Time for a real commitment to trades education

Overcrowded trades and tech classes not only pose a risk to students, they undermine efforts to encourage skills training

For Chilliwack shop teacher Eric Munshaw, it’s not a question of if a serious incident might occur, but when.

Last week, the award-winning Mt. Slesse technology education teacher told The Progress that he had lost confidence in the Chilliwack education system’s ability to safeguard students from serious injury. (Safety concerns prompt shop teacher’s resignation)

After 33 years, and recently earning a lifetime achievement award from the BC Technology Education Association, Munshaw said he is retiring.

Response to the story was immediate. By press time on Tuesday, more than 50 comments had been registered online.

Many readers wrote to acknowledge the fine work Munshaw has done during his career. But others related similar experiences in their school jurisdictions.

“I am a tech ed teacher in a Coquitlam middle school and in my classes 30 is the norm, sometimes with five ministry identified kids and no special education assistant,” wrote Holly Hereward Elson.

Said Margo Lynn McPhalen: “My son is in the Langley school district, No. 35, and on Nov. 6th he amputated his left thumb with a drill press in woodworking class at ACSS. He still has the pin in, and then there is hand therapy…. Classroom size is a definite issue.”

Munshaw’s concerns are not new. He’s raised them before, both locally and at the ministry level.

And despite assurance from Chilliwack school district officials that the kids will be alright, Munshaw is not convinced.

But safety is just one issue. He’s also worried that the crowded classes, lack of available work spaces and the absence of one-on-one mentoring will affect students’ desire to pursue careers in trades.

And that’s contrary to goals stated by both provincial and federal politicians. They continue to promote their commitment to skills and trades training in an effort to ward off what they claim is an impending skills shortage.

However, television ads promoting programs that don’t even exist yet will hardly fix that shortage.

What’s needed is a concrete commitment to skills and trades training, starting in the middle school years. Students need to be encouraged, inspired and captivated by this potential career path so they and their parents have the tools to make an informed choice.

That can’t happen if crowded classrooms leave them frustrated on the sidelines – or recovering from a life-altering injury.