Re: Don’t fear the education revolution, Sept. 23

Posted on in Education Debates

Source: — Authors: – opinion/letters
September 29, 2012.    Bob Sutton/ James Knight/ Penny Seymour/ Linda Franklin/ Michael W. Herren/ Tatyana Barron/ Joseph Polito/ Michael Hogan/ Kate Lawson/ Chris Bauch.

With his comments on the education “revolution,” David Olive joins a mindless march to the frenetic and futile feeding of the marketplace.

In our society the average life span has gond from 47 in 1910 to over 80 in 2010. Nonetheless, we find it necessary, as John Ralston Saul suggests, to front-end panic load education and drive graduates into a world that is far more comlex than 1910 — and as I would suggest, far more chaotic and volatile.

Sadly, Olive’s rationale for supporting the “revolution” has far more focus on cutting costs and feeding the marketplace than on examining the fundamental purposes of post-secondary education in a thoughtful and critically examined context.

If we are to survive as a species on this planet, we must never forget that “economies” are our artifical creations, having no intrinsic value, and no value system beyond the next quarterly statement. They are not the foundation of human thought and the development of a civil society.

Simply consider that since World War II, the world has known 252 major wars and genocide, killing more than the two world wars combined. As an economic force, trade in weapons of war annually matches the total worth of the poorest 40 per cent of the world’s population. Fine-tuning our universities to facilitate such trade is hardly a panacea for our real problems; it will only exacerbate them.

Before we begin streamlining and “revolutionizing” our universities to save money, feed the markets, and further drive our youth into becoming thoughtless cogs of economic vagaries, we might try to engage in what universities offer as a most precious outcome: critical research, analysis, and thoughtful examination of the very nature of our humanity, the ideas we can engender,and the development of the fundamental civilty necessary to our very survival.

Cheapening and narrowing the purpose of post-seconday education by putting it on fast forward just isn’t going to cut it.

Bob Sutton, Camlachie

I concur with David Olive’s comments about the need for change in higher education, but the cheap shot at our college system does not bear scrutiny. To suggest that college degree programs constitute “poaching from universities” is nonsense.

Colleges offer degrees where industry has a requirement. A degree in Global Positioning System applications is offered because the forestry sector needed it. A degree in logistics supports this rapidly expanding industry. Other examples include supply chain management, medical radiation, and security.

Third-party studies document sky-high student and employer satisfaction. Even in an era of slow growth, college graduates get jobs, with 85 per cent employed within six months.

Olive claims “schools aren’t turning out the type of student employers require.” Nonsense again. College graduates are precisely what employers need. Skills shortages arise because there are not enough of them.

James Knight, President and CEO, Association of Canadian Community Colleges

I concur entirely with Mr. Olive’s preference for online classes to be integrated with face-to-face instruction. Science labs are a good example: one learns best through the hands, that is, by doing not reading, but much of the preparation for a lab can be done online, and much of the assessment can also be done online.

I also agree that the corporate sector should be contributing toward the education system, since it benefits the most, and that the idea of year-round classes is not necessarily bad.

However, I disagree that the return to a three-year undergraduate degree would have no academic consequences. My years of teaching at the University of Toronto encompassed both the discontinuation of three-year degrees and the change from 13 grades to 12, and these events are not independent of each other.

Three-year degrees are unusual in other Canadian jurisdictions — the four-year degree is the norm. Grade 13 was also an anomaly — other provinces don’t have it. I suspect that the loss of Grade 13 made the four-year degree a necessity because a greater proportion of class time in first year is now taken up with remedial instruction.

There have been reports of both remedial English and remedial math classes now being required. Thus, if much of the first year at university is being used to fill in gaps from high school, all “post-secondary” instruction now will be done mainly in the last three years, and a new “three-year” degree may be equal to only half of a former “four-year” degree.

Most students do not automatically move on to graduate programs, and those who do often take those degrees elsewhere than where they did their undergraduate degree, so the concern for the acceptability of new three-year degrees is not unfounded. It may indeed be possible to produce an excellent undergraduate degree in three years but not if a third of that time is spent on remedial instruction.

The quality of the product is only as good as the materials used to produce it, and ill-prepared students will not do well in a compressed degree program.

Penny Seymour, Etobicoke

David Olive’s column is almost exclusively focused on only one sector of post-secondary education — universities. However, many of the most exciting and forward-thinking innovations today come from the college system.

We are offering more credentials than ever before because students and employers are demanding them, and voting with their feet. The focus of the vast majority of college programs are the direct result of consultations with industry.

Students recognize the value of such programs. Enrolment in college degree programs has increased 110 per cent over the last five years and post-graduate certificates are up by 49 per cent.

Furthermore, the number of university graduates applying to colleges has increased more than 40 per cent from five years ago. Ontario colleges continue to focus on ensuring graduates have the problem-solving abilities and the skills to succeed in specific careers.

Linda Franklin, President and CEO, Colleges Ontario

It was distressing to read Star columnists Martin Regg Cohn and David Olive cheering on proposed reforms of Ontario’s universities. For starters, universities cannot specialize in subject areas in the way that hospitals specialize in trauma or cancer treatment.

Must students in Thunder Bay wanting to study sociology commute to York? Must all computer science students crowd into Waterloo? What about the kids who can’t afford to leave home?

Then there’s the three-year degree. Ontario universities offered the three-year “pass degree” until Grade 13 was abolished in 2002-3, when the province accepted the North American model requiring four years each for high school and university.

To my knowledge, all Canadian provinces and all 50 American states utilize this system. It’s fine that Europe and Australia offer three-year degrees, but the vast majority of Ontario applicants for post-graduate study opt for a Canadian or U.S. university.

With a three-year degree what would be their chances of admittance to a U.S. university or one outside Ontario? Good luck to the Ontario government in convincing the rest of the continent to adopt its system.

Next, the online university. Few are opposed to Internet courses as part of a degree program, but do Ontarians really want their grownup offspring sitting for several years in the basement all wired up, when they could be playing sports, joining societes, or making life-long friendships with real people while getting their education at a real university?

Finally, it was disappointing to see David Olive using the language of the Harris government by calling faculty and administrators self-interested. Are educators more self-interested than bankers, investors, and business owners who neither wish to support publicly funded education nor pay for training themselves?

Let’s stop the name-calling and stick to the issues.

Michael W. Herren, Distinguished Research Professor emeritus, York University

The article seems to be a long version of the statement “Glen Murray is right and anyone who thinks differently is wrong.” I am especially unhappy with this part: “group of university professors who have their obvious interest to protect — namely, high-income tenured positions.”

Universities are not businesses and education is not the same thing as job training. Also, profs are a special group of people. Ask any prof in sciences/math/engineering what he/she values most about his/her job, and I am quite sure the answer will not be “salary” or “tenure.”

Tatyana Barron, Associate professor, Department of Mathematics, University of Western Ontario, London, Ont.

David Olive has oversimplified a very complex issue and ignored the fact that we might be worse off with the potential educational changes. He ignores that we have compressed standards by two years already. Today the expectations for a graduating Grade 12 student are equal to those for a first-year university student who attended Grade 13 in the early 1960s. This compression is a great challenge in a world where young people need to get more education.

He also ignores the experience of educators and brain science when he says that students disposed to “aha moments” in “their graduating year will have them in third year as readily as fourth.” Science shows young people mature at different rates physically, emotionally and intellectually. Among the last elements to mature is abstract thinking, so many very talented students need the extra time to blossom.

Joseph Polito, Toronto

Mr. Olive dismisses the concern of students that their “Ontario three-year undergrad degree wouldn’t be recognized outside Ontario.” These students should indeed question the portability of these proposed degrees as the previous three-year general degrees were not sufficient for entrance to graduate school. Rather a four-year honours degree was typically required.

Implementing an exclusive three-year degree program in Ontario would effectively rule Ontario students out of most graduate schools throughout the rest of Canada and the U.S.. It would advisable for Ontario students to pursue a bachelor’s degree outside of Ontario to keep their future options open.

Perhaps this is the goal as it might in effect accomplish the main education concern of Mr. Olive — reducing the amount of money Ontario spends on post secondary education.

Michael Hogan, Toronto

David Olive writes that Ontario must cut undergraduate degrees from four years to three and “increase the student population so that best practices can [be] applied across the entire system at a lower cost per student.”

If universities were turning out widgets, mass production might lower per unit costs. But universities teach people.

The OECD’s Economic Survey of Canada 2012 states that teaching in Canada already “relies increasingly on large class sizes and sessional lecturers.” Take away a year of instruction in addition and Ontario will have a less educated populace, not the well educated one we need.

Kate Lawson, Associate Professor, Department of English, University of Waterloo

David Olive’s column is riddled with questionable assumptions, misleading facts and logical mistakes.

To give just one example, he attempts to make Ontario’s spending on education appear excessive by citing our combined spending on education and health. This is intellectually dishonest.

If he wanted to convey an accurate idea of how much we spend on education, why not give the figure for how much we spend on education?

Moreover, he describes spending on education and health as “gobbling up” the budget. This is a Tea Party mentality. I expect better from the Star.

Chris Bauch, Associate Professor, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Guelph


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This entry was posted on Saturday, September 29th, 2012 at 4:27 pm and is filed under Education Debates. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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