When Ontario Education Minister Lisa Thompson announced the PC government's plan to increase high school class sizes last week, she knew there would be some pushback. Even during the announcement, she told the public, "We know not everyone will agree with every single part of our plan, but Premier Ford and our PC government have a mandate to govern and a mandate to lead."
Yesterday, Thompson continued to defend the Ontario government's education reform - which plans to increase average high school class sizes from 22 to 28 students - by claiming that today's students "lack resiliency and coping skills".
Last week, Thompson explained that Ontario high schools currently have one of the lowest student-to-teacher ratios of any Canadian province.
When Thompson was questioned by reporters yesterday, she explained the changes would ultimately benefit students because it would help them to become "more employable".
"We know not everyone will agree with every single part of our plan but Premier Ford and our PC government have a mandate to govern and a mandate to lead," Thompson says.— CP24 (@CP24) March 15, 2019
She told CBC's Metro Morning, "When students are currently preparing to go off to post-secondary education, we're hearing from professors and employers alike that they're lacking coping skills and they're lacking resiliency. So by increasing class sizes in high school we're preparing them for the reality of post secondary as well as the world of work."
After a question period yesterday, Thompson also referred to a story she had recently heard about a young person who cried during a job interview. "They haven't had that exposure, the coping skills, to deal with stressful situations, and so we need to make sure that students have an environment whereby they're communicating, they're learning, how to discuss difficult subject areas," she commented.
During her Q&A with reporters, Thompson rejected the idea that larger classes would become stressful for students and teachers alike.
She responded with, "What I'm saying is what we're hearing is when we take a look at aligning our mature students in high school with class sizes with other jurisdictions across Canada, we're enabling more group work, we're enabling more opportunities for people to work with each other and actually build the skills that employers are looking for."
The president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, Harvey Bischof, told CTV News that no evidence has suggested that larger class sizes and less attention for students from teachers will lead to resilience or the development of coping skills.
"I suppose we could subject students to all kinds of deprivations and those that survived would be by definition resilient, but I don't think that's how we raise or educate students, children, in 2019," he told CTV News.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath compared Thompson's comments on resiliency to a dramatic movie where children are forced to fight to the death.
"The government's response to changes in our education system is basically throwing 'The Hunger Games' into our classrooms," she told reporters. "What we should be doing is providing supports, providing the one-on-one access to teachers and not tell kids that they're going to have to fight their way through school."
Some Ontarians are deeply disturbed by Thompson's comments, and are urging the province to reconsider the decision to increase class sizes.
Let’s give Lisa Thompson a more challenging work environment so she can further develop her coping skills. Make her sit with the NDP. Take away her office staff. Cut her salary by 20%.— sirons (@sirons1) March 21, 2019
My kids have more than enough challenges in high school thank you very much @LisaThompsonMPP
I am shocked by Lisa Thompson's implication that post-secondary mental health issues ("coping skills / resilience") will be addressed by larger classes at high school. It's offensive to any parent who has seen a child struggle -- who's had to scramble for help and resources.— Megan O'Connor (@bwdwriter) March 21, 2019
In fairness to Lisa Thompson, she and the rest of the Doug Ford Tories are "new hires" in a sense and they sure as hell are “lacking resiliency and coping skills" when it comes to governing, so I can see where she got that idea. #onpoli #TOpoli https://t.co/SawHSzUsZj— Mike Beauvais (@MikeBeauvais) March 20, 2019
How can you say this without smirking?! Resiliency and coping comes with responsibilities at home, in a part-time job, not vying for the teachers' attention and failing! This is crap Lisa Thompson!! Go visit a classroom!!!— Mary Ann Allin (@naniallin) March 21, 2019
My kids experienced enough adversity to last a lifetime in their early years. They have already developed unbelievable resiliency and coping skills. My kids are not unique in this province. Lisa Thompson's cruelty is staggering.— Kim Jorn (@KimJorn) March 21, 2019
Ont Ed Minister Lisa Thompson must think everyone in Ontario is an idiot.— Dan White (@whiteyscitsblue) March 21, 2019
Increasing class sizes in HS doesn't prepare students for post secondary. It saves the gov $ at the expense of our youth.
Want resiliency and coping skills... allow kids to fail and learn it happens.
i just spit out my tea. Minister of Education Lisa Thompson isn't really good at taking questions. On @metromorning she just said that the gov't is increasing class sizes to give students more challenges and an opportunity to build resilience and coping skills. #edchat #onpoli— Sam (@SamTecle) March 20, 2019