Labour Day message from Ed Broadbent

While we can’t celebrate Labour Day with our usual parades and gatherings, I invite you to take a moment today to celebrate what organized labour has helped us achieve.

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‘Seamless Days’ mean Safer Days for Back to School

Every school day morning around 8 am, my partner or I drop off our four-year-old at daycare. He loves his daycare...we love his daycare. He then attends school in the same building as he learns, plays, eats and rests throughout his day. As we rarely finish work before 5pm, like many households, having reliable school-based daycare is the difference between us working full time jobs and having a well looked after, happy kid or not being able to participate in the workforce at all.

“Seamless Day” programs, as they are colloquially called, combine all-day classroom instruction with before and after-school care — a structure working parents and caregivers have come to rely on. In 2011, Ontario began a three year phase-in of all-day kindergarten along with before-and-after-school programs where there was sufficient demand for the service. The model paved the way for young children to experience child care within their school setting, sharing the same school classroom. This provided the opportunity for children to have familiar surroundings, with the same staff and classmates -- unlike previous models with a school day book-ended by child care, where children go back and forth between two distinct programs run by different adults.

But the current “seamless day” model is not without its faults. 

In school boards across Ontario, before-and-after care program structures vary. Despite being mandated by the Wynne-led Ontario government, the program was not funded or fully-integrated into the public school system. Although they were required to offer the program, school boards were permitted to contract with third-party operators, mostly existing child care centres, to deliver the program. Parents were expected to pay full-cost, expensive fees that were beyond the reach of most families. And many gendered jobs in the sector remained poorly-paid, hard-to-fill, part-time positions. This was not the universal model envisioned or promised.

In the context of COVID-19, the fight for a fully-integrated, school-board-operated, seamless day, is essential. As the Province slowly opens up for business and school is set to resume, parents are scrambling to figure out what child care options are available to them - options that allow them to work while keeping their children and families as safe as possible.  

The Provincial government, education officials and school boards should encourage return-to- school plans with  ‘seamless day' programs and common “cohorts” to reduce the number of contacts a child has with different adults and children throughout the day. Coordinated planning between child care and schools would contribute to reducing exposure to COVID-19 infections and potential outbreaks. 

In Toronto, the parts of the city that have been hit hardest by COVID are low-income, racialized and immigrant communities. These findings should encourage the provincial government to ensure that child care and back-to-school plans factor in this reality, and respond with the necessary capital and program investments to neighbourhoods hardest hit by the pandemic. Creating new, directly-delivered extended-day programs in schools in these priority areas could help mitigate the very real, and elevated risk these communities face.   

A seamless day program, delivered by school boards, would also address the gendered, decent work gap in the child care sector. A fully-integrated model could replace fragmented, part-time employment with full-time unionized jobs with one employer. This model would also reduce precarious work in multiple workplaces -- the primary driver of COVID-19 outbreaks in long term care and other care settings across the country. 

“In Toronto, working-class racialized and immigrant communities are hit hardest by COVID. Government plans must factor this and invest in limiting exposure to high-risk groups. ‘Seamless’ school-based childcare is one solution.”

The Elementary Teachers of Toronto, Canada’s largest teacher’s union, along with education unions across the country continue to demand smaller class sizes and physical distancing; cohorting requirements for teachers and education workers as well as students; ventilation standards with respect to COVID-19; busing standards with respect to COVID-19; and flexibility for school boards to reopen when health and safety standards have been met. Early childhood educators, school bus drivers, occasional teachers, lunch supervisors and other essential workers must be fairly compensated with decent pay and benefits for the important role they play in creating safe learning environments for our children and families during this period of uncertainty.

Without affordable, accessible daycare that is aligned with properly funded school environments this September, we will unfortunately continue to see needless suffering in communities around our province and country. 

A safe return to school should mean a seamless day for our children and their families. My son and my family have had the wonderful experience of a seamless day and I continue to fight so that all children and parents - initially focussing in communities where BIPOC families are located - can experience the security and benefits it brings to every family.

The COVID pandemic has brought to light many of the inequities of our education and child care systems. No better time than the present to address the need for seamless day learning. There a variety of ways you can get involved and show your support for seamless days and other important improvement to our education and daycare systems:

Send a letter to your MPP: www.buildingbetterschools.ca

Sign a petition for smaller class sizes: https://www.change.org/p/ontario-demands-better-reduce-class-sizes-to-keep-schools-and-communities-safe

Check out the tools and actions provided by Ontario Education Workers United: OWEU

Join the Ontario Parent Action Network:  linktr.ee/safeseptember

Join Fix Our Schools: fixourschools.ca

Education workers are encouraged to download our School action toolkit here: https://linktr.ee/oewu?fbclid=iwar0f5_cxc4h9tzi_da7mnv4vbe1q5pp_gj14poe39yddcaxgidrzpnar5bc

Nigel Barriffe is an executive officer with the Elementary Teachers of Toronto, President of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, Board member of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network and organizer with Ontario Education Workers United. His efforts have been recognized through a number of community service awards including the 2011 Urban Heroes Award and the 2012 JS Woordsworth Award. He holds a Master’s degree from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

Those with young and school-aged children are caught in an anxiety-inducing parent trap. Parents are having sleepless nights fearing for their jobs while also being worried about the health and well-being of their kids. But we argue that it shouldn’t be this way. Solving the Parent Trap is a policy series on transforming childcare and education featuring ideas from Janet Davis, Nigel Barriffe, Marit Stiles, Beyhan Fahardi, Maria Dobrinskaya and is edited by Katrina Miller and Brittany Andrew-Amofah.

Getting it Right: Online Learning in Public Schools

Good pedagogy is good pedagogy. This is a frequently cited phrase that suggests if we focus on building meaningful relationships, cultivating anti-oppressive practice, and delivering effective instruction that engages a diversity of learners, we can succeed teaching in any setting including online.

But success is not dependent upon good pedagogy alone. Technology is not a panacea to the chaos COVID-19 has thrown public schooling into, come this fall. 

Prior to school closures, most students who took e-learning were enrolled in postsecondary institutions, which often replaced large lectures or were combined with in-person learning. Postsecondary students are young adults and exercise greater learner autonomy; the younger the student, the more support they will need to learn online. Especially for elementary-aged children, for whom online learning is not always developmentally appropriate, having an adult to engage in play-based, physically interactive activities will be an important component for success. 

Public schooling is distinct from postsecondary because K-12 education is a right. This means the provincial government has a responsibility to ensure every student has access to quality education, including online. It is a privilege to opt-out of in-person learning, but opting-out still places a burden on families who will need to provide the support that will motivate their children to log-in, stay focused, and complete tasks. Even in the best online classroom, some students will need additional support at home. 

Given our growing reliance on e-learning to supplement and at times replace in-person learning, getting it right must consider variables beyond good pedagogy to make it successful. This includes access to a stable and reliable connection, flexibility in structure to meet varying learner autonomy, and community support for a safe well-resourced space to work.

Closing the digital divide: 

As a researcher of online learning and equity in secondary schools, one of the most urgent challenges facing students is the digital divide. In rural and remote communities across Canada, only 40% have enough broadband coverage to meet basic service speed; this impacts First Nation communities acutely. According to ACORN Canada over 80% of low-income households they surveyed found the cost of internet access extremely high and reference the CRTC, which reports only 59% of Canada’s lowest-income households have access to home internet. Further, the growth of income inequality reveals racial divisions, particularly in Black neighbourhoods disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Getting it right is socially just, especially for students who depend on institutions such as public schools and libraries to access internet hotspots. Not only do students have a right to public education, but also internet access.

Flexibility in structure:

Motivation is harder to sustain online, where students experience isolation, distractions, and technical difficulties. While it is easy to narrowly define motivation as an intrinsic or a personal attribute, dynamic social and contextual influences, including teacher care and attention, impact students to varying degrees. Younger students and students who need psychological proximity to learning activities will require higher levels of structure and interaction with the teacher; they may depend on synchronous instruction. Students who succeed with greater autonomy and control may prefer asynchronous instruction and find highly structured classrooms demotivating. No matter the age, many students will require an adult to coach them through their work, which presents an inequity we must address if we are going to get it right. 

How are we considering primary caregivers and parents in our planning? They are a key variable for success but must receive support to manage otherwise impossible circumstances, especially if they are working from home or are unable to navigate the schooling system. Support for families includes clear communication about student progress in a language they are fluent in; access to tutoring and supplemental supports to navigate technology and curriculum; and connections to programs and services to ensure well-being. Even online, schools must be treated as central to community life. 

Community Programming:

Getting online learning right means connecting students to local supports, especially if there are barriers to accessing a stable and reliable connection, a quiet environment that is well resourced, and an adult who can oversee a student’s coursework. If public education is a right and broadband internet an essential service, we have a responsibility to ensure students have a safe and well-resourced space to learn outside the home. Primary caregivers and parents can not be expected to assume this responsibility. From community centres to public libraries, repurposed civic centres and underutilized schools, we must provide access to physical spaces with infrastructure where students can safely learn online. Creative programming can integrate online access to a wider range of supports, such as educational assistants, child and youth workers, guidance and mental health counsellors, to ensure we are responding to the needs of the whole child. Students are more than their academic achievement.  

Getting online learning right requires a rights-based approach that centres students most marginalized in the public education system; they are at the greatest risk of falling further behind. We are not only in need of political will and long-overdue investments in infrastructure to learn online, but also a transformation in how we envision traditional courses. Success will strike the right balance between instructor proximity and learner autonomy, and integrate community resources to ensure every student is safe, supported, and engaged.

Beyhan Farhadi is a Postdoctoral Visitor in the Faculty of Education at York University, a secondary teacher with the Toronto District School Board, and a proud parent of children in the public education system. Her dissertation research examined the relationship between e-learning and educational inequality.

Those with young and school-aged children are caught in an anxiety-inducing parent trap. Parents are having sleepless nights fearing for their jobs while also being worried about the health and well-being of their kids. But we argue that it shouldn’t be this way. Solving the Parent Trap is a policy series on transforming childcare and education featuring ideas from Janet Davis, Nigel Barriffe, Marit Stiles, Beyhan Fahardi, Maria Dobrinskaya and is edited by Katrina Miller and Brittany Andrew-Amofah.

Beyond the Fight for Safe Schools

With just days before schools reopen across Ontario, school boards, education workers, parents and students still find themselves with more questions than answers — scrambling to put together plans for a safe return.

Board after board reformulate their plans, to then have them rejected by the Ontario government, and re-adjusted to only have the Minister of Education send out more new, confusing directives. Concerned parents, in Ontario, have flooded the voicemail of Minister Stephen Lecce and Premier Doug Ford, and built massive petition campaigns. And in astounding numbers, those with resources [financial and otherwise] are opting out of returning to school by hiring private educators, thinking it’s the only way to ensure the safety and health of their children and family members. 

It didn’t need to be this way. 

Ever since schools shut down to slow the spread of COVID-19 in March, the need to find a safe path to return our students to schools has been paramount. After months of the government showing no progress on a plan and no meaningful collaboration with frontline education workers or education experts, as the Official Opposition Education Critic, I introduced a motion outlining an action plan for a safe September. That plan sought a comprehensive approach to helping children and their families return to school, including; guaranteed paid sick leave for all workers so parents could stay home with sick or symptomatic kids; hiring thousands of more teachers and other education workers to allow for more, smaller classes; immediate and meaningful investment in school repairs and upgrades such as ventilation, touch-free sinks; more funding for school busses; more support for students with special needs, and a plan to address the disproportionate impact of COVID19 on racialized and low-income communities, among other recommendations. So far, few of these proposals have been addressed, and what money has been put forward will barely make a dent in the rising costs facing cash-strapped school boards.

So why won’t Ford put up the money to ensure smaller, safer classes? We only need to cast our thoughts back to a year ago, as parents, students and education workers joined forces to push back against Ford’s attempt to cut 10,000 teachers, inflate class sizes and introduce 4 mandatory on-line courses in high schools. Under the guise of ‘modernizing’ education and ‘building resilience’ among students, the Ford Conservatives’ have been engaged in the troubling trend of deep cuts to education since the beginning.  And here we are. The Ford government has found money to cover so many things. $25 million to hire more police, and hundreds of millions invested in the private sector for job creation. But not what’s needed to protect the quality of public education. 

But the mounting public pressure is having an effect. Ford and Minister Lecce have been forced daily to face the inadequacies of their plan. Their attempts to show they’re willing to do more have been for the most part hollow. The government’s recent announcement to allow Boards to access their “reserve funds” [money dedicated to high priority initiatives], despite there being little to no money there for many of these boards to even access, is infuriating. And if there were some reserves for benefits and liabilities, the government has announced no reimbursement plan to avoid depletion of these emergency funds.  

“Advocacy for smaller classes goes beyond the fight for safe schools, it’s about fighting for what Ontario’s education system could look like going forward.”

Ford’s steadfast resistance to funding safer, smaller classes in the face of the evidence raises serious questions about what their long-term plans are for our school system. How else to explain their focus on “parent choice’ in the return to schools, when they know too many have no choice at all. By sitting back and allowing the system to crack and fold in on itself, Ford and his Conservatives are creating an Ontario where the ‘haves’ choose private options ultimately subsidized by the government and “have nots” settle for a system seriously undermined by public confidence, starved of funding. Betsy de Vos would be proud.

The fight for smaller, safer classes continues. We can and will force the government to reduce class sizes and invest in protection for our students and staff. But have no doubt: this is about more than pandemic protection, it’s about the very future of public education. Our fight is the fight for our future.

Marit Stiles is the Member of Provincial Parliament for Davenport, the Education Critic for Ontario’s Official Opposition, a former Toronto District School Board Trustee and a proud parent of two public school-educated children.

Those with young and school-aged children are caught in an anxiety-inducing parent trap. Parents are having sleepless nights fearing for their jobs while also being worried about the health and well-being of their kids. But we argue that it shouldn’t be this way. Solving the Parent Trap is a policy series on transforming childcare and education featuring ideas from Janet Davis, Nigel Barriffe, Marit Stiles, Beyhan Fahardi, Maria Dobrinskaya and is edited by Katrina Miller and Brittany Andrew-Amofah.