Arts in Ontario Schools
This report, based largely on survey work done by People for Education, argues that “nearly a decade of cuts to funding for both education and culture have proven devastating for arts programs in Ontario schools”. For many students, access to the arts “depends on where they live and on their parents’ ability to pay for private lessons or fundraise for arts in their schools”.
The report attempts to document decreases in a wide range of arts-related areas: music teachers; arts courses; rural access to arts programs; teacher librarians; sales by Canadian publishers to school libraries; and theatre touring. The report notes that these decreases are problematic, because “for many students, schools provide their first, and for some, their only experience of the arts”. Despite a strong arts curriculum, there is no dedicated funding for specialist arts teachers in Ontario. It is not surprising, therefore, that only 40% of elementary schools had a music teacher in 2003/04. In upper-level elementary schools, only 15% had a visual arts teacher, 8% a design and technology teacher, and 5% a performing arts teacher. Northern and small rural schools were even less likely to have specialist arts teachers. (See People for Education’s Elementary Tracking Report for more information about specialist teachers, as well as funding, enrolment, class size and regional discrepancies in Ontario’s elementary schools.)
Arts teachers often have to work with minimal or no resources: “over one quarter of [music teachers surveyed] reported that they had no funding whatsoever for music in their school”.
In secondary schools, the report notes that recent reforms, including the change to a four-year secondary program, have limited the availability of arts courses and made it more difficult for schools and students to fit such courses into their timetables. The percentages of secondary schools fundraising for musical instruments and charging for art or music programs are also on the rise.
The report also highlights the loss of school librarians. In 1997/98, 51% of elementary schools reporting having a full-time teacher librarian. By 2003/04, this figure had decreased to 10% of schools. The report links the decrease in school librarians to declining school sales by Canadian publishers and to reduced visits by authors.
The report concludes that, “if arts education in Ontario is to survive and thrive, it will be necessary to develop a funding model that provides for arts programs in schools… All students [should] have access to the arts.”