FFWD REW

Province fails to take education seriously

From cuts to curbs on the diversity of programs Alberta is set up perfectly for a narrowly defined

When something is rotten say a browned apple or a slimey red pepper it doesn’t get better. The rot spreads the once fresh produce moulds and decays. In Alberta the rot is centred in the government and it’s oozing outward.

Melodramatic? Maybe but accurate nonetheless. We have a past-its-due-date government that is now leaching mould and rot into our education system doing its best to ensure the province withers with future generations.

In other jurisdictions (not all Internet commenters but thank you for your input) an education would imply a sort of expansive well-rounded experience. In Alberta the government is doing its best to ensure that’s not the case.

We start putting blinders on our youth early in Alberta. The government in a nod to fundamentalists in our midst passed Bill 44 in 2009 which allows parents’ personal views to interfere in a public education. The bill is wide ranging enough to allow parents to yank their kids out of class for a range of taboo topics. Sex ed? Forget the universally accepted fact that it helps improve the sexual health and awareness of those enrolled that’s optional even in our contemporary society. Miley Cyrus who chooses to grind against the crotch of a man singing about potential sexual assault will have to do as a guidepost and sexual mentor for the shielded young.

In addition to preventing all children from getting a well-rounded education we also have fewer teachers teaching more children. According to Alberta Liberal education critic Kent Hehr there are 900 fewer teachers and 40000 more students in classrooms across Alberta this year compared to 2010.

The Calgary Board of Education a governing body several times more dysfunctional than the provincial government could ever hope to be faced a $62-million shortfall for this year thanks to deep cuts from the province.

It doesn’t end at Grade 12 however. The governing Progressive Conservatives have now turned their sights on higher education. Without a word of warning $100 million worth of post-secondary funding disappeared in the latest budget — blindsiding schools that were promised a two per cent increase in funding. It was a devastating blow to some institutions particularly Mount Royal University in Calgary where programs were cut and jobs were lost.

Thomas Lukaszuk Minister of Advanced Education didn’t just pull funding he stepped in to lecture universities and colleges about what kinds of programs should be on offer arguing that post-secondaries should ensure they aren’t offering the same stable of programs.

Elsewhere the ability to choose between different schools for your education is seen as a strength. A broad range of views and styles when dealing with the same subject matter is a boon for students and for society. In Alberta overlap is seen as a drag an inefficiency in the system. Pesky programs like those in the arts are cut. The focus here is on making money. The cynic might suggest that only those careers in oil and gas are welcome in a province addicted to royalties (which are far too low).

What’s most frustrating about the government’s approach is that investment in post-secondary education is a profitable one. Hugh Mackenzie from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives argues in his paper Learning and Earning that in Canada investment in education is paid back within an average of about 10 years through higher income taxes. Cuts and a reliance on tuition is not only a barrier for those from a lower socio-economic demographic to attend university it costs our province in the long run (socially and financially).

This is the progress of the bottom line at the expense of anything else. It is progress narrowly defined and it will haunt us for years to come. When education is narrowly defined so too will be the outcomes.

Welcome to school. Better check that apple before taking a bite.

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