than that learned in an in-person class, as the content is fast-paced, has little interaction with classmates or teachers, and is often independently sourced and examined. I am also a person who prefers to discuss concepts within a classroom community while building relationships with them, and I am unable to do these things while in an online course.” High School Student, PVNCCDSB

    Standardized Testing

    Standardized testing is a tool for evaluation which requires all participants to write an identical test and is assessed in a standardized manner through the Education Quality Assessment Office (EQAO). All students in Ontario write an EQAO assessment which evaluates their reading, writing, and mathematics skills in grades 3 and 6. In high school, grade 9 students write a mathematics EQAO assessment (which sometimes counts towards their final grade) and students in grade 10 write the Literacy Test which is used as a graduation requirement.8Ministry of Education, What do you need to graduate from high school? (Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2015).

    EQAO was first established in 1996,9Government of Ontario, Education Quality and Accountability Office Act. (Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 1996). To keep up with the constantly evolving society present today, Ontario needs to ensure the system of standardized testing keeps up with these transformations.

    Graduation Requirement & Grading Tool

    Currently, students must pass the OSSLT in order to graduate high school. Additionally, the grade 9 mathematics EQAO is often graded and used in replacement of a culminating project towards a students final grade. One of the fundamental flaws of standardized testing is that it is only a snapshot of a student’s academic abilities with an unrepresentative baseline. The pressures and language of a standardized test may not be on par with what a student normally experiences in their day-to-day classroom environment. A student’s ability to graduate should not be dependent on a single assessment that is not reflective of the student’s strengths. To minimize the overall stress and significantly mitigate the impacts to a students well-being when writing these assessments,

    Recommendation 5.8: OSTA-AECO recommends that the OSSLT not be considered a graduation requirement, and that EQAO marks should not be incorporated into a student’s course grade.

    Content Modernization

    One of the defining features of EQAO is that students must learn a suite of specific terminology, strategies, and writing formats in order to be successful in the assessment. A prominent example of this is the news report project featured in the OSSLT, or the dull stories about animals students have never heard of before in the grade 3 or 6 language component of EQAO. As a result, teachers spend months in advance teaching to the test and instructing content and language that is not covered anywhere else in curriculum. Learning becomes focused on memorization, rather than transferable skills. Therefore,

    Recommendation 5.9: OSTA-AECO recommends that EQAO’s content and language be fully brought into line with Ontario’s curriculum and educational standards.

    “EQAO testing does not accurately represent a student’s full understanding of course content. It is frankly unfair to have a test—using lingo or terms that students have never been exposed to—go toward our final grade.” High School Student, RCDSB


    • 1
      Ministry of Education, Guidance and Career Education. (Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2006).
    • 2
      Ontario Student Trustees’ Association (OSTA-AECO), Ontario Student, Parent, and Educator Survey Report 2017. (Ottawa: OSTA-AECO, 2017).
    • 3
      Ibid., 66
    • 4
      Ministry of Education, Experiential Learning. (Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2019).
    • 5
      Ibid., 66
    • 6
       Ibid., 66
    • 7
       Ibid., 54
    • 8
      Ministry of Education, What do you need to graduate from high school? (Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2015).
    • 9
      Government of Ontario, Education Quality and Accountability Office Act. (Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 1996).