Education prescription misses the mark

Posted on April 10, 2015 in Education Policy Context – Opinion/Readers’ Letters – Re: Post-secondary education needs a shakeup, Opinion April 6
Apr 09 2015.

As Martin Lindstrom recently pointed out in his book Brandwashed, in a typical lifespan the average Canadian will spend more than 25,000 hours shopping. This is in part owing to the insidious and all pervasive influence of marketing from all sectors of our economy. It would be essential in the face of Ken Coates’ recommended shakeup of education to consider how many hours in a lifetime we as individuals will spend sustaining the ultimate foundation of society – a healthy democracy.

One of Canada’s greatest thinkers, John Ralston Saul has said that the key imperative of society’s educational systems is to prepare youth for the most difficult job of all, being a fully functioning citizen in a healthy democracy. We have lost all sense of equilibrium if we buy into the changes currently being recommended in post-secondary education by Ken Coates.

He clearly insists that the essential purpose of our educational system is to funnel our young people to the right place in the marketplace so they might “get an economic foothold.” Ironic perhaps, when one considers that this country’s private sector spends 40 per cent less than all other developed countries in employee training. It appears that corporate tax cuts of almost 50 per cent over the last 30 years still do not allow for such inane responsibilities. Better to co-opt the publicly funded educational system, so that eventually no training costs need be incurred in the private sector.

Coates gives absolutely no examination of society’s broad needs in a complex and clearly volatile world. Surely we can regain a degree of balance and recognize that any shaking up of post-secondary education must not compel us to prostrate ourselves to the vagaries of marketplace needs while completely forgetting the countless and complex factors it takes to develop truly educated citizens with a real quality of life in a stable society.

I am dismayed, quite frankly, by the simplistic assumption that we would have a booming economy, full employment, and a healthy Canada if we just prevented education from being “student driven” and moulded it to mould students into that frenetic and futile race to feed the marketplace.

It is a fundamental disdain for the whole concept of living in a democratic society that Coates would effectively remove the ultimate element of choice from individuals as to how they might become educated and live their lives. Better, he suggests, that the choice be dictated by the already ubiquitous influence of a marketplace that has no value system beyond the next quarterly shareholder statement, and instantaneously “unemploys” highly educated staff at the drop of a dollar.

We are, quite frankly, running scared and letting the marketplace have us believe that the structure of economic systems are pristine and solid and beyond scrutiny. We must simply trust that all will be well if we just submit our youth and our post-secondary systems to the dictates of the unassailable strength and integrity of such systems.

Can education have any other purpose, can there be anything to fear?

Bob Sutton, Camlachie

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