People for Education’s Response to Ontario’s Well-Being Strategy
March 22, 2017
In our recent response to the Ministry of Education's proposed well-being strategy, we identified three areas of concern.
People for Education supports Ontario’s work to move the education system beyond narrow goals for academic achievement, to a more comprehensive definition of educational success. However, there are significant challenges that need to be addressed.
These challenges sit in three critical areas:
Policy confusion, redundancy, and competition
The Ministry of Education is currently supporting a wide array of policies, initiatives, frameworks, and strategies that focus partly or entirely on similar areas of youth development and learning. While the intentions of the Well-Being Strategy are laudable, it is vital that we work first to rationalize policy redundancy and create one coherent learning framework, in order to reduce work intensification and policy-overload for educators.
Specificity and definition
It is of central importance that each area outlined in the Well-Being Strategy includes specific competencies and well-defined goals. The same language should be reflected in all policy areas across the Ministry, including things like the Learning Skills and Work Habits on report cards and outcomes in the curriculum. A specific competency language is central to creating coherence among strategies, and provides the level of detail required to inform effective measurement methods – one of the goals in the Well-Being Strategy. We encourage the Ministry to create a competency language that can be used across ministries and throughout the youth sector in Ontario.
The Well-Being Discussion Paper states the intention of developing consistent measures for well-being across Ontario schools. However, using a single set of indicators of well-being may narrow the definition of well-being, and may also constrain the activities and learning opportunities associated with education for well-being. We recommend, instead, measuring a number of indicators from a range of domains across a sample of the student population, and investigating further when necessary. This method would prevent people from stretching indicators beyond their intended purpose by, for example, using information to compare schools’ well-being achievement.
Responses to our annual school surveys, as well as reports from organizations such as the Ontario Principals’ Council, have raised concerns about work intensification and initiative overload in the education system. The challenge of having multiple strategies/initiatives is in their lack of coherence and their overlapping goals. They create the perception that schools are responsible for implementing an ever-increasing roster of individual programs. Rather than introducing a new policy, which may be viewed as yet another initiative, People for Education recommends the rationalization of existing policies.
It is vital that the system supports the well-being of all students. The most effective way to do that is to focus on policy coherence, deeper support for existing strategies and initiatives, and extreme caution regarding the use of simplistic measures.