Assessment, Equity, Opinion, Policy

The time is Now: Excellence and Equity for All

Realizing the Promise of Diversity: Ontario’s Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy

In 2009, The Ontario Ministry of Education published its new strategy on equity, entitled:

In 2009, The Ontario Ministry of Education published its new strategy on equity, entitled: Realizing the Promise of Diversity:  Ontario’s Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy. In her message to Ontario educators, Kathleen Wynne, then Minister of Education, said that it is necessary to remove systemic barriers that impede student achievement and student success in this province.  The need to move from tolerance to acceptance in embracing diversity and in helping each child achieve to the maximum of his or her ability will help Ontario become one of the most inclusive places in the world.

In order to achieve their vision of equity and inclusive education, the Liberal government has, over the last 8 years, invested heavily in the publicly funded education system as a foundation for its future prosperity. The focus continues to be that students will develop into highly skilled, knowledgeable and caring citizens who will do their part in contributing to both a strong economy and a cohesive society.
This strategy document builds upon the three goals or core priorities of the Ministry of Education, namely:
  1. High levels of student achievement
  2. Reduced gaps in student achievement, and
  3. Increased public confidence in publicly funded education
The commitment of the government is both on raising the bar for student achievement and reducing the achievement gaps for students who traditionally have not done well in schools. The document highlights the fact that recent immigrants, children from low-income families, Aboriginal students, boys, and students with special education needs are just some of the groups that may be at risk of lower achievement.  There is therefore a need for all partners in education to work at identifying and removing barriers to success and ensuring that all students are engaged, included, and respected, and that they see themselves reflected in their learning environment.  
The document is a call to action.  It emphasizes that Canadians have, over the years, embraced multiculturalism, human rights and diversity as fundamental values.  We are known worldwide as one of the most tolerant societies.  But, we should not be smug.  We have had our share of incidents of prejudice and racism exemplified in terms of religious intolerance, homophobia, and discrimination.  This awareness calls for constant vigilance, and, more importantly, ensuring that our students in schools today develop a strong commitment to eradicating all forms of prejudice.  
Acknowledging that good work has been done and that Ontario educators have a strong commitment to equity, the document asks school boards and schools to work collectively on further actions to realize our vision of an equitable and inclusive education system. There are clear actions for the Ministry of Education, school boards and schools to take over a 4-year period to make Ontario a global leader in building and sustaining an equitable and inclusive education system.  Examples of these statements are:
The Ministry of Education will issue a Policy/Program Memorandum (PPM) to provide direction to boards on the development, implementation, and monitoring of equity and inclusive education policies.  This memorandum will focus on board policies, programs, guidelines, and practices, as well as on shared and committed leadership, inclusive curriculum and assessment practices, school-community relationships, religious accommodation, school climate and the prevention of discrimination and harassment, professional learning, and accountability and transparency.
School Boards will review existing equity and inclusive education policies and/or develop or extend such policies.
Schools will develop school improvement plans that are aligned with Ontario’s equity and inclusive education strategy.
As a co-chair of the committee that developed this document, I am very proud of our province, teachers and school leaders for their commitment to this important aspect of education.  Our teachers’ unions and principals’ councils have also developed innovative equity programs and have, over the years, promoted the cause of equity.
As an immigrant to Canada, and as someone who builds capacity internationally, I speak with pride about a country that works hard at integrating its immigrant populations.  We have been praised by the OECD, based on our PISA results, as one of the few places in the world that is both raising the bar and closing the achievement gaps.  This augurs well for the future prosperity of our country.
We are, indeed optimistic, that the words of Michael Adams, in his book, Unlikely Utopia: The Surprising Triumph of Canadian Pluralism , which describes our Canadian National project, will certainly be realized.  He said:

It is the effort to live in a country of peace and prosperity, with laws that are just, with people who are humane, and where citizens of all backgrounds encounter equal opportunities when they set out to realize their potential, contribute to their communities, participate in the Canadian economy, and engage the Canadian political system. (p.149)
As educators, the future of this country is in our hands.  Schools are, indeed, a laboratory of what effective human relationships can look like. Our diversity offers us the opportunity to be a model to the world of empathy and inclusiveness across the lines that often divide us in society. Our recent book, Breaking Barriers: Excellence and Equity for All , (Glaze, Mattingley and Levin), published by Pearson Canada, documents many strategies to realize these goals.
What a privilege it is to be an educator today!

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Meet the Expert(s)

Avis Glaze

Dr. Avis Glaze is a recognized international leader in education. She served as Ontario’s Education Commissioner and Senior Adviser to the Ontario Minister of Education. Currently, she is President of Edu-quest International Inc. offering a wide range of educational services and speaking engagements across the globe. Her most recent appointment was as Adviser to the Minister of Education in New Zealand on national standards. A few weeks ago, she launched, along with Mattingley and Levin, a book entitled Breaking Barriers: Excellent and Equity for All, published by Pearson Canada.

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