Hot! Disastrous… report suggests three-year university degrees and online classes

TheStar.com – opinion/editorialopinion
Published on Sunday July 01, 2012.   By Mallick, Heather Star Columnist

The Ontario government has run a hasty educational reform plan up a flagpole and is hoping you’ll salute it. Don’t.

The discussion paper, titled “Strengthening Ontario’s Centres of Creativity, Innovation and Knowledge,” is as mystifying as the gentlewomen’s pompous, verbose porn novel Fifty Shades of Grey, which reads to me as if it were written by a small weird girl-child, or perhaps Conrad Black.

Without Star education reporter Kristin Rushowy to translate the jargon — which curses the education sector more than any other — I would not have known that basically the McGuinty government wants to cut four-year university degrees to three and “support flexible degree structures that provide new learning options made possible by advancements in technology,” which means online degrees.

It wants to complete a plan by the end of the year so start assembling your protest signs now.

The report is clogged with acronyms — PSE, BPS, AUCC, HEQCO, AHELO, ONCAT, CLA, KPI — and phrases like “innovation to drive system transformation” and “high-quality, outcomes-based credentials are becoming the norm,” which might mean “new stuff” and “good jobs” but maybe not.

I hesitate to criticize Glen Murray, minister of training, colleges and universities, because I like him, but his website, which should be a flagship of intelligent communication, doesn’t inspire confidence. It is littered with misspellings. It repeatedly urges people to be organ “doners” and worries about Ontarians with “a loved one with the Alzheimer’s,” and so on.

I can’t blame him for typos and using “transition” as a verb — everyone does that now — but Murray can’t just throw commas to go splat anywhere. He worries me. He’s in charge of the places my future grandchildren will consider going for higher education but I fear they’ll end up writing like him. I’ll have to correct their essays like some kind of helicopter grandma.

This report heralds bad things for Ontario students.

I opposed ending Grade 13 and was proved right, universities frantically offering catch-up courses for students who couldn’t spell or add. I opposed the “30% Off Ontario Tuition Grantfor students from middle-income families” that the report boasts of, because the $160,000 cut-off is far too high. I opposed turning colleges into universities because a diploma is just as valuable as a degree, but they are not interchangeable.

And I oppose cutting degrees to three years, not just because other provinces and countries won’t accept this, but because fourth year is when you come into your own intellectually. The report refers repeatedly to the unfortunately titled Bologna Declaration aimed at harmonizing EU higher education — trans. “Yurp does it so we can too” — although I note that there has been talk in Britain of “accelerated” two-year degrees, at which point I despair.

The report hastens to add that degrees aren’t being “compressed,” they’re simply comparable to those “in jurisdictions that were aligned with inter-jurisdictional trends in technology and the economy.” Meaning what? Your guess is as good as mine.

The greatest danger is the report’s warm welcome to online study. It’s one thing to get an online degree if you live in Yellowknife but quite another for the rest of us. You learn from the hard slog of long afternoons spent in classrooms with brilliant people. You learn to read and understand and read further. You learn to evaluate and criticize and think for yourself.

You won’t get this fast, alone and on the cheap, but that is precisely what the government is planning and what employers are hoping for: dumbed down labour for underpaid jobs. Professors should fear it, but students should fear it more. If you want to sit alone in a room for years “studying” online and come out pale, shaky and Fifty Shades of Dim, this report is for you.

But it is not for anyone who values genuine education. The report is athttp://www.tcu.gov.on.ca/eng/, which I print in full so you can read it and mark it. I give it a failing grade.

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