By Jason Menard
As a parent, you’d be pretty upset if the only class your child’s school taught was history. So why are we any less upset when the respective school boards are living in the past and refusing to accept a modern reality?
Faced with budget shortfalls, shifting demographics, and challenges in putting appropriate programs together, it’s no longer enough to look to what’s been done in the past. We must learn from those successes and redefine how our education system works in the future.
The Thames Valley District School Board is currently struggling to deal with a projected $7.6-million deficit, while the London District Catholic School Board may be forced to pry open the coffers and dip into a reserve fund to make ends meet. We’re presented with heart-wrenching stories of how counselors – a position that’s currently on the chopping block – are saved students from challenging pasts.
We’re presented with a lot of vivid imagery, but nowhere are we seeing a true vision. It’s time to bite the bullet and revamp our education system to meet the needs of today’s London – not try to push the round peg of today’s needs into the square holes that are left by yesterday’s infrastructure.
I have a vested interest in this with two children in the education system. My son is finishing Grade 7 in the TVDSB system, while my daughter is finishing her year in jardin, at Académie de la Tamise – a school for children of French-speaking parents, which is part of a separate school board. Personally, I’d like to ensure my children have access to the best possible education, but our desire to keep everything everywhere, regardless of modern demographics, is hampering the ability to do so.
One undeniable fact is that there are fewer students today, rendering some schools almost obsolete due to declining attendance. In addition, where people live today is far different to where they were even 20 years ago. Times have changed and it’s time for the school boards to change with them.
The first change that should be made is the amalgamation of the Thames Valley and Catholic School Boards. It’s time to fully embrace the secular nature of our country and – more importantly – recognize that this duplication of infrastructure is a cost that could be eliminated fairly easily. After all, would you rather cut administrative costs or cut teachers and counselors on the front lines?
This isn’t to say that there’s no place for religious education. However, if you choose to want your child educated in a faith-based environment, then you should have to pay for that right. Throughout Canada we see parents sending their children to alternative schools focusing on religion or culture: Arabic, Jewish, Armenian, Muslim, and many others. Why, then, do we assume that free Catholic education is a – pun fully intended – divine right?
In fact, this rationalization of resources could bring forth a return to religion in schools. After all, a course on faith – one that teaches an appreciation for all the religions of the world – would go a long way towards fostering an environment of understanding amongst our children.
With two separate school boards pooling their resources, you may be able to stave off cuts in both the short and long term. That may also require looking at the existing school buildings and making the tough choices of closing some schools and selling the property.
Just because an area was populated with students years ago, doesn’t mean that a school that was viable in 1970 meets today’s needs. And sentimentality can’t play a role in this. Already many of our schools are environmentally non-efficient buildings that are bordering on out-of-date, so why compound the problem by operating many of them at less-than-peak capabilities?
My former schools in Montreal have been made into a health care centre and a community centre, respectively. The same can be done here, or the land can be allocated to other needs, such as residential or commercial requirements. And any money raised through the sale or lease of properties can be rolled back into updating the remaining facilities to ensure our children are getting the best education in the best possible environments.
We go to school to learn how to learn. The education we receive is more than just memorization of facts – it’s an education designed to help us take what the world throws at us and make the most out of it. We learn how to adapt, change, and take the lessons from our past and apply them to creating a better future.
Isn’t it time for our school boards to learn those same lessons? It’s time to close the books on living in our history and turn the page to a more creative and successful future – one that meets the needs of today’s students and, hopefully, their children.
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