Making need an opportunity

“Conventional wisdom has it that education-obsessed Chinese parents send their children to years of arduous after-school tutoring to give them a leg up on the country’s brutal college admissions tests. There may be more to it than that, however.

“Those after-school classes — whether they focus on academics, the arts or sports — are in some cases the most convenient day care available to families with two working parents.
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Strange. This story crossed my desk as I was reading through the Comptroller General’s report on the Vancouver School Board financial difficulty.

One demand the Ministry of Education makes of the VSB is that charges for child care programs and other community supports be raised substantially. The Board sees these as worthwhile social programs that fill important needs of citizens and use facilities that would otherwise sit empty. The province sees them as profit opportunities. The VSB says higher fees will terminate programs or make them inaccessible to people most in need. The Minister of Education says, “Tough shit.”

China, the country with burgeoning wealth takes education seriously. It is prioritized. They do not search for ways to cut expenditures and reduce opportunities for learning. Recognizing that education is the engine of the future economy, they dedicate ever more financial resources, particularly in science, most particularly in research. Since 1999, China’s expenditure on R&D has risen 20% each year. It now ranks ahead of all others but one. By 2020, it will rank first.

In British Columbia, our government sees education as the place to score points playing political games. Vancouver City, burdened by the spiritual and financial poverty of the inner city is targeted for special treatment.

Close those programs that assist at-risk students, that feed hungry children. Increase barriers to community groups using otherwise empty rooms. Eliminate music and cultural programs, special education and ESL teachers. Cut every component of education that is not part of minimal core services. Don’t fund according to needs; turn the equation around; match needs to whatever funding you are given.

BC can dedicate billions to the Olympics; we can spend $600 million for a new roof on BC Place and $20 million for a temporary stadium. We can spend billions on freeway and bridge improvements and billions on rapid transit. We can pay million dollar salaries to executives, like the ferry head who is paid 8 times what the head of Washington State Ferries earns. Other executives receive multiple pensions and we give them consulting contracts to earn even more. We can spend $35 million in retroactive contributions for MLAs who want larger pensions.

But education? We’re just not into it. Leave it to the Chinese, they know where they’re going. They are turning need into opportunity.

Categories: Education

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