Elementary school is the place for many firsts — first best friend, first crush, first fight, first nemesis. In the classroom, we’re laying the foundation for a lot of first memories and first experiences. Ensuring that these memories are fond ones for every student is a must. It all begins with creating the supports needed for the variety of early childhood experiences that kids face — whether it is being from a family where English isn’t the first (or even third) language or coming to school for their first meal of the day. It's important to recognize the diversity and range of learning needs we must prioritize when pursuing early childhood development.
The demographic profile of Ontario has changed dramatically over the past decade. The number of children who speak neither English nor French when they register for school has increased significantly. And with this, the challenges students face are often significant and disparate in nature. These challenges stem from attending a school where English learning supports are limited to not having kids and teachers in the classroom who relate to their experience, making them feel isolated, which compoundsthe challenges to begin with. Early childhood development needs to acknowledge the hard barriers — like learning English — but also the more blurry ones, which often include classrooms that are not conducive to the early childhood experience of living in poverty, an issue that many immigrants and refugees face.
Often these students face challenges in catching up to their peers and schools don’t always have the resources to adequately support them. The provincial grants for English Language Learners — those who are learning English as well as pursuing elementary education (ELL, for short) — are based on Census figures related to immigration but don’t reflect the number of students born in Canada who don’t learn either official language at home before enrolling in school.
To promote engaged and active learning among all students and prevent isolation, classrooms and school libraries need textbooks and other resources that reflect the rich cultural, racial, and gender identities of students and their families. In pursuit of this, Ontario has adopted an Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy which provides a framework for equity. More needs to be done to ensure that the vision for equity is realized.
Educators need classroom materials that reflect the diversity of their classrooms and school communities.
Educators also need professional learning that improves their ability to address racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, and classism, all of which are elements that affect our schools and permeate our society. Their work helps to address language and class barriers and to broaden the school’s connection with the more marginalized individuals and families in the community. Currently, the Ministry of Education, through the Parent Engagement Office, supports some important initiatives to promote parent engagement, but the initiatives can’t fill the gap of work formerly done by community workers. The Ministry should support school board community workers through Grants for Student Needs.
Perhaps the most significant factor contributing to the difference in student achievement is socioeconomic status. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports demonstrate that countries with smaller gaps in income inequality have higher student achievement levels. Its reports have attributed Canadian students’ high achievement scores on international assessments, in part, to the narrow income gap and social programs that support lower income Canadians. However, Canada is poised to lose this advantage as we witness a widening income gap. Lower family incomes mean many students arrive at school hungry and unable to fully engage in learning. School nutrition programs only partially meet the need and they can often be stigmatizing and short-term.Take action to prioritize diversity Share it!
- Revise English as a Second Language (ESL) grants to more accurately reflect the number of students who don’t speak English when they enrol at school.
- Revise English as a Second Language grants to increase the capacity of schools to extend these programs to students who continue to need the support beyond four years.
- Provide classroom resources to support the Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy.
- Provide teachers with training that addresses discrimination and oppression of marginalized students.
- Fund community workers at the school board level through the Grants for Student Needs.
- Provide specific compensatory grants for schools in disadvantaged communities to support additional learning materials, field trips, and in-school arts programs.
- Increase investments in anti-poverty measures such as income support measures and tax reform.
- Increase the capacity of schools to act as hubs for community services.
Active Healthy Kids. (2010) Report Card 2010. http://www.activehealthy-kids.ca/ecms.ashx/2010Active-HealthyKidsCanadaReportCard-long-form.pdf.
Bascia, Nina. (2010) Reducing Class Size: What Do We Know? Canadian Education Association. Toronto.
Coishy, David. (2005) Canadian School Libraries and Teacher-Librarians: Results from the 2003/04 Information and Communications Technologies in Schools Survey. Statistics Canada. Ottawa.
Cummins, Jim. (2012) Teaching English Language Learners. Research for Teachers, No. 9. ETFO and OISE/University of Toronto.
Fairholm, Robert. (August, 2010) Early Learning and Care Impact Analysis. The Centre for Spacial Economics. Milton.
Hargreaves, Andy and Shirley, Dennis. (2009) The Fourth Way: The Inspiring Future for Educational Change. Corwin. Thousand Oaks, CA.
Leithwood, Kenneth, McAdie, Pat, Bascia Nina, and Rodrigue, Annie, eds. (2004) Teaching for Deep Understanding: Towards the Ontario Curriculum that We Need. Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and OISE/UT. Toronto.
Mackenzie, Hugh. (2009) No time for Complacency: Education Funding Reality Check. (2009) Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Ottawa.
OECD (2012), Lessons from PISA for Japan, Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education, OECD Publishing. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264118539-en
Ontario Ministry of Education. (March, 2009) Planning and Possibilities: The Report of the Declining Enrolment Working Group. Toronto.
People for Education. (2013) Mind the Gap: Inequality in Ontario Schools. Toronto
People for Education. (2012) Annual Report on Ontario’s Schools 2011. Toronto.
Queen’s University and People for Education. Klinger, D.A.; Lee, E.A.; Stephenson, G.; Deluca, C.; Luu, K (2009) “Exemplary School Libraries in Ontario.” Ontario Library Association. Toronto.
Queen’s University and People for Education. (2006) School Libraries and Student Achievement in Ontario. Ontario Library Association. Toronto.
Ravitch, Diane. (2010) The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education. Basic Books. New York.
Sahlberg, Pasi. (2011) Finnish Lessons: What can the world learn from educational change in Finland? Teachers College Press. New York.
Schanzenback, D.W. (2014) Does Class Size Matter? National Education Policy Centre. Boulder CO.Retrieved February 19, 2014 from http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/does-class-size-matter.
Upitis, Rena and Smithrim, Katherine. (2002) Learning Through the Arts, National Assessment 1999-2003, Final Report Part I: Grade Student Achievement and Engagement. Kingston.