King-Vaughan MPP Stephen Lecce makes no apologies for his work as Minister of Education.
In fact, he’s driven by doing “what’s right,” not what’s popular. And, he’s continually governed by the health and welfare of Ontario’s students, teachers and residents.
Every step of the way during the pandemic, provincial officials have had to stop, pivot and drive change. Changes and innovations were vital to an admittedly tired education system that needs modernization.
Lecce and the Province have been key movers to online learning and technology long before COVID-19.
But since the pandemic’s arrival, education in this province has changed dramatically. And Lecce maintains it’s all for the best. In fact, Ontario has become the national leader in its synchronous online system, led by live teachers.
The minister pointed out that almost all bureaucracies are traditionally adverse to change. And yet, all levels of government – from Ottawa to the municipal level – have had to adapt, evolve and find efficiencies.
The push for online learning over the past year has accelerated Ontario’s game plan, with largely strong, positive results.
Lecce said we owe it to our children to ensure our education system is aligned with the job market, both now and in the future. Boosting the curriculum with technology-related courses and options will only strengthen the resolve of future leaders.
No other province currently offers the breadth of online learning opportunities as Ontario.
Lecce said his ministry stood up and updated the curriculum, including math, at a time when it wasn’t necessarily a priority for everyone.
Career development is also important for today’s students. Lecce and the ministry want to position Ontario as a global leader, making our kids THE global leaders in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Life skills and experiential learning are other mandates included in today’s curriculum.
“The Ministry won’t be put on hold (by the pandemic),” he said. “Kids deserve a modern, relevant education and curriculum. I learned we have to do what’s right, not what’s easy.”
His job, his mission, is to give students and educators the tools they need to make this happen.
He pointed out the Province recently earmarked $1 billion for new schools, including one in King-Vaughan.
Lecce and his ministry are constantly under attack by unions and educators. But it’s important to note that while the ministry mandates the changes and improvements, it’s the school boards themselves that carry them out.
The Province recently provided $18 million in additional funding to the York Region boards of education.
That’s a significant contribution, he pointed out. The Province has upped funding across the board, since the beginning of the pandemic, and the money has been put to good use.
He said at this point, more than 95% of Ontario schools have improved ventilation systems, hepa filters, etc.
But Lecce doesn’t point any fingers, noting the pandemic has actually improved networks and partnerships. Lecce said he speaks regularly with his colleagues and several medical officers of health, to be kept abreast of the situation, which tends to change weekly.
Politicians and civil servants have all learned the value of accessibility and visibility. While the Provincial government has always been accessible, Lecce said a stronger presence by elected officials has provided a greater level of guidance and leadership. From health officials to ministry spokespeople, everyone has had to step up, he said.
Lecce pointed out remarkably, the provincial PCs have worked extremely well with the federal Liberal government, as well as Liberal MPs, through the pandemic.
“It’s the leadership we all need,” he said.
The fact that kids are back in school is a “great service” and he’s adamant that he will do everything in his power to keep schools open. Mental health professionals and medical officers all supported getting kids back in school.
Having students return to school and moving York to the red zone is being done cautiously.
“I will continue to act quickly, to ensure the safety of children and staff,” he said.
The layers in place, which include stepped up in-school monitoring, anti-congregation measures, etc. are working. Further, the Province is making sure that educators will have priority in getting the vaccine in the second phase, expected to start soon.
The pandemic has actually brought these partners closer together, Lecce admits, particularly in the health care sector. These connections will continue in the post-pandemic society.
It may also lead to a less apprehensive approach and a more cooperative one.
Mark Pavilons, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, King Weekly Sentinel