Students are calling for small classes to fix poor Ontario schools. Here’s our answer | Kate McInturff

Students in Ontario will soon be able to take maths, English and other courses for as short as 15 minutes at one of their high schools. After listening to students, parents and teachers, I…

Students are calling for small classes to fix poor Ontario schools. Here’s our answer | Kate McInturff

Students in Ontario will soon be able to take maths, English and other courses for as short as 15 minutes at one of their high schools.

After listening to students, parents and teachers, I have signed legislation that will introduce the first short course initiative in the world, allowing high school students to begin small-scale classes in math, English and social studies in coming months.

The short courses will be college-level grade 8 or 9, with Ontario students starting those courses as early as September. The courses will be offered from grade 7 to 10 for certain subjects, and at grade 11 and 12 for other subjects. We’ll begin small, first, with about 30 students in each course.

We have begun to meet with teachers to ensure the curriculum and teachers’ expectations for the courses are comparable to college-level courses.

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Students will begin to play a role in their learning by having a say in what material they will take, and by working together in small groups to test an evidence-based curriculum. Teachers will be faced with new learning challenges in math, English and social studies, just like they are with English language arts (ELA) classes.

We did our research. We listened. And finally, with students making up a majority of the number-one vote in public schools, we are making our move. We are asking for change, and we are proud of our choice to change. This is an expansion of teaching, but it is a change to what we know already can make a significant difference. It allows more time to focus on specific topics, rather than a one-size-fits-all curriculum, and it allows students to learn in a smaller setting.

It also offers the opportunity for class resources, such as digital worksheets, to be more accessible. Our statistics indicate that Ontario students go to school one hour longer than students in other provinces, which doesn’t leave students with sufficient time for activities outside of school that require longer attention and effort.

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We also have a teacher shortage in Ontario. This short course proposal will give some teachers a great opportunity to develop their leadership skills, and to mentor other high school teachers in preparing small classes.

Some will call it a step backward, questioning whether the time we’re spending on these classes would be better spent on their regular courses. Others will say it will be a missed opportunity to engage and excite students, especially those who are struggling.

But these teachers, and their students, are asking for change. It is the only option we have to develop meaningful short courses in high school.

Students are asking us to bring smaller classes back to public education in Ontario. It will take three or four years for every single high school in Ontario to be able to offer these courses, but so long as we can see through to the end, we will. If they don’t, we will stop offering the course, and others will come.

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