Education. We all have somewhat mixed feelings about the education we received. Whether it was being bullied, or will algebra ever be of any use to me in the real world? But even more common nowdays, as seniors outnumber children in the first time ever since census data was collected, is the question, “why should I care about education? I don’t have any children in school.” This is insular thinking. It doesn’t directly affect me, so why should I care? But, you should care. And here is why.
What kind of education would you like your doctor, your electrician, your plumber, or your mechanic to have? If someone you love is sick or has a devastating accident, what kind of education would you want the people caring for them to have? What kind of education do you want the police, lawyers, judges, paramedics, and physiotherapists you might have to deal with to have?
The outcomes of education touch all of us, regardless of whether we, personally, have a child in the school system.
There are two areas where governments like to make cuts, because it seems to please voters: education and health care. But, if you are a thinking person, you should be saying, “Hell no! Those are the people who will be looking after me when I am old and can no longer look after myself! Those are the people who are going to pull me out of my car after a devastating accident and put me back together. They should be getting a world-class education! Those are the people who will defend me, fix my plumbing while my house is flooding, keep my car from breaking down or blowing up, clean my teeth, and pass judgement on crimes in my community. They need to be so well-educated to be able to do their jobs right. These are the people who will develop cures for diseases I might get. The children are the future, the future for all of us, and cuts to education undermine that future.”
With every round of provincial budgets, there are some provinces that cut funding for education. Although Premier Notley returned the $1 million cut by her predecessor, all of the other Western provinces; Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and British Columbia, have brought out budgets that undervalue education.
Why are cuts to education funding so appealing to political parties? The obvious reason is that people like to see their taxes go down. People generally don’t look at the big picture or the long-term effects. The second reason is that teachers, like nurses, are an easy target:
1) “Teachers get the summer off. Why should they be making decent money?” Many teachers spend the summer taking professional development courses to improve their ability to educate. And many teachers spend hundreds of hours a year doing off-the-clock work like coaching sports teams, band and choir rehearsals, supervising extra-curricular activities, not to mention the hours spent grading papers and creating lesson plans.
2) “Teachers have a union and a huge retirement plan.” That is called being smart. To say teachers should be maligned because they are saving for their retirement is like saying “my house burned down but my neighbours’ house didn’t. We have to burn my neighbours’ house down to make it fair.”
3) “It’s all about salaries for those greedy teachers.” Actually a lot of it is about putting things in place to make it possible for teachers to do their jobs. The student to teacher ratio (like the nurse to patient ratio) is a very important thing. If a teacher has a class of 30 (and I challenge anyone to spend 8 hours a day with 30 children and stay calm, compassionate and sane) and if even only 5 of the 30 are special needs children, whether it is autism, fetal alcohol syndrome, ADHD, or just English as a second language, the quality of attention that teacher can pay to every student in the class is diminished. Teachers recently have been negotiating on having more help in the classroom, smaller class sizes, more budget for teaching aids. A lot of teachers purchase in-class supplies with their own money because they need them to teach the kids properly.
Education is an easy target because successive governments have eroded the status of teachers, the educators of the next generation, for their own political gains. Also, teaching is a pink ghetto occupation. There are many male teachers, but the vocation is identified as feminine by the vast majority. And children don’t complain about what their teachers earn, or how many hours they have to work, or how they had to buy classroom supplies with their own money. Children don’t know about these things.
We need to elevate the teaching profession in our society. We need to put emphasis on education in the form of funding for education. Giving our children, our neighbours’ children, our communities’ children and our country’s children the best education possible, an equal education regardless of location and socio-economic status, is the best investment we can make.