June 28, 2006

Speaking of education

Here's the latest in edumacation news in our fair province, where money is gushing out of the ground faster than brains can think:
  • According to the Alberta School Board Association, nearly half of the province's school boards are reporting annual deficits, four times the number in financial difficulty five years ago. Because I tend to think that what's wrong with education in Alberta (and likely elsewhere in North America) isn't a money problem -- which means that more money isn't the solution -- I don't see a light at the end of the tunnel with the finance minister's recent announcement of a surprise, and record $8.7 billion budget surplus, even if the government does decide to give the schools more moola. Locally, for example, the schools go on frequent computer upgrading sprees, clearing ever more books out of libraries to make room for monitors, so they can teach second graders how to make Power Point presentations. However, high schoolers are expected to make collages instead writing essays.
  • Throwing more money around, Alberta Education is spending $400,000 to find out why so many high school students are dropping out. The current "high school completion rate" is 77.4 percent, but the educrats would like to see it at 90 percent. The Edmonton Sun reports,
    [Education Minister and former teacher Gene] Zwozdesky said one idea might be to take students on more field trips to see various workplaces or to use computers and videoconferencing to bring close-up views of possible careers into the schools.

    "I think it's important for students to realize that the future is very much around a knowledge-based economy," said Zwozdesky. "The better paying jobs and the higher paying jobs and the jobs that provide great opportunities for personal growth are largely predicated on at least completing high school and hopefully more. There's a great value in education."
    For considerably less, I'd be happy to give the Minister an answer and save him some money: why waste time and money getting a high school degree when you can earn big bucks in the oil patch, or even serving coffee and doughnuts at Fort MacMurray (for around $14 an hour)? This is, by the way, what happens when people are taught, in high school and elsewhere, to confuse value with money, to value money, and to confuse an education with career training.
  • From The Globe & Mail:
    A battle for the moral high ground has erupted in Calgary, where the city's influential Roman Catholic bishop has issued a damning indictment of the local school board's decision to continue to use gambling as a source of fundraising for its cash-strapped schools.

    In a letter sent this week to each of the 97 schools in the Calgary Catholic School District, Bishop Fred Henry threatened "blacklisting" of schools that engage in "immoral fundraising, as well as stripping them of their Catholic designation, and announced that he won't preside at the liturgy to open the school year.

    "It is morally wrong for a Catholic institution to formally co-operate in an industry that exploits the weak and the vulnerable," he wrote. "The end does not justify the means."
    Although I don't agree with some of Bishop Henry's other opinions, I'm with him on this. Every year, organizations across the province from playschools to elementary schools to libraries submit applications to work at bingos and casinos (the booming Ft. MacMurray is a very hot prospect, with hall those oilfield workers eager to be separated from their cash) and to receive lottery funds. Interestingly, about $83 million annually from the Alberta Lottery Fund goes toward the budget for Alberta's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission (AADAC), which also covers gambling. AADAC's own website points out that "An estimated 5.2% of adult Albertans have a gambling problem" and "An estimated 3.9% of adult Albertans are moderate risk gamblers and 1.3% are problem gamblers." And there's a lot of talk both at AADAC and the provincial Ministry of Gaming (bet you didn't know we had one of those) about "Social Responsibility". Though not the same kind the Bishop is talking about.

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