In 2014, there are significant pressures on the public education system. This post will describe three of those: budget cuts, demographics, and technological change.
If you live in British Columbia and you aren’t aware that funding for public education is inadequate, then you haven’t been paying attention. It is important to note that it can be very difficult to compare funding in different jurisdictions because different metrics are used, but according to this report from the Globe and Mail, if you compare funding for education in BC using data from BCED and calculated by dividing the total funding allocated ($4.7 billion) by the number of students in the system (544,106), you get a little over $8,600/student.
The BC government claims that this number has risen by more than 38% since 2000, but that rings a little hollow when you compare the number to other jurisdictions who use the same calculation. Alberta spent about $10,111/student in 2013/14 and Ontario spent $11,266.
So the ‘do more with less’ mantra is, unfortunately, alive and well in BC, in fact, it is necessary. However, it is unsustainable.
The good news is that education funding is something that is entirely within our control. We can do something about it, and the government needs to step up. If the $500 million that went into replacing the roof on BC Place were invested in our public schools, that would bring the 2013/14 average in BC up to about $9550/student.
Yes, we can afford it. We can’t afford not to.
There is one pressure on education that the government, or school boards, or school administrators, or teachers really can’t do anything about, and that is demographics.
It is relatively straightforward to predict future enrolments by paying attention to birthrates.
With fewer babies born, enrolments inevitably decline, and sometimes the result is that schools close. When I was in elementary school in Clearwater, there were three active elementary schools: Raft River, Dutch Lake, and Star Lake. Of those, only Raft River is operating as a school today. Dutch Lake is a community centre and Star Lake is operated by a religious organization. Keeping those schools open without enough students to sustain them is a losing strategy.
One of the troubles with closing schools due to low enrolments is that it is a self-perpetuating cycle. If there are no local (by that, I mean that kids can walk to school) elementary schools, parents tend to become hesitant to move into those areas and the argument for a school in the area becomes weaker.
While there is little we can do to prevent demographic shifts, there is much we can do to prepare for them.
Please notice that I didn’t say ‘technological advances’. Not every technological change is an advance, especially in education.
Consider the following quote:
I believe that the motion picture is destined to revolutionize our educational system and that in a few years it will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks.
Some people believe that technological change will result in teachers losing their jobs to some spooky technology that will make learning effortless.
This is false.
The quote above is often attributed to Thomas Edison in 1920. I guarantee that the budget for purchasing textbooks in SD73 is far greater than the budget for purchasing instructional video.
It is interesting that virtually every technological change has incited fear that teachers will be replaced and education will be revolutionized. While some changes, like the printing press, have certainly led to radical change (although it is often more evolutionary than revolutionary), most changes in technology have had little impact on education.
That doesn’t mean that there are no effects, just that the hype and bluster are never accurate.
The flip side of this argument is that we cannot ignore the fact that our culture is saturated with technology and we would be remiss to not apply some of these tools to education. But we need to remember that our schools are not intended to teach students how to use technology, but to be able to think, and to have compassion, and become positively contributing citizens.
There are too many in education who get caught up in what I call the ‘clickyclickyblingbling’ model of decision-making in educational technology. People (admins, teachers, parents, trustees…) experience a fancy new digital tool and become convinced that the tool will make the difference. But it never happens, because teaching and learning are hard work and there are few effective shortcuts.
There is much more to be said, but it will have to wait.