College dropout Bill Gates considers himself an expert on education, promoting the policies of another failed student George W Bush and his “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) agenda of standardized testing and corporatized public schools that increasingly operate under a highly competitive stringent business model.
It seems that massive wealth automatically grants a person the privilege of being an expert in all things, despite typically knowing nothing outside his own area of expertise. It’s like asking a professional hockey player to weigh in on multivariable calculus. This is especially the case with education, perhaps because all of us have been students. Sadly, this is generally the cavalier approach we use in choosing our education ministers in B.C. under neo-conservative regimes such as the present one.
Consider Finland. When it comes to education, the Finns do pretty much the opposite of what we do in North America and are superior to us in every facet, including achievement and other desired outcomes. In Finland unlike in our own country, education is highly valued, deemed exceedingly important and is generously funded, teachers are highly paid, valued, respected – even revered – and considered professionals. One requires a masters degree to teach in Finland and hiring of a new teacher is based on a criterion of a candidate being in top 10 per cent in their university graduating classes. Finland recruits teachers from those demonstrating exceptional ambition, academic achievement and intelligence. Teachers are also required to engage in demanding professional development throughout their teaching careers.
Finland has one of the world’s most generous systems of state-funded educational, medical and welfare services. Finns pay nothing for education at any level, including all university studies, even medical and law school. Students graduate in Finland with a PhD or MD and zero debt. Finland’s lofty academic achievement and international test scores are an offshoot of its cooperative, egalitarian school system, not as an end in itself.
Moreover, within the parameters of the curriculum, teachers are granted the autonomy and latitude of handling their own classes as they see fit, including testing and evaluation. Finns trust their teachers as they do their doctors, dentists and engineers.
It’s therefore not surprising that in Finland teaching is one of the most sought after professions. Finnish teens ranked teaching at the top of their list of preferred professions in a recent survey in 2010 when 6,600 applicants competed for 660 primary school training positions. High school teachers with 15 years of experience earn 102 per cent of what other college graduates make (in the United States this figure is 62 per cent) but the notion of merit pay promoted by big business lobbies such as the Fraser Institute in Canada is dismissed as superfluous and ridiculous.
The Finns surpass us in every key educational category including performance on international examinations such as the Program for International Student Assessment, (PISA), the Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs.
Only one province in Canada has lower funding per pupil for education than British Columbia. B.C. also earns the shameful distinction for having the highest child poverty rate in the country. This appalling state of affairs exists in a province in which our premier espouses “family values”. Based on their contempt for working people and the underprivileged, whatever this opaque expression means is anyone’s guess, but it sounds uplifting. What “family” and what “values”, one might ask?
In office since 2001, the BC Liberals have granted huge tax cuts to big business and the wealthy, concessions aimed at not only rewarding those big business interests and the über-rich that finance their election campaigns, but ensuring that the government lacks the means and resources to fund education and other key public services.
Both Premiers Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark have ravaged education budgets, driving up class sizes, reducing teacher-support programs including provisions for the most vulnerable students and repeatedly slashed teachers’ wages and benefits. Repeatedly the government has used illegal anti-worker and strike-breaking laws to impose draconian attacks on working people.
John L Rebman