Omar Salman wants to be an architectural engineer — but the Grade 12 student needs physics and calculus for university and can’t get into either course at his Mississauga high school.
Knowing the province was moving to bigger class sizes, with fewer teachers and fewer classes, Salman said he was sure to get his choices in on time last spring — even after his school redid the course timetable because of staffing losses — and still found himself on wait lists for both.
Just last week, he was told he’d have to take physics online, and he’s still 16th on the calculus wait list.
“There’s at least five people (at Cawthra Park Secondary) who want to get into the sciences” who can’t get those classes, he said. “They want to go into engineering — so it’s really not good for any of our educations.”
His elearning class, run by a different board, has 27 students, and he plans to use his spare period at school to do that work. One of his former math teachers has offered to help him “because it’s impossible to learn online,” he said.
And if he doesn’t end up getting into a calculus class, he’ll have to take it online or at night school at another school, which means he’ll have to find the time after hours, and will incur the extra cost of transportation.
“My mom is so upset for me not to be able to get into it,” said Salman, 16, whose mother is a teacher at a private, Islamic school.
“It’s not the guidance office, it’s the government.”
The Ontario government is implementing bigger classes starting in Grade 4, and over the next four years telling boards to move to an average of 28 students in high school, up from last year’s 22. It has promised an additional $1.6 billion in funding so no teachers will be laid off if there aren’t enough retirements and resignations — though some educators still remain jobless for this fall, or have been moved from full-time permanent positions into part-time or long-term supply work.
Over the next four years, some 3,500 teaching positions will be phased out, though unions estimate the number to be more than double that.
Cawthra lost just three teachers for this fall — but that is equal to 18 classes, and the school’s population grew by 26 students.
Carla Pereira, the Peel public board’s director of communications, said the school population is up slightly at 1,299 students, and the class average at Cawthra is 26 students — though she noted things are always changing at the start of the school year. So far, classes there are 95 to 100 per cent full.
“An increase in 26 students over their projected enrolment will likely not result in the addition of a teacher at reorganization,” a process schools go through each fall, Pereira said.
“They have looked at all of their classes and none of them can be cancelled or collapsed to add additional Grade 11 or 12 classes. So they must work with the number of teachers they have” to ensure students have the best options for courses, she added.
As of last week, three sections of Grade 12 calculus at the school had 31 students each, with 24 on a wait list. In the past, that could have generated an additional teacher. There are two classes of Grade 12 physics, with 33 and 31 students respectively, and eight students on a wait list.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) in Peel says the wait lists at Cawthra are “not normal” for those subjects.
The government “will try to download responsibility on the boards, for sure, but the bottom line is that fewer teachers means fewer classes,” said OSSTF President Harvey Bischof.
Alexandra Adamo, a spokesperson for Education Minister Stephen Lecce, said “every student will be able to take any of these specialized courses, either at their schools or nearby schools. We have invested to protect specialized teachers and modernize the curriculum to improve competence in these vital courses, and are seeing rising recall rates of educators across the board.”
Some boards have always offered night school or allowed schools to share credit offerings, run online or video-conferencing for classes, or even run certain credits every other year to ensure they are at capacity, and with the coming loss of teachers they expect to increasingly turn to those options.
The Ontario Public School Boards’ Association has warned of limited options for students as teachers leave the system and aren’t replaced. Students may be getting courses, “but they aren’t necessarily the ones they want,” said President Cathy Abraham.
She said night school is an option for students in urban boards but not smaller ones, adding that “not all courses are suitable for being done online. Not all school boards have night school.
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“These are not good answers; they are not good ways to get it back … in some places it may be possible, but that doesn’t make it right.”
The union representing high school teachers in the Hamilton public board says classes are “being pushed to the highest level” of enrolment.
“Students are unable to change courses, or even get the courses that they wish for, for their first choice,” said Daryl Jerome. “There is zero wiggle room.”