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What’s the Problem with Public Education?

Format: Maps & Exhibits, RSD11, Topic: Learning & Education

Reshmi Bisessar, Nathalie Robertson, Allison Campbell-Rogers, Doug Reid and Katrina Heschel

Our synthesis map, “What’s the problem with Public Education?” explores the Ontario public education system from the primary grades of junior kindergarten to the completion of secondary school (currently grade 12). We have been greatly inspired by the work of Sir Ken Robinson and his extraordinary vision of education to support the development of every person’s potential.

For many years Ontario’s public education system has been well-regarded and ranks highly in Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) evaluation. However, these evaluations do not reflect the complete picture of Ontario’s education system. Ontario’s public education system is drifting towards a marketplace model. The Covid-19 pandemic uncovered shortcomings and pre-existing disruptions in the education system. Ontario was unable to meet the needs of all its students, not because of the Covid19-specific stress points of lockdown, distance, and integration of technology, but because it is a system entrenched in inequity.

A system built to support the pursuit of individual excellence will necessarily produce winners and losers. To better their child’s chances of “success”, families with means opt for elite private schools or enrol in costly add-on services from emerging education innovations. Meanwhile, changeovers of ruling political parties create oscillating ideologies that fail to support the needs of schools and education workers. The change we need to see in the education system is urgent because solving these complex problems and the challenges in the future we’ve yet to meet requires the full spectrum of human diversity and ability. We only get access to our full potential when everyone is included.

Our analysis indicates that the Ontario education system is currently vulnerable to a revolt initiated from the small-scale local level and the medium-scale district level. Covid-19 disruptions have created a groundswell of support for change and an experiential understanding that many educational orthodoxies are held in place due to habit rather than policy mandate.

  • Policymakers and governments can make changes directly to the system.
  • Activists and community members can take a stand from outside the system and press for change.
  • Principals standing in their unique position between students and policy can lead change within their schools.

We have the opportunity now, amidst the tumult of these multi-headed crises, to overhaul our education systems and ensure that school becomes a pathway toward flourishing human development for everyone.


Pre-proceedings drafts are available for review. The corresponding paper number is at the end of the title.




Citation Data

Author(s): Reshmi Bisessar, Nathalie Robertson, Allison Rogers-Campbell, Doug Reid and Katrina Heschel
Year: 2022
Title: What’s the Problem with Public Education?
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Volume: RSD11
Article No.: 217
Host: University of Brighton
Location: Brighton, UK
Symposium Dates: October 3–16, 2022
First published: 1 September 2022
Last update: 30 April 2023
Publisher Identification: ISSN 2371-8404
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