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Photo of Tamara Mitchell with young students.
Tamara Mitchell, a public school teacher in Toronto, holds a master’s degree from OISE

OISE’s New Direction

Education faculty to more than double the size of its graduate programs in teacher education, eliminate BEd by 2015

Soon everyone studying education at the University of Toronto will be a grad student. U of T’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) announced in May that it will phase out its Bachelor of Education and diploma programs in teacher education and become an all-graduate institute of teaching, learning and research.

OISE’s decision follows an announcement from the province last year that requires all faculties of education in Ontario to lengthen teacher training to two years from one. The province also said it will fund only half as many undergraduate places each year because of a worsening job market for teachers, and would cut the grant it gives for each bachelor of education student by 33 per cent.

As a result of the changes, OISE will divert resources into its graduate program. Under the plan, OISE’s graduate enrolment will grow to 430 students, up from 200 currently. (There was already strong demand for the faculty’s master’s programs: applications have risen 30 per cent over the past five years.)

Graduates with a Master of Teaching or Master of Arts in Child Study and Education are licensed to teach in Ontario, and many are education leaders, says Julia O’Sullivan, OISE’s dean. She sees benefits in the faculty’s plan for individual teachers – and education generally. “Ontario has one of the best school systems in the world. But having more educators who understand the research – and know how to apply it in the classroom to improve learning for all children – will strengthen the system overall.”

O’Sullivan cites improved literacy as an example: educational research has shown that a child’s reading ability at age nine or 10 is the best predictor for whether he or she will graduate from high school. “Educators who are familiar with those teaching approaches that are proven to make a difference in early-years reading so that all children can be successful in school is really important.”

The same applies to math skills – the other cornerstone of primary education, but an area in which Ontario students’ scores have been slipping for several years. O’Sullivan says educators familiar with the research on what works and, importantly, what does not work when teaching math to children are better equipped to help turn around the slide.

OISE’s graduate programs also allow teachers to specialize – initially, in early years’ education or in teaching children with exceptional needs. As the programs expand, the faculty will offer other specialized options, such as aboriginal and urban education, says O’Sullivan.

She adds that OISE’s decision to focus on graduate education should not be read as a judgment on worth of a BEd degree, but rather a strategic decision that aligns the institute with the University of Toronto’s role as a research-intensive university and the province’s goal to create more differentiation among teaching programs in Ontario. “The BEd is a highly valued credential,” says O’Sullivan. “The masters programs are different. They’re research-based. Candidates conduct research and study policy options.  They allow for specialities, and, depending on the specialty, they open up broader career options.”

Although many graduates of the Master of Teaching and Master of Arts in Child Study degrees assume leadership positions in education, others pursue careers in healthcare, government and the private sector, often in employee training. In an era of constant change, most businesses will need employees to upgrade their skills and training regularly. “These graduates have a really deep understanding of how to teach in different contexts, how people of different ages and abilities learn,” says O’Sullivan.

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