Author: George Davison, on behalf of the PENS Board
Family Day in British Columbia means many things in our diverse province. Yes, it's a holiday and a chance to reflect on the importance of family in our lives and our communities. It's also an opportunity to remind ourselves about the things we do as a community and a province to support families.
Education is high on that list. Whether it is providing the best opportunities for children to become confident learners in their primary and secondary schools or ensure that affordable options are accessible to those who
want to pursue a post-secondary degree, diploma, certificate or apprenticeship, our system of public education plays a critical role in the life of every family in BC.
As a province, we have put a strong emphasis on ensuring that education, whether it's K-12 or post-secondary, is delivered through our public institutions. Yet the track record over the last decade shows the government has made little policy or financial commitment to high quality learning opportunities for students young and old.
In our K-12 system the last twelve years has seen troubling trends. Class sizes have increased and their composition has become more complex. BC now ranks the worst in Canada on student-educator ratio. Provincial budget choices have forced local school boards to reduce significantly the number of Special Needs practitioners, this at a time when numerous reports show the need for these specialists increasing, not decreasing. Across the entire K-12 public system, the squeeze on funding has been relentless with school boards forced to find other
ways of raising money (through fees, fundraising and charitable donations), making access to education more inequitable.
School closures have become more common than new school construction or even expansion of our existing schools. Since 2001, the Ministry of Education has pushed through successive budgets that have forced local school boards to close over 197 primary and secondary schools across the province.
A similar picture has unfolded in our public post-secondary institutions. The funding lifeblood for those institutions
is the provincial operating grant. Measured on a per-student basis and accounting for the impact of inflation, real
per-student operating grants have dropped by more than 9% since 2001. Making matters worse, university and college tuition fees were de-regulated in 2002, a move that led to skyrocketing increases, fees have more than doubled since 2002, and even larger increases in student debt. Today's university undergrad finishes with an average debt of over $27,000.
Those of us who work or teach in BC's public education system see a sharp disconnect between what Ministers and Premier call their "vision" and what is actually delivered. In 2004, we were told education was one of BC's "five great goals." What was missing of course was the funding to ensure that it was truly great.
It's important to have a vision, especially a positive one, about what you want the community, in this case our province, to achieve in education. After all, education is one of those things that connect us all as a community. Through public policy and public investment we create the capacity to educate the generation who will eventually lead us into the future. But if we are more promise than action in supporting that education, the disconnect affects us all.
So this Family Day please think about the importance that education plays in your family and your future. BC can do better and will if we resolve to keep public education a priority in all our futures.
Welcome to the PENS Blog on public education! Our bloggers include parents, teachers, education researchers, and other strong supporters of public education in BC and in Canada. Taking the lead is Bill Bruneau, Professor Emeritus UBC, ex-Vancouver School Board trustee, ex-President of his faculty association, and ex-president of the Canadian Association of University Teachers.