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Letter: Public deserves to know who’s planning Ontario students’ return to school

Parents, teachers, administrators, health professionals, lawyers … who knows?
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(File)

Editor’s note: This letter is in response to the letter “Reader calls on premier to reconsider proposed distance learning model,” published July 2.

Maggie Mazzuca’s letter on what education should not look like in the coming school year was valuable in that it opened up a dialogue between the people who it will impact most: the public.  

Mazzuca immediately touches upon the main problem of redesigning education: there’s a big difference between elementary and high school, and one plan for both will not work. For most elementary students, learning is not yet a solitary experience to be grappled with alone, but a collaborative experience tackled together (or at least, that is the not-so-recent direction educators have been trained to take).

High school teachers are also now trained to be more open to collaborative methods, but a large part of the instruction there is still often teacher-directed, with students expected to do the work by themselves. Indeed, by the time they get to high school, students, whose pride has perhaps grown in conjunction with their bodies, usually want to complete their work by themselves and can be resistant to nothing but collaborative educational ideas. It would be wise, then, to treat these two bodies separately.

Ms. Mazzuca, while focusing on elementary level education, does make a slightly controversial claim that Canada has an “already failing educational system” and points to “significant growth and participation in private supplemental learning programs” as proof of this, naming two companies. 

But just because the author can name two such entities doesn’t mean that field is experiencing significant growth. They are a larger presence than they used to be, when they didn’t exist at all, and perhaps are poised to play a larger role, but that is not quite proof of significant, or worrisome, growth. The claim, then, that we have an “already failing educational system” would need to be supported by more than just a presumed rise in these so-called supplemental learning programs. 

The letter ends by hypothesizing that giving kids only 50 per cent of their previous instruction (it is not clear where the data that percentage is based on came from) will lead to much larger problems which will eventually, after a chain reaction of events, be harmful to the apparently sacred Gross Domestic Product. There simply is no concrete way to prove GDP is tied in any way to traditional classroom instruction (or lack thereof). It is also dubious to suggest the field of education in general should be overly concerned with things such as GDP.

There is one last point worth mentioning: Mazzuca says that “ALL parties involved (boards, unions, teachers, and parents) must not “act in haste (or fear)”. The presumption here is that those parties will all be invited to participate in deciding what education will look like in the fall. To my knowledge, none of those mentioned parties have been invited to the table where these decisions are being made.

I would like to suggest, then, that what the public should be demanding to know is who the government is presently consulting with to determine their course of action in September. To date, I’ve not heard them say. They should have a fair representation of parents, students, teachers, medical professionals, and the usual array of lawyers. Are they consulting with such groups? The only thing I’ve heard is a statement from doctors at Toronto SickKids Hospital giving their opinion on the health risks of returning to school and possible measures needed to ensure safety.

One presumes they were asked and didn’t suddenly offer this opinion unprompted. One presumes it was the government who asked, though this was not made explicit. On the surface, it makes sense to consult a children’s hospital about the health of children, but why wouldn’t they instead consult with some of the epidemiological experts that are doubtlessly down the hall at Queen’s Park somewhere?

Again, we should be demanding (and I think the press should be fully capable of this kind of investigative journalism) to know not so much what they will do, but how they will come to this decision, and who they will consult. To not inform the various invested parties of this is to risk the public rejecting their ultimate proposal. It is imperative that this matter be discussed as openly as possible, and while I don’t agree with many of her points, I’d like to thank Ms. Mazzuca for doing her part for the public good by publicly discussing what seems to this point to be a very private matter.

D’Arcy Closs
Greater Sudbury




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