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DR ROGER GIBBINS' ADDRESS TO THE SECULAR HUMANISTS IN CALGARY, NOVEMBER 11, 2003

At the meeting of November 11th, a large group enjoyed some provocative thoughts on education by Dr. Roger Gibbins, President and CEO of the Canada West Foundation. He introduced five issues which he felt demanded attention if advances are to be made in providing quality education to Canadians.

These notes have been prepared by Jeff Perkins who states categorically that what he heard may not have been exactly what Dr. Gibbins said or meant!

1. FEES AT POST SECONDARY INSTITUTIONS

Dr Gibbins suggested that while high fees do pose access problems, the only reasonable solution would be to have substantial increases in fees! While this seems to go against the concern for the "poor", not being able to find such funds and thereby being denied access to higher learning, he pointed out that the current system is more likely to do that. Currently, the fear of great debt deters would-be students who have few resources. At the same time taxpayers are footing a large part of the bill for education (including those taxpayers who could not afford to attend a post secondary institution!). In this scenario it is clear that those who can afford to pay fees are being subsidized by those who can't!

If one seeks social equity, a system must be devised whereby those who gain from having a post secondary education should pay for it. Currently, students graduate with large loans and have to start repaying them almost right away. This repayment is forced on the students during the years when they are least capable of doing so. Low income combined with other debts can make a graduated student's life a misery.

An alternative approach is exemplified in Australian. Students there acquire the full debt for their education and, through the federal taxing authority, are required to pay it back when their income reaches a certain level relative to the national median. Having passed that median income, a student is required to pay off the cost of education according to a surtax formula based on just how much the income exceeds that median. In other words, the pay back occurs when the former student has the money to do so. Some never reach that level so, obviously, the education was not "worth" the money!

Could this work in Canada? Yes, with the Provinces allowing the Federal Government to run such a program.

2. THE ROLE OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT

With the Provinces being responsible for education, the role of the Federal Government is limited primarily to student loans and research funding. The problem is that by funding research chairs there is a move to stratification, where the "better" universities clamour for and get even more funding. It is not news that in Alberta the University of Alberta sees itself as being the prestigious institution in the Province or that the University of Toronto would like to receive the bulk of Government funding to make it into the most prestigious university in Canada. (Globalism leads to strange parochialisms!)

If the Federal government shifted to equal funding across the country, particularly at the undergraduate level, the demoralizing situation, for example, of the Province of Saskatchewan funding the education of its youth so they can get good jobs in Alberta would disappear. The costs would be spread across the country. (As far as Alberta is concerned, the Province is on to a good thing: let Saskatchewan taxpayer pay for the educated people Alberta needs!)

There is a compelling need for the Federal Government to take a lead in this. It is not too late to redress an opportunity missed.

3. WHAT DO UNIVERSITIES PRODUCE?

Universities claim to produce Critical Thinkers! The reality is that today's universities take 18 year old students and produce 22 year old graduates who have been fed a lot of information. Dr. Gibbins is sure (and hopeful) that society will soon start demanding accountability for all the money that is being spent to produce graduates with nothing more than "information". Yes, there are a lucky few who, in spite of the system, do become critical thinkers in the very best sense of the concept!

4. THE ROLE OF TEACHING IN UNIVERSITIES

In Alberta, the Department of Education is now called by the trendy name "Department of Learning". Words do have special meanings and this name diminishes the essential role of teaching. Students learn: teachers teach ...........

The evaluation of university teaching staff is flawed. While poor and excellent teachers are identified by different methods there is no realistic manner whereby penalties or rewards can be meted out. The poor teachers get raises and carry on being destructive while the excellent ones do not get deserved recognition. This is wrong but it has always been this way and, in the arcane world of academia, it is hard to bring about change. The intelligence of individuals does not translate well into group intelligence.

5. AND THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS!

Historically, the value of public schools in Canada has been to inculcate a sense and understanding of Canada to every student, including new immigrants. Now there is an exodus of students to special interest schools which, while they might have to teach to a provincially approved curriculum, will inevitably fail in teaching a common understanding of our country and feeling for it. The very method by which a common appreciation of Canada was instructed is now being cast aside.

There are quasi-military schools, art schools, cultural and religious schools of different denominations ....... all undermining the strength of common purpose. Common values are not taught, and cannot be taught by such a disparate group. In Alberta, the Provincial Government is slowly building a case for doing away with the public school system. Why have it when there are so many special purpose schools?

This is a frightening development: the sense of being Canadian is being undermined by narrow provincial politics. However, what the government does always reflects what the people want!



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