Published April 1, 2024

Ontario may see non-tech teachers in new mandatory tech ed classes

Ontario is proposing to allow teachers without technological credentials to teach certain tech courses for the next school year, which teachers and principals suggest indicates the province is ill-prepared for the new mandatory nature of those classes. Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce delivers remarks at Lakeshore Collegiate Institute in Toronto, on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Spencer Colby

By Allison Jones

Ontario is proposing to allow teachers without technological credentials to teach certain tech courses for the next school year, which teachers and principals suggest indicates the province is ill-prepared for the new mandatory nature of those classes.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced last year that starting in September 2024, high school students will have to take a course on technology and the skilled trades in Grade 9 or 10 in order to graduate.

But the government is now "exploring options" to let principals assign teachers with general education qualifications — who may not have tech qualifications — to teach those courses for the next year.

There is already a shortage of teachers, let alone a shortage of tech-specific teachers, even before adding in new mandatory requirements for students to take those courses, said Ontario Principals Council president Ralph Nigro.

"The introduction of the courses is something that we are generally very supportive of, but I think there needed to be some other steps taken before they were rolled out, like creating additional spots in teacher education programs for tech teachers," Nigro said in an interview.

"It appears that that didn't happen and when you factor in ... teacher shortages for a number of years, we're very worried about having enough people in place."

A spokesperson for Lecce said the government has taken action to recruit and retain qualified educators across Ontario.

"We have enabled school boards to hire more skilled trades professionals with hands-on experience, along with ensuring introductory courses can be taught by more educators in schools," Isha Chaudhuri wrote in a statement.

"By doing so, students will learn through Ontario's modernized curriculum that emphasizes life skills, STEM, skilled trades and back-to-basics education."

The proposed new regulation posted recently by the government said that principals could assign a teacher without tech credentials to teach the courses as long as that teacher agrees.

Principals don't have a good sense at the moment of how many teachers might agree to that, Nigro said.

"I've been a high school principal since 2003 and generally speaking, high school teachers – and having been one myself – for the most part, don't like to teach outside of their certification area," he said.

"Their preference is to teach in the area for which they have been trained and where they have specialization."

The president of the main high school teachers' union worries that many teachers will agree to that because they will feel they have little choice.

"Because of people languishing on supply lists or occasional teacher lists, there’s a lot of people who will agree to do something out of their subject area, either as a favour to a principal, or because next year they'll get the course that they want to teach instead," said Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation president Karen Littlewood.

"In my opinion, it's not in the best interest of the students."

Like Nigro, Littlewood is supportive of having students get more technological education, but said the new requirements probably should have been phased in or tested out in some way first.

The courses are billed as "hands on," but Littlewood worries that without tech-qualified teachers, they will end up being "kind of like a careers in tech course, which I don't think does anything to alleviate or deal with the shortage of people going into the trades."

Ontario should be looking at how to get more people with industry certifications in the trades to become teachers, as there are large disincentives now, Littlewood said. Tradespeople would have to leave their job, attend teachers college for two years, then start at the bottom of the pay grid to work in a school, she said.

"Many of them make less money when they go into education, but they do it because they want to support students and their industry going forward," Littlewood said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 1, 2024.

Banner image via The Canadain Press- Spencer Colby

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