The Ontario government will provide funds to help school teachers upgrade their math skills in a bid to improve the instruction capabilities within provincial classrooms.
Education Minister Liz Sandals told reporters Wednesday that the government will invest $4 million in the coming year for educators upgrade their math skills through workshops and upgrade courses.
"This investment will allow teachers to gain additional qualifications in math, which will encourage more teachers to be specialists in math — particularly at the primary and junior level," Sandals said during a news conference at Toronto’s Sprucecourt Junior Public School.
There is a particular need to increase the number of math specialists within the elementary system where many teachers have educational backgrounds in other subjects, Sandals said.
"It’s our hope that what we’ll eventually see is more elementary schools who have math specialists on their staff and can take a lead role in teaching math with their colleagues," she said.
Sandals said that the current additional qualifications math course for elementary teachers is too restrictive in that it requires participants to have university math courses under their belt.
To remedy this, the minister said the government will be making changes "to ensure teachers from a variety of backgrounds actually have access to taking the additional qualifications courses in elementary math."
While teachers will pay to upgrade their skills, the provincial funds will provide them with partial subsidies for the course fees — though Sandals said how much they will receive must still be determined.
"We’ll have to work out the exact amount," Sandals said.
Concerns about student performance
This year, just 57 per cent of Grade 6 students in Ontario met the provincial standard for math. For Grade 3 students, just over two-thirds were where they were expected.
But Sandals did not appear concerned about how Ontario students are faring in math.
"Ontario students are actually doing reasonably well in math," she said. "We're still one of the top jurisdictions in math in the world according to the results of the 2012 program for international student assessments, which is the tests run by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development."
Opposition parties, however, are more critical of how the government has handled the mathematical education of Ontario’s schoolchildren.
“It's astounding that a government that says it is all about education has taken years to notice that our children are having trouble with math," NDP critic Peter Tabuns said Wednesday. "Our students would be doing better if the Liberals learned from other provinces and provided more support to kids in the classroom."
Progressive Conservative critic Rob Leone suggested that the Liberals’ announcement was a type of pre-election campaigning.
"A $4-million government spending announcement that comes just months before a potential spring election is cynical politics at its worst," said PC education critic Rob Leone. "Parents have complained to me that their kids aren't learning the times tables anymore. We need to get back to basics."
There is no immediate threat of an election, though the governing Liberals hold only a minority position in the legislature.
At present, the Liberals hold just 49 of the 107 seats in the legislature. The Progressive Conservatives have 37 and the New Democrats have 20. One seat is currently vacant.