Achieving Excellence: Ensuring Equity

Goal: Ensuring Equity

Ontario's diversity is one of the province's greatest assets. Embracing this diversity and moving beyond tolerance and celebration to inclusivity and respect will help us reach our goal of making Ontario's education system the most equitable in the world. Everyone in our publicly funded education system – regardless of background or personal circumstances – must feel engaged and included.

Ontario schools need to be places where everyone can succeed in a culture of high expectations. They need to be places where educators and students value diversity, respect each other, and see themselves reflected in their learning. It is particularly important to provide the best possible learning opportunities and supports for students who may be at risk of not succeeding. This often includes, but is not limited to, some of our Aboriginal students, children and youth in care, children and students with special education needs, recent immigrants and children from families experiencing poverty.

Our work over the past decade has been focused on ensuring that no child or youth will have anything in the way to stop them from reaching their potential. We are seeing the results, which includes a culture shift in schools that recognizes diversity as a contributor to success, and not a barrier. The fundamental principle driving this work is that every student has the opportunity to succeed, regardless of ancestry, culture, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, language, physical and intellectual ability, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, socio-economic status or other factors.

With the hard work and dedication of our education professionals, performance gaps between students have narrowed, and in some cases, closed. For example, elementary students participating in English as a Second Language programs now perform almost as well as the general student population. The achievement gap between boys and girls is also narrowing, as is the gap between elementary students with special education needs and elementary students generally. Work in these areas needs to continue, but we also need to push beyond what we have already done to make sure all students get the support they need.

Equity and excellence go hand in hand. So while Ontario has come far in closing gaps for many learners, more needs to be done for those students who struggle the most.

Why We Need to Do This

It is clear that students who feel welcome and accepted in their schools are more likely to succeed academically. By ensuring equity in our education system, we can help all students achieve excellence.

One of the great strengths of Ontario's publicly funded education system is the commitment to help all learners – from young children to adults – to achieve their full potential in life. Education creates opportunity, and it can do so for everyone. It promotes social justice, and it can be a great equalizer. As Ontarians, we celebrate and embrace our diversity, and it makes us a better and stronger society.

An important component of ensuring equity is supporting students through transition periods that we know pose challenges. There are several key transition points when children and students need extra attention – when they first enter kindergarten; when they make the transition to Grade 1; when they move from elementary to secondary school; when they move from secondary school to postsecondary education or the world of work, and when they move between schools or communities.

Beyond the transitions that every student experiences, we know there are some that are unique to each student's circumstances. For example, a youth in care may be transitioning between parents or guardians, and may be changing schools at the same time. Some Aboriginal students may be transitioning from on-reserve schools to the provincial school system. Such transitions can be especially challenging. While their circumstances are beyond the control of students, the education system should be equipped to support them through these transitions to ensure they have every opportunity to succeed. Providing the support needed during transitions will help improve the achievement of all students.

While we know that some Aboriginal students, youth in care, students with special education needs and some students who are navigating a transition continue to struggle, we also know that there are other students at risk of not succeeding. For example, we know that some students who enrol in applied courses struggle to succeed throughout their high school careers. That is why, with the precise information on student achievement that is available to school boards, we need to ensure that support provided is focused and targeted at the students who need it most, regardless of their circumstances.

The goal is an education system in which all children, regardless of circumstances, can be successful and supported – through excellent child care, stimulating early learning programs, full-day kindergarten, and engaging programs and caring environments – all along the way to any one of the four postsecondary destinations: apprenticeship, college, university or the workplace.

In terms of diversity, 27% of Ontario students are born outside of Canada and 20% are visible minorities. Toronto, the main city in Ontario, is one of the most diverse cities in the world.
   – The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education: Lessons from PISA for the United States (2011), p. 71

Plan of Action

To achieve success, Ontario will:

  • Intervene in a timely and effective way to help children and students who are struggling.
  • Increase knowledge and understanding of First Nation, Métis and Inuit cultures and histories to enhance the learning experience of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students.
  • Provide greater support for First Nation students when they transition from on-reserve schools to provincially funded schools.
  • Provide new online learning and professional development opportunities for both teachers and students, particularly those in rural and remote communities, including opportunities for virtual cooperative education placements.
  • Increase the integration of education services with services delivered by other ministries and community partners for children and youth with special needs.
  • Support the accurate and up-to-date identification of children and youth with special education needs.
  • Increase academic support and provide engaging programs for youth in care.
  • Ensure that the adult education system better supports adult learners in their efforts to finish high school and successfully transition to postsecondary education, training or the workplace.
  • Support and respect the cultural and linguistic needs of First Nation, Métis and Inuit communities, and francophone communities.

To assess progress towards this goal, Ontario will:

  • Monitor graduation rates and achievement gaps for groups of students such as First Nation, Métis and Inuit students, children and youth in care and students with special education needs.
  • Set measures of student engagement and belonging for all students, especially those who may be at risk of lower achievement.
  • Determine how many adults across Ontario complete their Ontario Secondary School Diploma annually, and evaluate their success as they transition to postsecondary education, training or the workplace.

What we Heard

In our culture, we believe that every child is born with gifts…What will our schools do to uncover and develop the gifts of our children?
   – An Aboriginal consultation participant

Promising Practices for the Future

Biwaase'aa is a broad-based program that supports Aboriginal and other students in seven elementary schools in Thunder Bay. Youth outreach workers deliver in-school and after-school programs including mentoring, literacy/numeracy supports, food security programs and cultural competency awareness programs. This work is undertaken for the whole school community through culturally relevant teachings and by fostering relationships between families, schools and Elders.

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