October 15, 2007

Looking Ahead at Ontario's Education System

Since the faith-based education situation arose in Ontario there has been a lot of talk about which way to go. Do we fund all faiths, some faiths, one faith, or none? These are all possibilities that have been explored in countless ways since John Tory let his monster loose on the electorate. While it seemed that the majority of Ontarians were in favour of the ‘no faiths’ option, they supported the status-quo of ‘one faith’.

I would argue that – for now – this is the best policy and in the best interest of our public education system. It’s no secret that our system isn’t perfect. After the lashing it took at the hands of the previous Conservative government, it is just back on the road to progress. It has finally recouped the funding that was lost and is once again working in the interest of students. Attempting to overhaul the education system or divert much needed funding, at this junction, would likely undo much of the progress that has been made. Yet, with the obvious divisions that were found when Tory announced his plan, I’m confident that the issue over faith in education will not simply disappear.

So what does that mean going forward? Do we just stick with status-quo in spite of the apparent public desire to change it? If we are honest with ourselves, funding one faith isn’t fair no matter how historical – or whatever – the program is and I think people recognize that.

Just over two years ago, in a post of random afterthoughts I had suggested collapsing the Catholic system into the public system. Note that I didn’t suggest eliminate. I have no issue with faith education in schools, even publicly funded schools. I just don’t believe that everyone needs to be apart of it. However, I support it being there for those that do wish it to be apart of their education. It should just be done in the form of a ‘stream’.

A special stream within the public education system is not a new idea. Especially in secondary schools, streams are found for many programs. French immersion, technical studies, performing and visual arts are some of the specialized streams that can be found. Why not develop a similar concept around faiths?

In this program all the generalized classes (math, language, etc.) would still be taken by everyone together. Those that are enrolled in the religious stream would just have to meet a further requirement to graduate. This being their prescribed religious credits the other students wouldn’t have to be concerned about. This type of system keeps our education system truly inclusive while also being fair. It also works in the interest of efficiency of funding and resources. Which is something that all governments ultimately need to be concerned about. This is an option that could work for everyone that is involved. For those people that want something different there would still be private schools available at their own expense.

When is the right time to do this or seriously explore other options? It isn’t now. As I had said above, Ontario’s education system needs to be much further ahead than it is to handle a major shakeup. That will take time. Maybe in 2010 when the expected funding review takes place, the education system will be ready to handle a massive change or maybe it won't. Whenever it is, I’m confident that the Liberals will eventually get it there and then we can explore our options at that time. After all, if there is one program that the Liberals have done well with and have a clear vision for, it’s education. Hopefully, when the time is right, their vision will include seriously addressing this issue.

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