McGuinty government’s planned education overhaul will be catastrophic

Posted on September 8, 2012 in Education Policy Context

Source: — Authors: – 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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This entry was posted on Saturday, September 8th, 2012 at 3:25 pm and is filed under Education Policy Context. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

2 Responses to “McGuinty government’s planned education overhaul will be catastrophic”

  1. Gordon Marcus Corbould says:

    The idea that the a lowering standardization of post-secondary education is horrifying. As it stands now, the value of a BA in anything is lowering drastically. If this continues, people will need multiple masters degrees or even doctorates to even become relevant in the job search. On one note, more people are able to get a higher education. That is all fine and dandy, but does that mean that the education of lower quality would become cheaper as well? Somehow, I doubt it in a job market that would only increase in competitivity. This policy change would only result in mass production of an “educated” workforce. I believe that it would be similar to the mass production of burgers in the sense that they would be hastily made and not very good, but the cost just keeps increasing. To consumers, it seems ridiculous to keep lowering the quality of the product–nobody wants to pay for a bad burger that will just give them food poisoning!
    This trend is not only happening at the post-secondary level either. I know in at least Manitoba, elementary grades (priorly Excellent, Satisfactory and Non-Satisfactory) was changed to a pass or fail. Students were no longer awarded for going above standards and doing well. They are being taught to do just enough to pass. At such an impressional age, children learn skills that will last them a lifetime. It is proven that kids learn different languages much faster and easier than older people because their brains are rapidly developing still. If the child learns that he/she doesn’t have to try hard to get by, that is how they will continue to do their work through high school, post-secondary and then in the real world labour force. I am absolutely against the decreasing quality of education. I do agree that it should be standardized among the provinces, but to a higher level–starting with the elementary schools– rather than a dumbed down level. To dumb down the next generation is equivalent to stealing a young person’s advantageous opportunity to become a difference maker in the world.

  2. Grant Zettler says:

    Dear Editor,
    I do agree with the points that you have made in the article regarding the waste of money that is about to take place all thanks to Dalton Mcguinty and his government in the coming years. I believe that our educational system needs some serious revamping and if Mr. Mcguinty is to be reelected our post secondary education system will reflect that of the United States and will begin to deteriorate even further then it is currently.
    As a university student I believe that it is a poor decision to make a program that sets more students into the work place at such a young age. I agree with your point that was made in the article regarding the importance of grade 13 and that getting rid of it was a mistake. I myself entered university at the age of 17 and will be done my BSW at the age of 20 which is already a very young age to be out on my own and working. Students need the time to mature and grow mentally before they are sent out to work. This implementation of 3 year programs I believe is a mistake and also a waste of money. Third year university is where people begin to thrive and change into adults and without the fourth year, much like getting rid of grade 13, youth will be entering the work force with little to no life experience.
    Another section of your article that caught my eye was the mass influx of online schools. It is becoming easier and easier for people to attain a BA but with all of these people getting them the job market will become scarce and employers will start demanding more than just an undergraduate degree. I also agree with the point that you made regarding some universities becoming “ivy league” just like in the states and because of this some degrees will be looked at as more substantial then others which in turn is giving many people false hope, they will be wasting their money, and they will most likely be treated as a second class citizen in the working world. (I.e. other people getting the job because of where they graduated)
    Concerned Student


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