This weeks column from 24Hrs Vancouver: Focus on labour peace ignores underfunding

Who wins this week? Columnists Laila Yuile and Kathryn Marshall battle over the issues of the day.

This week’s topic:

Does Christy Clark’s 10-year education plan address the real issues in education?

Politicians who use children in photo-ops always come across as incredibly insincere. And seeing Premier Christy Clark this week in a classroom full of children waxing concern over non-interrupted education? Well, it was too much for my stomach. Turn the channel.

The irony is not lost on anyone old enough to remember Clark was the education minister behind Bills 27 and 28. These legislative changes were drafted so poorly and were so inherently flawed that nearly a decade later the trickle-down impact is still hampering every child’s ability to learn in the public school system…

Clark seems to think the only thing hampering education is labour strife with teachers. In her promotional video for the new 10-year education proposal, she states: “We owe this to our children. Their learning shouldn’t be compromised by the inability of adults to reach agreements.” And I agree — children shouldn’t be held hostage by any agenda, whether labour-driven or politically motivated.

Read Kathryn Marshall’s column.

However, when you look at Clark’s prior record as education minister, most of the issues that children, teachers and parents are dealing with in B.C. are the direct result of years of chronic underfunding to both programs and facilities. Changes in funding models and designations during her tenure nearly 10 years ago resulted in targeted, drastic cuts to special-needs funding that left teachers, students and parents foundering in the system. And again, it’s the children who suffer as a result.

I don’t see anything in this proposed 10-year framework that deals with any of it.

There is nothing to deal with a special-needs child who requires assistance all day at school, but receives it for only four hours a day because that is what the guidelines allow. Yes, Christy, you did that. There is nothing to prevent one teacher from having four or five kids with what the system calls Individual Education Plans in the same classroom without assistance. That’s what many teachers are fighting to change — class size and composition. Yes, Christy, you did that too. And despite what the politicians would have you believe, those things have a bigger impact on every child’s ability to learn in a classroom setting than a labour disruption.

It’s likely going to take a 10-year plan to restore the educational components and funding Clark stripped a decade ago. But this plan tells me she hasn’t learned a thing since the last time she sat in government.

Surrey School District addresses $9.53 million dollar shortfall by cutting 6 full school days from the calender

Education : the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgement, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.

Key words?  “Preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life ”

I am a firm believer that educating children properly in schools AND at home, is one of the keys to a successful and functioning society. In some countries around the world, education is considered so important that post-secondary schooling is free to those who wish to access it.

Here in Surrey, a city with some of the poorest neighbourhoods in all of BC ( Whalley, Newton) and thousands of at-risk kids, a proper education is crucial  to thousands of kids at risk of falling through the cracks and becoming lost to society- perhaps forever.

School is often the only place where  many of these kids are exposed to positive role models,where they are safe for a few hours,where they have a chance to succeed.

The Surrey school district is facing a massive budget shortfall: $9.53 million dollars.  According to the district website, this is attributed to a combination of factors including the recession as well as a  corresponding drop in international student enrollment . Apparently those foreign students are quite the money maker for Surreys school system.

Now, in an effort to handle that budget shortfall, the district has decided to cut 6 full days from the school calender, in addition to the 6 days already dedicated to Pro-D days.

While they say that no actual instruction time will be lost because they are adding 11 minutes to each school day, I call FOUL!

In an excerpt from the letter sent home to parents, (*, it  states :

“The board anticipates significant cost savings from these proposed calendar changes, as the school district currently spends more than $100,000 each day to replace absent teaching and non-teaching staff. There will be further savings resulting from decreased energy costs (transportation, heat, light) during the six days when schools are not providing regular service.”

Personally, I think there is something wrong with the rationale that says adding 11 minutes to each day somehow makes up for the loss of 6 full days. Please explain to me what a teacher can realistically expect to accomplish in those 11 minutes( which works out to about an extra 3 minutes per block in highschool), versus one entire day of class rotation where 3 or 4 different subjects receive a full block of time ?

Do they really expect us to swallow this nonsense?And I’m so glad that they are pointing out how much these 6 lost days are going to save us on transportation, heat and lights! AS if.

It’s time this Premier to put the money where his mouth is. If he truly intends to ” Keep BC Strong”, he can re-direct some funds over to the Education Ministry for disbursement to districts with shortfalls so that BC’s future workers aren’t being punished by this loss. From the record amounts being spent on the Olympic preparations, I would think there should be some funds sitting somewhere that can be snagged for something a little more high priority than a party.

And I would urge the school districts to re-examine their profit ventures to avoid relying on foreign student enrollment as the major source of non-ministry income. How a $9.53 budget shortfall was not addressed earlier, is beyond me.

The worst part is that I fear many parents in Surrey are not aware this is even happening, because letters were sent home with children in most schools, and as any parents know, notices sent home with kids,often get “lost”. If you are a Surrey resident with children in school, I urge you to read the notices and budget brief on the district website, , and send your feedback in before the budget approval meeting on May 28th- next Thursday. Education is an essential building block to opening a child’s world to endless opportunities.

 Thinking back to when I was growing up in northern BC,( where getting on at a local mill, or getting married and being a wife was what most kids did after highschool) I can clearly point to several teachers who saw in me a depth of passionate,insatiable curiosity, and encouraged the development of my education and interests. These teachers were not only my educators,but also mentors, counsellors, and occasionally – my friends.

There were a few teachers that really stand out for me, even now. These were teachers that went beyond merely spoon-feeding students the curriculum, they encouraged us to debate and question what was being taught. They welcomed debate, pushed for visionary, creative thinking, and saw in myself  talents that were nurtured and guided in much the way I wish my parents had. I credit these teachers with instilling in me the belief that I could do something with my life, that I did matter, and that everyone is capable of changing the world.

That is what a good teacher, a good education can do. Schools are far more than learning centres for many kids with dysfunctional homes. They are a refuge where for a few hours, teachers can, and often do, make the difference that changes the course of a child’s life forever, and we must not take one day of that opportunity for any child,or any teenager.

This is the importance of an education. It becomes an actual part of the person doing the learning, and beings to transform that child as it continues. Who has not seen that spark of recognition in a child’s eyes? That magical “Ah ha !” moment treasured by both the student and the teacher. It brings with it not only joy, curiosity and confidence, but also the acceptance of a new responsibility that comes with it. And this, my friends, is priceless.