CBC poll on Canadian schools revels distorted expectations by parents

First published: September 04, 2008

A CBC poll released this week found Canadians are generally pleased with the education their children receive, but it delivers a scary message about the expectations parents have for the school system.

The poll of 803 people done from Aug. 1 to 13 found 49 per cent of respondents described the quality of education in their province as good, with 28 per cent opting for adequate. Eight per cent said the system was excellent. Only 11 per cent said the quality of education was poor and two per cent said it was very poor.

More than half of the respondents say the Canadian system is better than it was 10 years ago.

This will be music to the ears of administrators and school board trustees at the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Board. Critics of the local system will be dismissed in the face of these results. Trustees will be emboldened, assuming this is a stamp of approval.

What is most disturbing is the vague nature of the respondents when it comes to what people want from the school system. The CBC poll found respondents could not identify a dominant problem. The results found a vague collage of concerns such as a lack of funding, large class sizes, poor quality of teaching, the need for more fundamentals (like math, reading, writing), and so on.

But when it came to suggesting what students should be learning in school, there was no shortage of answers. Managing a household budget, Canadian history, cooking a meal, learning both official languages and Second World War history all ranked highly. A whopping 99 per cent of respondents said it was important or very important for students to learn social skills, including the ability to get along and work with others.

In contrast to all this, only 22 per cent said it was important students read a novel, like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

This survey sends a chilling message about how we see the role of education.

It is insightful to see how respondents are unable to come up with a clear issue around children’s education. Either they are ignorant of what is going on within the school system or they have given up any sense of advocacy.

Funding of the local system is in constant crisis. Stories in the media across Canada clearly show how teachers are left to buy essential supplies once paid for by the system. Parents spend ridiculous amounts of money in preparation for the school year, often purchasing items that were once supplied by the schools.

Fundraising seems to be the only purpose of parent councils, rather than holding schools and school boards accountable. And, the money raised rarely goes for “extras”, but “essentials” once paid for through tax dollars.

Large class sizes barely registers as a concern, yet our students are being put into education factories, as school boards build larger and larger schools to house more and more students. Small schools are being closed at alarming rates. Schools are no longer a central point within a neighbourhood. Instead, we spend massive amounts of money busing students to these warehouses where students are crowded into the educational system’s version of Wal-Mart – everything is cut rate and supplied by those under duress to provide the best quality for less money.

But, nothing demonstrates parents’ malaise more clearly than the expectations respondents have about what should be taught in schools. Managing a household budget and how to cook a meal should never be in the lesson books of teachers. Parents must take responsibility. Learning to do a budget and, especially, learning how to cook is something young people must learn at home.

Sadly, pop culture places very little value on education. Popular music and movies are anti-school. The messages passed along often portray teachers as either superheroes or villains. Rarely, is the education system as a whole portrayed in a positive light. Learning is not celebrated. Often it is seen as a something that must be endured instead of embraced. High school, in particular, is about the social life and curriculum is a waste of time.

Part of the blame for this is the way in which education focuses on practical skills, not about learning itself. We see in the survey how parents want children to gain hard skills like math, writing, and reading, along with cooking and making budgets. When reading novels stops being important than we should all be very concerned. Knowledge must be taught besides skills.

It would seem respondents to this survey want schools to do everything and parents to abdicate their primary role. It should not be up to schools to work on social skills. That is the job of the family. Educators should certainly be supportive in demanding a high expectation of student’s behaviour. But, it is not their job to teach it.

Still, it is most upsetting to see parents not clear when it comes to education reform. With a federal election on the horizon, education will be a favourite plank in the party platforms. It is a perfect time for parents to become very vocal about the shortcoming of our education system. Otherwise, educators, administrators and trustees will gleefully rest on their laurels, when we should be nipping at their heels.

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