It’s about ‘we’

Written by Brenda Schimke

We’re all hurting in some way, even those who have been able to keep working, social distancing is tough.

When we move away from federal disaster support and start re-opening our economy, lasting economic pain will continue, particularly for our students.

The youngest who need the classroom and caring teachers to learn those important life skills of reading, writing and math. Educators will tell you, by Grade 3 they can predict quite accurately which students will be high school dropouts.

For all ages, public education provides those valuable life lessons including socialization, teamwork, acceptance of those who are different, sharing, and how to handle adversity and unfairness.

For Grade 12 graduates the pandemic has taken away their first major milestone—graduation and graduation celebrations—something they will never get back. 

There is an emotional impact on all students, first climate change and now pandemics. They have every right to be fearful for their future and we have a deep collective responsibility to them.

Likewise, for university and college graduates who must start their careers in the middle of an economic shutdown. It took seven years for our economy to recover from the 2008 economic crisis. To date, the Covid-19 economic slowdown is twice as bad as it was in 2008.

Students continue to face large and ever-increasing tuition fees—unlike my baby boom generation—usually funded by huge student loans and part-time work.

Their part-time jobs disappeared months ago when restaurants closed, and their outlook for summer jobs or a career post-Grade 12 is uncertain and stressful. 

To make matters worse, students are required to start paying back their student loans six months after graduation.

The defunding and hollowing out of public schools, colleges and universities continues unabated in Alberta.

Even more financial instability is facing our post-secondary institutions as international student revenues dry up. These students had become a significant alternate revenue source—$22 billion dollars per year in Canada—to offset continual government cuts.

The Alberta government announced a 20 per cent cut in post-secondary education funding over three years.

Two northern colleges in Grande Prairie and Fort McMurray actually took a nine per cent cut this year alone. 

Lakeland College, with campuses in Vermilion and Lloydminster, although a smaller cut, has suspended five trade-focussed programs to make their budget work. 

There are 25 other post-secondary institutions making similar choices even though enrollments always rise during economic downturns.

The new funding model for K-12 public education flies in the face of social distancing guidelines.

Schools with declining or stable student populations are the big winners. These most often have the smallest classroom sizes and will be better able to deal with social distancing.

Ironically, the new formula penalizes schools with growing student populations, further driving down learning opportunities and outcomes for the vast majority of Alberta students, and making social distancing all but impossible.

Education outcomes is the number one predictor of any country’s economic success and the prosperity of its citizens. Alberta has always fared well internationally but our standing continues to slip.

Ironically, at the same time, we’re underfunding public education, undermining the expertise of our teachers, and not empowering or supporting our educators as they restructure and reinvent learning strategies to meet employer’s needs of the future, the amount of tax dollars to private schools increases annually.

Defeating the provincial cash deficit on the backs of students is such a red herring!

Sound investments in re-envisioning, restructuring and strengthening public education is the key to long-term returns for today’s youth and tomorrow’s seniors.

B. Schimke

ECA Review

About the author

Brenda Schimke

Schimke is a Graduate with Distinction from the University of Alberta with a BCom degree. She has lived and worked in Alberta, BC and Ontario.