The current provincial government is certainly more education-friendly than the previous 44 years of Conservative regimes. Some increased investments are being made in education, including post-secondary (PSE). New schools are coming online. Promises have been made to school reduce class size. School curricula are being updated. PSE tuition fees are being investigated and there is a freeze on domestic fees. The Ministry of Education has met with education groups, including CUPE 3911, to discuss various aspects of education. One thing that remains to be done is to recognize education as a right and to enshrine that in provincial legislation.
As far as the current provincial opposition goes, they have said little a
bout what education policies they would implement, should they get elected. In fact, their main strategy seems to be to say as little as possible. However, one 21-page UCP document titled “Constitutional Document 2. Member Policy Declaration”, published in November 2017, does contain some “draft” thoughts on education policy. Not surprisingly, they are eerily reminiscent of what previous Con governments all over Canada have implemented or tried to implement.
On Page 6, the general “Vision” statement consists of the following four points.
“Extending school choice to every student across the province.” In Con language, this means expanding private schools and using public money to increase funding to private schools. Already, elite private schools annually receive $27.4 million in public money which should be redirected into the public system, helping to fund new schools, teachers and classrooms for regular Alberta kids.
“Providing transparency and accountability to parents regarding student scholastic outcomes and performance.” This is something that is always done by the education system so as a statement it’s just fluff to make the UCP look “pro-parent” to win votes.
“Making schools inclusive communities that protect students against discrimination and bullying.” This appears rather selective since it is well-known that the UCP leader thinks students who join Gay Straight Alliances at school should be “outed” to their parents.
“Enabling students to achieve excellence by providing a diverse, results-oriented range of core, extra-curricular, post-secondary and skilled trades educational opportunities.” This is code for tying education at all levels directly to the needs of the employers, a long-time pillar of Con education.
On Page 7 the document specifically addresses “Post-Secondary and Trades” with the following seven points.
“Align the funding of university degree programs according to anticipated skills demand.” Again, this is a standard Con policy objective which boils down to PSE as free job training for corporations. It obviously ignores broader functions of PSE, such as offering programs in the arts which help foster creativity and critical thinking. Or building scientific literacy in order to produce socially responsible competent citizens who can deal with science-related social problems like global warming.
“Rebalance funding between university degree programs and skills training to ensure skills training are (sic) equally valued and desired by young people.” More free corporate training. Also, the word “rebalance” clearly means that increasing funding to education is not a priority. Instead, the same (or a smaller) pie must be sliced in a different way to direct more money into free corporate training.
“Work with employers, industry, schools, and post-secondary institutions to encourage and develop apprenticeship programs in trades and the technical sector.” More of the above. It should also be noted that training more trades and technical workers needs to be accompanied by an economy beyond the unstable boom and bust of ripping and shipping raw energy resources that has been the Con notion of an economy since they first took power in 1971.
“Expand research funding by encouraging private-sector partnerships, while respecting academic freedom.” Along with free training, the corporations will also get free research aimed at corporate priorities. An example at University of Alberta is the Imperial Oil-run Institute for Oilsands Innovation founded in 2005. The reference to academic freedom is more fluff, especially when it is well-known that the Cons think the universities are full of fire-breathing radicals who are corrupting the youth and destabilizing society.
“Require publicly funded post-secondary institutions to implement a policy guaranteeing the freedom of speech and freedom of assembly of all students and staff on campus.” Clearly freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are rights. However, the impetus for this statement is not support for such rights in general but a desire to protect the various right-wing speakers whose speeches have recently been opposed and disrupted. It is also ludicrous for a party led by a former Harper cabinet minister to claim support for freedom of speech and assembly when so many arrests for exercising those very rights occurred under the Harper regime, e.g., 400 arrests alone during the G-20 demonstrations in 2010.
“Protect and guarantee the freedom of association of students by allowing individuals to choose, for themselves, whether to become a member of their students’ association.” The aim of this policy is to undermine the unity of the students in order to make it easier to implement other reactionary education policies that are not in students’ best interests. It mirrors the Con right to work policy of making union membership and dues optional in order to undermine the unity of the workers and deplete their funds.
“Ensure that learning opportunities are accessible, affordable and sustainable for all Albertans by targeting greater financial aid to lower income students and by reducing the costs of books and materials by using online and Open Educational Resources”. This is just tinkering. To really make education more accessible, affordable, and sustainable for all Albertans all tuition and other student fees should be abolished. Numerous countries in the world such as Germany already offer free post-secondary education, including to international students.