For three weeks this Fall the focus in the Saanich schools was on the quality of public education in British Columbia.
I received a lot of feedback from my constituents during the labour disruption. One of those messages was from Judy Reimche, a grandmother and a former journalist on the Saanich Peninsula. I decided to share her perspective here because I felt it was a fair representation of much of the sentiment that people shared with me.
Education is our society’s top priority. We hear that said all the time, but government doesn’t walk the talk. For more than a decade, the school district budgets across the province have been cut, deeply, by government, beginning with Gordon Campbell Liberals in 2001. At the same time, demands on the education system have grown exponentially. That’s putting budgets first, and not necessarily the education budget.
Other countries have made a conscious decision to put education – kids — first. Those countries are making a real commitment to youth, and respecting the need for a well-educated population. Scandinavian countries are often held up as examples.
The example of which I am personally aware is in Taiwan, where my two grandchildren are living and being educated. Their education began in Canada, but the opportunities outside the classroom they have in Taiwan surpass what we offer. About five years ago the government decided it wanted all its citizens to be more aware of their own country’s traditions, history and its many-faceted educational opportunities, so they set up classes across the country, accessible to all ages. These range from all aspects of the arts, to science, history, culture, sports skills training and more. Experts are brought in from around the world to share their knowledge, thereby expanding students’ horizons. All the classes are free.
Our grandson, then 16, took an 8-month machining course last year through which he earned certification, along with his Grade 11 certification. It was totally free of charge, unless you don’t finish the class; then you must pay for the course. Our son, an immigrant, upgraded his carpentry certificate, again for free. They even paid him a stipend, as the government believes families shouldn’t suffer when education is involved. In BC, people pay for all courses, sometimes going into debt to do it.
Taiwan can do this as everyone pays a flat rate of income tax, no exceptions. Their governors believe that a well-educated population means a dynamic economy. If we truly believe the same thing, education has to be funded appropriately. We need to redefine education, and how to ensure students can succeed in today’s world.