'We have a plan to help these kids catch up': Education minister talks back to school – Kitchener.CityNews.ca

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Families are gearing up to get back to the fall routine and the education minister is laying out some of what can be expected this school year. 
"It's been two difficult years and we have a plan in this province to help these kids catch up," said Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce in an interview with CityNews 570. 
"It is all designed around helping children refocus their minds on learning and learning recovery."
The province is planning an emphasis on STEM education, as well as a "full learning" experience, including clubs, sports, and music.
Students will learn life and job skills.
"Too many kids ask themselves 'why did I learn that?' We're going to be emphasizing real life skill sets—financial literacy, personal budgeting, concepts of credit and debt, building leadership skills, interpersonal skills," said Lecce. 
Ontario has also invested $175 million to expand publicly funded tutoring.
"The final component is making sure kids are in modern schools with strong ventilation, internet connectivity, and accessibility," he said.
"We're building new schools with more science labs and tech labs so that we can make learning dynamic, experiential, and impactful for these kids."
Lecce said the province has consulted with families, who've made clear that students need a stable learning environment.
However, opposition MPP's and teachers unions have criticized the government's plan not to bring mandatory masks back in September.
The provincial policy came to an end as students returned from March Break earlier this year. 
Concerns were raised that there are inadequate safety measures in schools.
"My best advice is to listen to doctors and to scientists, not the politicians and the union leaders," said Lecce.
He maintains the decision has the support of the medical community.
"The medical community has been clear. The Centre for Disease Control, the Children's Health Coalition in Ontario, every Medical Officer of Health in Ontario has been unanimous that schools have been safe. They will remain safe," said Lecce.
He cited measures, including "massive investment in ventilation" and rapid test kits available in schools.
"Our focus remains on the mental health of a student, who has been out of class, and been impacted that many of these policies that perhaps the opposition or the others would want us to keep in place forever," said Lecce.
He further defends the move, saying, "We've got to be grounded in science." 
Lecce said the province is finding balance between listening to "the best experts" and making sure kids have a more normal school year. 
The education minister is also weighing in on contract negotiations between the province and the union representing 55,000 education workers.
Members of CUPE'S Ontario School Board Council of Unions are set to take a strike vote in late September and could take job action in October.
Lecce insists families are on the province's side.
"I think families are just not tolerating these threats of strikes and instability literally every 3 years in Ontario. It's just sad this keeps happening," he said.
Ontario is offering a two per cent raise to education workers making less than $40,000 per year, and a 1.25 per cent raise to everyone else.
OSBCU has called the offer "disrespectful."
It's asked for annual raises of 11.7 per cent or $3.25 per hour, arguing workers' wages have been restricted over the last decade and inflation has been high.
CUPE represents workers including education assistants, school librarians, and custodians. 
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