Ontario's governing Liberals are promising to extend teachers college to two years if they remain in power after the Oct. 6 election.
Doubling the time aspiring teachers spend in college after completing their university degree will improve their education and benefit their future students, said John Milloy, minister of training, colleges and universities.
"We need to make sure that we have the most highly educated and trained workforce, and that means starting at the beginning in the classroom, making sure that that partnership between students and teachers [is] as strong as possible," he said.
"This is going to enhance teacher training and education, and make sure our students continue to exceed."
Ontario currently requires would-be teachers to spend 40 days in the classroom as part of their training, Milloy said. But they need more time to gain experience on issues like bullying and discipline.
Other countries have much longer teacher education programs, he said. Japanese teachers are required to take up to two years of teacher college, while Finnish teachers must complete five years if they want to teach in elementary schools and six for high schools.
"We want to make sure that the new cohort of teachers — the student teachers that are graduating — have the best education possible," Milloy said.
"We've looked around the world and the idea of giving them more practical time to prepare has been key in other sectors so we want to replicate that here."
If re-elected, the Liberals plan to implement the change as soon as next year.
The government currently spends about $77 million a year on teacher education. It won't need to spend any more money on the new two-year program, but it will mean fewer teachers graduating each year, Milloy said.
There will also be no new spaces in teacher education programs.
The 9,000 spaces expected to be available in 2012 would be divided between two classes of students.
There have been a lot of concerns lately about the oversupply of qualified teachers who can't land a job, Milloy said.
"By spreading this out over two years and reducing the number of graduates, that in turn will help regulate the demand for teachers that are out there," he said.
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak refused to say if he'd match the Liberal promise, choosing instead to call out Premier Dalton McGuinty for his absent election platform.
"Every day there's some brand new Liberal promise ... but where's Dalton McGuinty's plan? What's he afraid of?" Hudak said.
His party unveiled their Changebook platform at the end of May and have translated it into 15 additional languages, he added. McGuinty hasn't released his platform because he plans to hike taxes, said Hudak.
"That's why he's afraid to put his plan out there, because that's what he plans to do and people won't like it," Hudak said.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath couldn't comment on the proposal, but said she's more concerned about the cost of post-secondary education.
Students are leaving their college and university students with massive debts and few job prospects, she said.
"This is a big concern and I think it's one that we need to start addressing," she said.
The Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association endorsed the Liberal proposal, saying it will bring Ontario in line with other provinces and reduce barriers to labour mobility.
"Ensuring that our teachers are as prepared as possible when they enter the classroom for the first time just makes sense," president Kevin O'Dwyer said in a statement.
"If there is more we can do to ensure that preparedness then we should be doing it."