There is little question that the future is concerning for many public sector services. The Ford government is focused on finding “efficiencies,” and with each passing week, it seems, another public sector group becomes a target for funding cuts. Most recently, universities and colleges faced the announcement that post-secondary institutions themselves would have to offset the funding loss precipitated by a 10 per cent reduction in student tuition fees. (See editorial Sleight of hand, Update Vol. 46, No. 4.)
On January 23, Education Minister Lisa Thompson announced that her government was considering the removal of class size caps in early primary grades. The Ministry released a “Class Size Engagement Guide”, which notes that “implementing hard caps on class sizes…is expensive and difficult for school Boards to manage.” For frontline education workers, who actually have to manage the learning environment in the classroom, any consideration of increased class size sends a chill.
What could increases in class size mean to frontline education workers and students?
For teachers, educational assistants and early childhood educators, increased class sizes would mean direct job losses for some and a dramatically increased workload for the rest. It would mean classes with more students, greater overcrowding in classrooms that are already full, and fewer adults helping students learn. It would significantly erode the amount of personal attention educators are able to dedicate to high-needs learners. For educators, students and parents alike, larger class sizes are a losing proposition.
Just as disconcerting is the lack of clarity on the part the government with regard to the future of Ontario’s full-day Kindergarten (FDK) program. Initially neither the Minister of Education nor the Premier himself would commit to the continuation of the program beyond the 2019–20 school year. Since those initial statements, the government has clarified that full day learning will continue in some form, but there’s no commitment that the current model, with an early learning classroom team comprising a certified teacher and a registered Early Childhood Educator (ECE), will remain in place. All available evidence tells us that the current FDK program has provided significant benefits to early learners. Research has shown that FDK students are better prepared for Grade 1 and better positioned for success in subsequent years. Students enrolled in FDK are also likely to be more socially adept and are at less risk of encountering problems with language and communications skills.
In spite of the compelling evidence; however, the government seems poised to focus only on the cost of the program rather than on the enormous value FDK has provided to young learners. As with any move to increase primary class sizes, the Ford government should steer clear of changes that would undermine the current full-day Kindergarten model.