Dutch vice-minister of education visits U of T's OISE

Author: 
Terry Lavender

When the Netherlands wanted to find out why Ontario’s education system is so much more successful than theirs, their first stop was the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto.

An 11-member delegation, led by Sander Dekker, the Dutch vice-minister of education, came to OISE at the start of a four-day visit to Ontario. They were there to learn how Ontario “manages to achieve much greater change with less opposition from the education field than our government,” Dekker said.

The Netherlands, he told OISE Dean Julia O’Sullivan and her colleagues, does not even rank in the top 20 in the world in terms of education quality, and that is not good enough.

“We have our pride; we should be doing better,” he said.

The OISE faculty members at the meeting said Ontario’s primary strengths are dedicated teachers and strong public support for the publicly funded school system.

Carol Campbell, a professor of leadership, higher and adult education, said the province and the public both strongly support public education – 95 per cent of pupils are in the publicly funded system, she said, and government support for education has been consistent over the past decade.

Eunice Eunhee Jang said Ontario teachers are dedicated, as shown by their voluntarily giving time for extracurricular activities and paying out of their own pocket for professional development courses.

Ontario attracts such dedicated teachers because of good pay, benefits and pensions, said Ann Lopez, OISE’s academic director for initial teacher education. Ontario has 13 faculties of education, and there is a high demand for places in their programs. OISE alone gets about 3,000 applications each year, she said.

Joan Peskin, the director of the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study, agreed: “they have the grades to become lawyers and doctors, but they choose to become teachers.”

However, O’Sullivan pointed out to the Dutch delegation that all is not perfect in the Ontario system. “Aboriginal children are poorly served, for example,” she said.

The Dutch delegation expressed surprise that Ontario teachers voluntarily lead extra-curricular activities. Rene Kneyber, a math teacher, commented: “If it’s that important, why not pay them?”

At the conclusion of the 90-minute session, Sander thanked the OISE faculty members “for their honest assessment of  a variety of different issues.” In response, O'Sullivan invited them back, saying it would be great to hear what they are doing next time.

Besides OISE, the Dutch delegation planned to visit schools and other education-related institutions, including the Ontario Ministry of Education and the Education Quality Accountability Office.