A series of education-related summer workshops, including a curriculum-writing session meant to enhance Indigenous perspectives in classrooms, have been abruptly cancelled, as part of Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government’s crackdown on spending.
Educators learned of the cancellations in e-mails from the Ministry of Education just days before sessions were to begin. The ministry sent an e-mail at around 4 p.m. on Friday cancelling the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) curriculum revisions session. It was to begin on Monday.
A spokesman for Education Minister Lisa Thompson said in an e-mail statement on Monday that the ministry cancelled three curriculum-writing sessions – the TRC one, along with one on American sign language and one on Indigenous languages in kindergarten – “unilaterally, with no direction from the Minister of Education.”
But all ministries have been tasked with freezing any new discretionary spending, and the Education Ministry has started rolling out changes under the new government. At least one math workshop for educators has also been cancelled.
“In keeping with the commitment Premier Doug Ford made to run government more efficiently, all ministries will seek to carry out initiatives in the most cost-effective way possible,” said Ms. Thompson’s spokesman, Ben Menka.
Mr. Menka said in an e-mail that the ministry will move ahead with the updated TRC curriculum revisions, which are slated to be rolled out in the fall, and work with elders, Indigenous communities and experts to develop support materials for the updated curriculum.
The New Democrats, who are now Ontario’s Official Opposition, criticized the government for cancelling the summer sessions, saying in a press release that it was another in a “series of closed-door back-room decisions from Ford, hidden from the public until they leak out.” Only a few days into office, the Conservative government has also frozen new measures on police oversight, ticket scalping and vaping, and fired Ontario’s new chief scientist.
And school boards, facing a $15.9-billion repair backlog, learned in a memo on Thursday that the new government has cancelled a $100-million fund earmarked for school repairs. The cut is the result of the cancellation of the province’s cap-and-trade program, which paid for the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund for schools and helped fund energy-efficient building elements such as new windows and furnaces.
Teachers worry that the Conservative government has acted irresponsibly in cancelling the summer sessions, and that it will be a disservice to students.
Aaron Liscum, a teacher with the Toronto District School Board, was selected to participate in the TRC summer session. The previous Liberal government had made revisions to several parts of schools’ curriculum, including history, in response to the TRC’s call to action that residential schools, treaties and aboriginal people’s contributions be made a mandatory education requirement.
The next planned step on that recommendation involved revising the curriculum in Grades 1 to 3, as well as several high school social science courses. Mr. Liscum primarily teaches geography. He said he was surprised by the timing of the cancellation, which happened late on a Friday afternoon.
“I am concerned for those students who have teachers who may be hesitant to include their own professional understanding of Truth and Reconciliation; that those students may not get a complete understanding of Indigenous perspectives on the issue,” Mr. Liscum said.
Colinda Clyne, a teacher and curriculum leader for Indigenous education at the Upper Grand District School Board in Guelph, criticized the government for cancelling “important curriculum work.”
She said teachers are not purposely ignoring Indigenous history; they need guidance on how to teach it. The next phase of curriculum revisions, followed by professional development, would have been another step in the right direction, she said.
“All of that system shifting and backwork that takes time happened and put us in a good place. And now what?” said Ms. Clyne, who is Anishinaabe.
Jamie Mitchell, a math teacher with the Halton District School Board, said he only learned last week that a math leadership session was also cancelled. It was the last of four sessions.
“From my point in view, someone had invested money into it, and by cancelling it when we’re about to finish and spread that knowledge, it’s detrimental to everyone,” he said.