Ontario’s Classrooms: Making a Brighter Tomorrow

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by Shabnum Budhwani

The students of today are the citizens of tomorrow. Education plays a key role in helping to create responsible citizens who will take the leadership and initiative to move Canada forward. Education is not only about text book learning and theory, or about going through pages of history and learning from the past. Education is also about opening minds, widening horizons, broadening outlook and perspective. It’s about challenging the mind to think far and beyond, to dream the impossible and to make it happen.

Teachers play a vital role in stimulating young minds and providing encouragement and support for students. Most people who are in the teaching profession are there because of the love of teaching, because it’s a passion and because they believe they have a role to play in the framing of young lives. If we think back to our childhood and school days most of us would be able to recollect memories of teachers who have left a mark on us, who have influenced or inspired us in some way and of whom we still have vivid memories. It could have been something small like encouraging us to participate in an event, or comments they may have made, or simply their attitude.

Children spend most of their developing years in the school system, their ideas and thinking being influenced by what they are exposed to in the classroom, by their peers, teachers and principals. Teachers are therefore role models, because children generally look to adults for guidance and absorb their behaviour, either consciously or unconsciously. What better way for children to learn than to be guided by teachers from a variety of backgrounds, teachers who have experience from around the world, who bring fresh ideas, new methods, different outlooks. This helps children realize that there are multiple ways of doing things and many ways to arrive at solutions.

Canada has a proud tradition of multiculturalism, of welcoming newcomers from diverse backgrounds from across the globe. When some of these newcomers are internationally educated teachers, many with extensive teaching experience, novel ideas and fresh approaches are brought to the classroom, enhancing the learning experience of students. In fact, in today’s knowledge-based economy and when geographical boundaries are fast disappearing, this is what we need most, a mingling of talents and intellect from across the globe. Besides, it is essential that the diversity of the student population is represented in the teaching body as well. When students come to realize that teachers understand their situation and are able to provide help in connecting their home culture to their school culture, an environment that nurtures learning is created.

It is clear that internationally educated teachers are a benefit to our school system. Why then is it a challenge for so many to bring their talents to Ontario’s classrooms? There are many reasons.

All teachers in Ontario’s publicly funded schools must be certified by the Ontario College of Teachers. The requirements for certification are rigorous, presenting challenges for some internationally educated teachers who want to teach in Ontario’s classrooms.

The process involves proving proficiency in English or French and arranging for documents to be sent to the College by institutions overseas. After certification, challenges may arise in finding and maintaining employment as a teacher. Recognizing the importance of teacher diversity, the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration is funding a program that helps internationally educated teachers overcome the challenges in the process of becoming certified to teach in Ontario and finding work in the public school system.

The program is called Teach in Ontario and it is the result of a partnership among LASI World Skills, the Ontario College of Teachers, the Ontario Teachers’ Federation, Skills for Change and Windsor Women Working With Immigrant Women. The program provides four services: Clear and concise information about the teacher certification process and the Ontario school system, assistance obtaining documents required for the certification process, employment preparation through a six-week course called STIC (Sector-specific Terminology, Information and Counselling), and language assessment and upgrading.

The program has been highly successful to date, helping over 800 internationally educated teachers become certified, many of whom have also found employment in Ontario’s classrooms. Internationally educated teachers are joining the ranks of those who have laid the foundation of education excellence in the province and are helping to promote the ideals of diversity in the classroom.

Ontario’s students will be leaders who understand the value of being global citizens and who can talk the language of the world.

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