McGuinty government’s planned education overhaul will be catastrophic
TheStar.com – news/gta
September 07, 2012. By Heather Mallick, Star Columnist
The dumbing down of Ontario post-secondary education has begun in earnest. The only things that might put a roadblock in Premier McGuinty’s plans to give education its biggest — and most destructive — overhaul in nearly 50 years are that he may run out of money, or lose the next election.
For change costs money, even change for the worse. McGuinty seeks education on the cheap, credentialism (more students get a degree of decreasing value) and, frankly, the shrinking size and pay of the post-secondary workforce. So in the long run, this may work for government, but itwon’t work for employers, students or professors.
McGuinty is planning a return to three-year BAs, even after the death of Grade 13 proved that students were entering university scarily unprepared for simple things: deadlines, grammar, math, showing up. So universities began offering makeup classes. How will these be slotted into three short years?
Yes, year-round campuses make better use of buildings. But students work during the summer, filling in for full-time workers on vacation. How will they pay Ontario’s towering tuition fees?
Standardizing first- and second-year courses so students can slot among universities, all being “taught to the test” as the Americans have done to disastrous effect, is the worst thing a university can do. Standard basic courses that match rote tests give students only their third year to become true university calibre. It’s not enough.
I once taught a university Arts and Science course where some students had managed to reach fourth year without ever voluntarily reading a book. This frightened me so badly that, yes, I may be overestimating the lowering of education standards.
But there’s another change coming that may be benevolent or devastating. Yes, it’s the “online university,” already in avalanche mode.
Why not? Glenn Beck, formerly of Fox News, has one. Beck University is “a unique academic experience bringing together experts in the fields of religion, American history and economics,” he trumpets. And Beck U “students” sit alone at home learning paranoia and itching for a gun.
Waiters bearing menus are now being replaced by robot touchpad menus in restaurants. Why not profs? Can all jobs be digitized?
It’s easy to set up an online university. It’s expensive but after that, the thing teaches itself and the money rolls in. The problem is, it isn’t a university, it’s another way to destroy the essence of a university, which is to learn ravenously in the presence of people much smarter than yourself.
A good lecturer communicates “the projection of a personality, a temperament, an image, a mind at work — and, with a bit of luck, he or she may strike a corresponding spark” in the student. So wrote the great historianEric Hobsbawm on the value of teaching history after the most revolutionary and catastrophic century in all of human history.
I approve of the idea of an “open university” — it has a long history in postwar Britain — but I worry that this is post-secondary education on the cheap, on the cheapest of cheap, for great government profit. This would be fine if it were a genuine education, especially for older people. But who’s to check if a young student has read a book, met an intelligent professor, learned anything he or she can translate into worldly competence?
If everybody with a BA could get a job, that would be one thing. But I watch the hard-right work to lower wages in this country, massive federal layoffs and a union-bashing drive against those who teach. This move is part of a larger move to destroy institutions.
Someone has to call for high standards. For if a shortened BA is going to mean less, Ontario universities will fall into a class system. A more centralized U of T will be Harvard. McGill will be Yale. In effect, there will be a small group of the best universities — like the U.K.’s Russell Group.
This will replace what we have now, with every institution striving for greatness.
If this is what the Liberals are aiming for in an effort to credentialize everyone and cut costs, they should say so out loud. I see no value in lowering standards and am surprised that professors and college instructors have not mobilized against this already. Perhaps, like the students obsessed with paying off huge debts, they are preoccupied with mere survival.
More will mean worse, that sour old novelist Kingsley Amis said of the university explosion. He was right.
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