Public Education – How It Is and How It Will Be

Education connects directly to the future of a country, and public education plays an important role in guiding children and teenagers to their right path. But how is our public education system working? What are the challenges that students face? With the help of Ms. Kathleen Woodcock, the trustee of WRDSB, and Mr. Zhengwei Bai, the candidate for WRDSB trustee, we can see how this system works and know how it needs to be changed.

One of the major characteristics of public education is that it is relatively fair. “A strong public education system is a cornerstone of democracy. Access to a good education should not be hampered by cost and private schools charge tuition fees”, says Trustee Woodcock. The existence of public education provides fundamental knowledge in order to get students prepared for their future lives. Also, as Mr. Bai indicates, the most important difference between private and public education is the high tuition fee and aptitude examination. There are many famous private schools in Canada that have a long history, high-quality teaching environment and have certain background requirements. The high tuition fee become a factor that divides the social classes. With money, the rich can have their children enjoy a better education environment. However, compared to independent schools, public education has a nonnegligible advantage which is the diversity of culture. Since the Multiculturalism Act was published, it becomes “a fundamental characteristic of Canadian society with an integral role in shaping Canada’s future”. Nowadays, different parts of the world are connected to each other and more frequent communications are happening, and cultures are merging and affecting each other in every minute. With a relatively stable society, Canada can successfully carry out multicultural ideas and make it a part of education, and it “creates an opportunity for exposure to different ideas and perspectives that might not be expressed in a private school setting” says Ms. Woodcock. Waterloo Region has a relatively positive multicultural environment due to the effort of the Board.

Still, public education faces challenges in several fields. Mr. Bai points out the insufficiency of education on students’ fundamental subjects. Looking at OSSLT results, the pass rate is decreasing gradually year by year. While Ontario is a province with 14.19 million population (2017), the large cardinal number means that more and more Ontario students are not prepared. When focusing on math, the performance of Ontario students is lower than the average of all Canadian students. The overall academic performance is still below the average. Even though discovery education can ensure that there is less pressure on students when learning, it does not mean that the importance of those fundamental curriculums is weakened. Mr. Bai suggests that there should be more STEM curriculums provided to students in primary schools. “We can use additions to infer the rules of multiplication, but students need to know 3×4=12 rather than just 3+3+3+3=12 when they see the multiplication”, says Mr. Bai. Students will feel challenged in higher grades unless they master those basic skills, but they seem to be overlooked. This can explain why the drop rates of some science and math courses are relatively high.

Finance is also a problem. Trustee Woodcock shows her concern on the financial situation of the Board. The inflexibility in supporting local needs restricted the development of hardware and software. Indeed, since the Federal Government suffered from the $1 trillion market debt, and Ontario Government had $348.79 billion total debt, with it still increasing, the promotion on many fields had to be slowed down. Also, the Board needs better control of its own finance to make sure that it goes to the right place. Security can always be a problem. Bullying, for example, comes with more types and is extremely harmful to the victims. WRDSB is prepared to prevent and deal with bullying in school following the policies and procedures. There are Mental Health Week, Bullying Awareness Week and many other activities happening every year in WRDSB schools to prevent bullying. The Board really puts great efforts on this.

Extracurricular activities are regarded as a vital part of student life, and they are playing a more important role in the application for post-secondary education and job applications. “Those activities are not just about completing a mission. It shows students get along with others and how responsible they are”, says Mr. Bai. Participation and leadership are the values required for further development. It provides students with the experience of dealing with certain problems and the courage to face new challenges. Meanwhile, Trustee Woodcock believes that “Extracurricular activities sometimes may be the only thing that is keeping a student engaged in school”. There needs to be something more than study and work in the 12 years of education. Sports teams, clubs, and community-based activity show students things that they cannot get from textbooks. They learn to cooperate, share and help others. All these are going to help them connect with society.

Meanwhile, these activities help international students involve in the local society, benefiting the multicultural development. That is why “Multiculturalism is alive and well at the WRDSB” thanks to the efforts made by the teaching staff, administrative staff and support staff. On this question, Mr. Bai suggests that citizens should also realize the stable environment requires a stable economic foundation. Comparing to Europe and the United States, the situation of Canada is relatively positive, even though the conflict and divergence between left and right are still quite obvious.

For the future development of the public education system, Mr. Bai believes that the Board needs to pay more attention to civic education and moral education. The increasing use of drugs and the abuse of prescription medicine, such as fentanyl, have caused enough trouble, and younger people are starting to be affected by this trend. Reports indicate that 23% of Ontario students say that they were offered, sold or given drugs at school last year. Sufficient education on the attitude to drugs can reduce the chance of misuse and abuse of drugs to secure both physical and mental health of students. Also, Mr. Bai indicates that politics should stay away from schools. The Ontario Sex Education carried out by the former government shows that ideology has started to affect students from a young age. “It is science that they should learn first rather than just telling them what to do. They need to understand how their body works then make their own decisions when they are mature enough”. On this question, Trustee woodcock provides a different perspective. “The changes made to the Health & Physical Education curriculum in 2015 are critical to ensuring that our students get the information they need to be contributing citizens to the social fabric of our society”, she says. Comparing to the 1998 curriculum, those “most vulnerable students being put at risk” will not have the same concerns. Trustee Woodcock also says that the Board is putting more efforts into helping students preparing for their post-secondary education. “The board is concentrating on initiatives to help students graduate, especially those missing one or two credits”.

Playing the role of enlightenment, knowledge and connection to high-level education, the importance of public education is self-evident. With more efforts made by the government and more involvement of the general public in education, there will definitely be more achievements made by the students. The Multicultural environment in the public school system needs further development to make sure that there are less potential problems. If all those can be done, the future of Canada will definitely be brighter.

I sincerely appreciate the help of Trustee Kathleen Woodcock and Mr. Zhengwei Bai.


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