Madill students walk out to protest education cuts - April 11, 2019
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Over 200 secondary and elementary students walked out of F.E. Madill School on Thursday to protest the provincial government and its proposed cuts to the education system under Huron-Bruce MPP and Minister of Education Lisa Thompson.
While Thompson saw students from many schools walk out in her home riding, the initiative was part of a province-wide protest that saw tens of thousands of students walk out of hundreds of schools across Ontario.
This was just the beginning, as thousands of teachers, union members, students and concerned parents took to Queen’s Park on Saturday to protest the government’s proposed cuts to the education system.
On her Twitter account, Thompson has said that while enrolment across the province is declining, costs are rising and “academic quality” had been falling. She said the reforms are all about improving the lives of students.
“Our government is committed to ensuring Ontario’s students become world leaders in education once again, and leave school with the tools they need to get jobs, pay bills and start families right here in Ontario,” Thompson said on Twitter.
Reporting from the Toronto Star has also uncovered documents that suggest the government is planning to eliminate nearly 3,500 teaching jobs. Thompson has since addressed that report, saying that the government would be eliminating those positions through attrition, not refilling them when teachers quit or retire.
Premier Doug Ford, Thompson’s party leader, chose to blame the walkout on teachers and their unions, saying they influenced students’ decision to walk out.
He has remained defiant in the face of widespread protest, saying his government remains focused on what’s best for students.
“Our government will not be distracted from making the necessary reforms to create a sustainable, world-class education system that protects what matters most for students,” Ford said on Twitter.
This is the second walkout protest that has taken place at Madill since the Ford government was elected and Thompson was made Minister of Education. The school is Thompson’s alma matter and many students expressed not only their frustration with the government, but with Thompson personally for turning her back on her constituents.
Emma Skinn, a Grade 12 student, said she chose to walk out for a number of reasons, chief among them, however, are the proposed class sizes increases that will stretch resources that are already as thin as they can go.
She said that it’s already difficult for students to focus on what’s being taught with existing class sizes, let alone allowing them to grow even further. Thompson has been quoted as saying that larger class sizes will build “resiliency” in Ontario’s students – a statement that has been met with much criticism.
Skinn said that what’s being done at the provincial level is not what’s best for Ontario’s schools or its students, including cuts to special education that will then impact classes throughout the rest of the school.
She added that the proposed cell phone ban in classrooms will also affect her. With an auditory condition, she needs her phone to help her focus when doing work on her own. Without that aid, she won’t be able to learn effectively and her education will suffer, she said.
In addition, Skinn said she’s had disappointing experiences with online learning, so the shift to online courses (high school students would be required to earn one credit online every year) also concerns her, adding that it would be replacing an interactive, productive classroom environment with an online environment that is anything but.
Zeke Walden, another Madill student, was also concerned with class sizes. He felt there were better ways to find efficiencies across the province than by sacrificing the futures of the province’s students.
Grade 9 student Ella Sawchuk said she was very concerned with the direction of the provincial government, saying that increasing class sizes is a definite move in the wrong direction.
She added that seeing students in the riding protest should concern Thompson, but she didn’t feel that it did.
“We elected her and I’m disappointed in how she’s using her platform,” she said.
Julia Wright, another Grade 9 student, agreed with Sawchuk (the pair came together to hold a sign in protest of the government), saying that increasing class sizes would in no way improve her learning environment.
Robyn Weishar said she was scared of what she was seeing, not just as a student, but as someone who wants to be a teacher in the coming years and raise a family in Ontario.
Weishar said she already has her post-secondary education sorted and that she plans on studying and becoming a teacher in her home province. What’s happening with the education system under Thompson, however, is very troubling for her – to the extent that she’s begun crafting a back-up plan for her career.
She said that the decisions being made are disheartening to someone who wants to be a teacher who inspires students as her teachers have inspired her.
Not only is she reconsidering her chosen career path in the wake of the provincial government’s decisions, but she also said that Ford and Thompson are creating an environment in which it would be “scary” to have children in the system.
As someone who has been heavily invested in her school’s drama program in recent years, Weishar also said she was dismayed to see that cuts will likely result in losses in arts programming.
Arts classes, she said, have given students a voice for decades when they felt they didn’t have one through the traditional curriculum. To take that away, she said, would fail a whole division of students who are artistically-inclined and able to express themselves through that programming.
Skinn agreed with Weishar’s statements, adding that the lack of interest and engagement from Thompson on the subject has been very disheartening.