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Ontario education minister reveals details of new Grade 9 math curriculum

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced details Wednesday of the province's revised Grade 9 math curriculum aimed at ending streaming.

Stephen Lecce has said revised curriculum will focus on job and life skills for students

Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce said in July 2020 that the province would end streaming, which forcues students to choose between "academic" or "applied" courses. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Ontario's new Grade 9 math course, which will be the first to eliminate the practice of "streaming," will involve more real-life applications of the subject and include lessons on financial literacy and coding.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced the details Wednesday, saying the course that will take effect in the fall will help set students up for success.

"The world has changed, the economy has changed, the job market has changed and so should the curriculum that informs and inspires your child," he said.

Students were previously streamed into "academic" or "applied" math courses in Grade 9, a practice that opponents said
discriminated against students from marginalized communities.

The new course will take effect in the fall and will cover more areas of mathematics.

English and French versions of the course will also be the same, while "respecting cultural and language differences," according to provincial documents.

The province says the new curriculum will include more real-life examples of mathematical concepts and also look at the importance of mathematics across cultures.

There will also be a focus on coding and financial literacy, the province says, which would include concepts like understanding the appreciation and depreciation of assets, or learning how to modify a budget based on changes in circumstances.

Course change part of 4-year plan

The new Grade 9 course will feature coding, data and financial literacy, mathematical modelling and elements of STEM  — or science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It will also look at the importance of mathematics across cultures.

The course is part of a four-year government plan to change mathematics education in Ontario.

In July 2020, the province said it would end the controversial practice of academic streaming, starting with math for new high school students. 

Streaming — in which students must choose to pursue either an "academic" or "applied" track when they begin high school — has been shown to disproportionately affect Black and low-income students when it comes to graduation rates and the chance of going to a post-secondary institution.

At the time, Lecce called it a "systemic, racist, discriminatory practice." Some educators and advocacy groups have long called for streaming to be ended. 

Ontario is the only province in Canada where it is still common in public schools, though some boards, such as the Toronto District School Board, had already begun to phase it out when the initial announcement was made.

The Ministry of Education has previously said the "modernized" curriculum would focus on job and life skills for students.

The latest update to the Grade 9 math curriculum is the first since 2005, Lecce said in his announcement. 

While the announcement only focused on ending streaming and updating the Grade 9 math curriculum, Lecce said the province will have "further announcements" regarding updates for the Grade 10, 11, and 12 math curricula. 

The minister also said consultations with communities affected by streaming would continue "to understand what more we can do" on the issue.

"My instinct is to go further," Lecce said.

The opposition New Democrats called on the government Wednesday to rapidly end streaming in other subjects and to properly fund the change.

NDP education critic Marit Stiles called the new math course a "long-overdue victory" and said students will need smaller class sizes and one-on-one learning opportunities to succeed.

The government said it would provide $40 million to train educators on the new math course.

Some training materials were to become available on Wednesday, though officials said educators won't be required to complete training over the summer. The province said it will include anti-racism and anti-discrimination training.

The president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation said the union supports ending early streaming, but criticized the timing of the announcement, which came just a few weeks before the end of the academic year.

Harvey Bischof said it's "simply not realistic" for teachers to get caught up on the new course materials before September. He said the announcement lacked proper plans for implementation and support.

"Educators will do their best but they shouldn't be left on their own to try to implement this successfully," he said.

With files from Adam Carter

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