Dalton McGuinty likes to style himself the education premier. His success on that file may be his proudest accomplishment since being elected. In this he combines his policies for public education (K-12) and post-secondary, which I think is an error.
I do not believe the direction of public education under the Liberal government has taken is much to celebrate over the last eight years. Not everything was incorrect, obviously. Smaller class sizes and peace with the unions is positive. Other frequently trumpeted benefits, such as increased graduation rates might be cause more for alarm than celebration. I addressed my concerns about the Ontario education policy of increased graduation rates here.
Education has increasingly turned to statistical measures to determine success – How many kids are graduating? What are the scores on the standardized tests? How many kids passed the literacy test? These questions don’t actually address issues like – Are our standards of education slipping? Are our children learning successfully? Are our students literate?
I have worked in education on several different levels – volunteer, teacher, and now as a teaching-assistant at a university. Professors much deride the declining quality of the students emerging from our public education system. Anecdotal evidence suggests that even though many thousands of students are entering Ontario universities, first year programs are increasingly becoming high school completion classes because students lack basic skills.
More students graduate every year as a percentage, but every year the value of an Ontario Secondary School Diploma drops further. It no longer signifies a particular level of skill and knowledge.
I should point out that many of my objections are likely products of our times. These patterns are unfolding across North America in many different jurisdictions with very different governments. I’m convinced for the most part that neither Tim Hudak nor Andrea Horwath would fundamentally alter this educational reality. Education is often more a product of society and economy than public policy.
On post-secondary, there are also major issues. Despite the promises of both the Progressive Conservatives and Liberals to add tens of thousands of new spaces in post-secondary institutions our schools are not adequately providing the resources to staff them. During a panel discussion I attended at Brock University the panellists were in total agreement that universities are cutting back on tenured staff in favour of part-time staff and larger class sizes. What does this do to post-secondary education in Ontario?
At Brock University our infrastructure is doing well to keep pace with our growing student body. However the departments are not. All faculties are facing budget cuts annually. Growing classes are increasingly taught by instructors and space for researchers is shrinking.
Public education in Niagara is also in trouble. Every year in Niagara there are rumours of schools closing. Many are well founded because of diminishing enrolment. Niagara will likely lose more than one high school in the coming years. What does that do for our quality of education? I agree in efficiencies and making the system effective, but schools used to be the heart of communities – these are not consequence free decisions.
Education has not received substantial attention in this election, frankly, few issues have. Perhaps when this election is over and the results have poured in I’ll look back and write what I would have liked to have heard.
Remember, Election Day is this Thursday October 6. Get out and vote!
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