Ontario, one of the world’s most diverse regions, demonstrated in real time and with devastating clarity how COVID-19 has disproportionately affected BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) and poverty-stricken communities, both from a health perspective and from an economic one. The impacts of the shutdown and the reopening, and the sectors and workers deemed “essential,” also underscored the deeply racialized job market because Black, Indigenous, and other racialized people are disproportionately more likely to be unemployed, underemployed and engaged in precarious work.
While BIPOC workers are overrepresented in jobs that the pandemic exposed as economically precarious, they are also underrepresented in Ontario’s teacher workforce. Indeed, the most comprehensive data collected indicated that approximately 90 per cent of Ontario teachers are white.
As I’ve argued elsewhere, such as in my piece Racializing Merit: The Revocation of Regulation 274/12 and Teacher Hiring in Ontario, there are profound implications to not addressing the composition and implications of a workforce that is predominantly white, female and heteronormative. This largely mirrors the makeup of education faculties as well those who make admission decisions, and informs the demographics of educational administrators who are responsible for teacher hiring.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce took advantage of this as a highly politicized and partisan opportunity to argue that not requiring directors of education to hold OCT (Ontario College of Teachers) credentials, or to actually have educational experience, would encourage diversity. In doing so, not only did the minister reinforce the prioritization of “business” leadership skills over “pedagogical” leadership skills, he also failed to outline the specifics of how the removal of OCT qualifications for those in positions of education leadership will increase diversity in a tangible manner.
The Ontario College of Teachers under direction of the Ministry of Education has commissioned the issuance of emergency teaching certificates to teacher candidates currently enrolled in Ontario pre-service education programs that are set to graduate at the end of 2021 (OCT, 2020). While this move will allow for teacher candidates to earn wages during their practicum hours, there are far too many unknowns accompanying this measure. For example, it is unclear whether teacher candidate wages will be on par with regular school board OTs, as well as whether or not teacher candidates will be unionized with job protections. This begs the question of whether or not it would be more equitable to just have paid practicums due to the increased cost/debt factor incurred with teacher education programs now being two years rather than one year. If practicums were to be paid, this would likely make teacher education programs more accessible for many BIPOC communities; teacher candidates do not have to engage in unpaid labour, while also paying increasing tuition fees, during times of economic hardship.
Minister Stephen Lecce announced during his briefing on February 1st that the certificates will expire at the end of August 2021 for those who have not taken or passed the Math Proficiency Test (MPT), or on December 31st 2021 for those who have. So while this policy allows teacher candidates to make connections with school communities and administrators in the short term, it is a strategy that will only reinforce job precarity in the long run, a trend that already disproportionately impacts BIPOC people throughout the province.
Throughout the pandemic, faculties of education have undertaken drastic changes such as switching to online learning, virtual practicums and office hours for mentorship, to keep teacher education programs afloat, while trying to accommodate the various needs of students. However, while there have been discussions about the impact of the shutdown and the reliance on remote learning for marginalized students in K-12, much less attention has been paid to the implications for BIPOC teacher candidates. This highlights the discrepancies between decision-makers and faculty members–those in positions of authority, who are predominantly white–who design policy, and those who are impacted by it, with little regard for or understanding of their personal or familial needs and responsibilities.
Massive and widespread shifts from traditional to online learning pedagogies create a double barrier for BIPOC teacher candidates who are already disproportionately affected by the pandemic. As Carl James notes, shifts to online teaching and learning pedagogies are designed for financially secure, abled, white students (James, 2020), who have access to more resources, as well as the cultural and social capital in order to successfully navigate these changes and systems which are designed for them. In order to ensure the shift from face-to-face to online learning and the move from in-school to virtual teaching practicums do not further impede BIPOC students of education–who must already navigate the racialized spaces teacher education embodies–I offer the following recommendations as a starting point.
- Make turning cameras on optional-this will allow for BIPOC students to have privacy and dignity to engage in their courses while also tending to familial or employment responsibilities
- Allow teacher candidates to record and submit presentations rather than presenting live. Presenting live to their peers and instructors as this may violate the privacy of students and their families, and living spaces. The timing of the live presentations may not be suitable should students be engaged in caring for their children during school hours
- The OCT, faculties of education, unions, boards and the Ministry of Education must do more to advocate for longer term teaching employment, so that teacher candidates are not considered a cheap, short term labour supply. This will help ensure much needed financial and career security for many students, and in particular BIPOC students disproportionately impacted by the economic hardships of the pandemic.
Dr. Zuhra Abawi is an Assistant Professor of Education at Niagara University Ontario.
Abawi, Z., & Eizadirad, A. (2020). Bias-Free or Biased Hiring? Racialized Teachers’ Perspectives on Educational Hiring Practices in Ontario. Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, 193, 18-31.
Colour of Poverty. (2019). Colour of poverty factsheets. Retrieved from https://colourofpoverty. ca/fact-sheets/.
James, C. E. (2020). Racial Inequity, COVID-19 and the Education of Black and Other Marginalized Students. Royal Society of Canada. Retrieved from https://rsc-src.ca/en/covid-19/impact-covid-19-in-racialized-communities/racial-inequity-covid-19-and-education-black-and
Ontario College of Teachers. (2020). New certificate helps province address COVID-19-related teacher shortages. Retrieved from https://www.oct.ca/public/media/announcements/new-certificate-helps-province-address-covid19-related-teacher-shortage
Rushowy, K. Ministry gives go-ahead for boards to hire teacher-ed students for supply positions. Toronto Star. Monday February 1st, 2021. Retrieved from https://www.thestar.com/politics/provincial/2021/02/01/ministry-gives-go-ahead-for-boards-to-hire-teacher-ed-students-for-supply-positions.html
United Way Greater Toronto. (2019). Rebalancing the Opportunity Equation. Retrieved from https://youthrex.com/report/rebalancing-the-opportunity-equation/