Ontario’s new OSAP is focused on accessibility, removing financial barriers, and ensuring the province gets the most out of its best and brightest, according to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. The Premier toured Brock University last week, visiting labs and speaking with professors about their research initiatives.
She also took some time to speak with The Brock Press about education in Ontario, where it is now, and where it will soon be heading.
“Our thrust as a government has been accessibility,” said Wynne. To this end, her government is trying to ensure every student is given the same opportunity for post-secondary education.
“Everyone who is qualified and wants to go to post-secondary, can go to post-secondary and won’t be held back because of their financial situation.”
Starting in the 2017-18 school year, Ontario will be rolling out the new Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), geared at ensuring everyone has a fair shot at a post-secondary education.
“If I step back, the policy reason is that young people from high income families are four times more likely to go to post-secondary than young people from low income families, and that gap is just unacceptable because it means we’re not getting the best,” explained the Premier. “We’re not getting all of the best because we’re not getting kids from all across the spectrum. That’s the fundamental reason we decided to do this.”
Part of the new OSAP, the premier explained, is that many students will be receiving free tuition; they will have the average cost of education in Ontario awarded to them in grants.
This new initiative will cover full-time students whose parents earn less than $50 000 per year, as well as many students from middle-income families.
The new OSAP is a rearrangement of the grants and awards currently available, explained Wynne, but now prioritizing families and students who need it the most.
“We’re targeting that support to the lower-middle income families, as opposed to distributing that support all over the whole population.”
The Premier noted that in an ever more globalized world, Ontario’s advantage “is our people, our highly educated workforce.” She continued, explaining how business continues to move or expand into Ontario to gain access to the province’s workforce.
“We have to keep that edge,” she said. “And we’ll only keep that edge if we have everybody at their best.”
While education may be Ontario’s edge, Wynne concedes that there is some room for improvement, “I think we have some work to do on giving young people experiential opportunities so they actually have some hands on learning experiences.” Because while “having a broad array of choices and broad exposure is good,” she explained, “at some point you have to help young people think ‘which direction do I want to go and what do I want to focus on’… And we haven’t been as good at giving those experiences early.”
But education is not just about economics and ensuring a competitive workforce, explains the Premier, it includes creating a healthy and functional society.
She spoke of the value and importance of education to society, beyond the technical education offered by business and science degrees. Fostering this workforce is important, but so is ensuring they have the freedom to choose.
“You know, I have an Arts degree, and I would say that those skills can be transferred to thousands of different situations. There’s not just one way of thinking,” said the Premier.
She strongly believes a mix of disciplines is fundamentally important to the health of society. The freedom of choice and continued push towards a diverse education is what she calls “one of the unique features of education in Ontario.”
“I believe, fundamentally, that education is a cornerstone of democracy,” she explained. “The more that we can support each other as a society in learning to think critically about the world, the better off we will be.”
Education is valuable in and of itself, she argues, not just because it helps you get a job, or because it prepares you for the realities of the workforce, but because it pushes you to become a better person, able to better experience and shape our collective future.
“I think we’ve taken hands on learning out of our secondary and elementary schools, and we need to start building that in. But that doesn’t mean that they all need to be hands on learning in science, or business, or drama, because we need all those things. Our society without poetry, our society without literature, our society without drama and music, is not much of a society.”
“If we narrow our educational institutions to the point we denigrate those endeavors, I think we rob humanity, we rob ourselves, of what’s really essential about being a human being.”