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Monday, March 12, 2007

Green Assassin Brigade educational reform plan

There is a severe problem with today’s education system, it’s not as if we don’t have hundreds of thousands of college and university graduates but we are lacking in many of the skill required to make Canada strong, innovative and productive in either the existing brown economy or the future green economy.

As I look around Green Assassin Bunker I see a number of bright, over educated and totally unproductive members of society. I’m further angered at the amount of effort it takes me to break a philosophy major to the point that he will drive an organic carrot through the eye and brain of an oil executive, but that’s a much longer post. It’s like the entire weekend I spend explaining to a women’s studies major that global warming and toxic waste don’t really care if she is oppressed, and further that Genetically Modified produce is gender neutral in its dangers. It’s maddening I tell you!

It’s not that I don’t believe in education for education sake but I don’t think Canada is getting its money worth from the post secondary education system. I’ve brought this up a number of times in personal conversations and I’ve always been beaten down by those who accuse me of being elitist or regressive or just plain evil and I rarely get to finish my argument before I get talked over, so I’ll try to outline my ideas and rationales here.

First I have to state my biased beliefs on a few things.

All resources are finite and should be used efficiently to create the most good for the most people and should not be wasted. 100% university enrolment is neither desirable nor economically viable.

There should be no free lunches; citizens have an obligation to give back value for money the government spends on them. We all pay for education we deserve it to benefit the country.

Blue Collar Bias
The argument is that education creates better rounded, well read people who contribute more to the economy, I can agree to this to a point but it is not always the case. One problem in our education system is what I call “Blue Collar Bias”; from the time I was in high school teachers, parents, and guidance counsellors all pushed the higher education agenda. Students are told that university is where you need to go, and those students who have interests not corresponding with getting a B.A. are denigrated, labelled and ignored. This elitist bias was harmful to peoples self worth who did not qualify or desire University, it was directed many a student from a 80k job in trades to a BA and a 40K job as a bank teller.

The Blue collar bias has a profound effect on the economy; Canada has a constant shortage of highly skilled blue collar workers. These deficiencies range from welders, tool and die makers, model makers, finish carpenters, masons, miners. These deficiencies hurt both existing business and discourage the development of new business which cannot attract enough skilled manpower. Real national wealth is created through the production of things not the shuffling of paper.

Another problem I see is the demand for too much education in jobs that don’t require it. I work in telecom and find that 80% of the jobs are actually monkey work, requiring reading, counting and basic problem solving skills. Today the circuit board mentality of pulling and replace parts rather than fixing them is making the job less difficult than it once was, yet they demand applicants have at least college which is 5 years more education than they demanded 30 years ago.

Now having over qualified people may not seem like a problem but from what I’ve seen it is!

If you have a high school graduate and tell him he can eventually make $70,000 for basic monkey work he will be quite satisfied doing it and he has not wasted 3-4 years and 15,000 dollars in university. In fact the high school student who is more than capable of doing this job will save $15.000 in tuition and realize $180,000 that he earned in those 4 years not spent in classes. The flip side of this problem is if you give someone with a university degree this kind of semiskilled job and they quickly come to believe that this job is beneath their abilities(rightly so) and become lazy, disgruntled employees. Now this is not a guarantee but it does happen more often when people are doing work that they deem they are too good for. Employers have made this logical leap that the higher the education the better the employee and since there are so many B.A.s around why would you not utilize them? The problem is, unless you can offer a job with challenges and opportunities for advancement, more education is not necessarily an advantage.

Too many university students?

I don’t know what the optimum percentage of people who should go to university should be but I think it’s currently too high. I’m not an elitists who thinks only the chosen few should go to university but my personal experience makes me believe that we have too many students who do not live up to reasonable standards. I received a college diploma, found work and eventually went back to take a B.A. as a mature students. While I expected a certain level of naiveté from the much younger students around me, I did not expect such low level of skills. I found it quite appalling that even in 2nd and 3rd year classes the writing skills and basic literacy in some was not high enough to justify a high school diploma much less a degree. I don’t claim to be a great writer or a “Brainer” and my work ethic is average at best and yet I was quite unimpressed with many of those around me. The intellectual discourse I craved usually ended up with me paraphrasing the text into small easily understood worlds so as not to confuse the dullards. The most disturbing thing I saw as a second year history student stand up during lecture and ask, “I assume from your references to the World War II that there was a World War I?”

I believe that higher education is a privilege not a right. Those who prove through hard work and intelligence that they deserve our support will be helped but we do not owe anyone something for nothing. Students who show up once a month, cannot meet due dates, and/or are on academic probation every other year are wasting our money and an opportunity better offered to someone else. The work ethic of students is a preview to their willingness to work for a living and slackers need not apply.

Universities must be responsive to the needs of the country and economy.

Another issue is that the centers of higher education are customer driven. Universities and colleges change programs, enlarge programs, and shift resources to meet the demands of student admission rather than the demands of the economy or country. If 10,000 students per year want to take French renaissance poetry the universities will eventually enlarge these programs to meet the demand, in recent years my university dropped 3 or more chairs in Medieval history but have added programs in Afro American studies, Native studies and Women studies because of student demand. While I accept that all of these programs have some merit I do not believe that the system should be entirely demand driven and should also reflect the needs of the country not just the desires of the students.

Governments pay for the vast majority of higher education and should expect that these institutions give Canada back good value for its money. I believe that government and industry should work together to predict the manpower requirements in certain key disciplines. The universities would then be required to supply at least that many program seats to fulfill our strategic needs with incentives to fill those seats.

Just as there are blue collar skill shortages there are also a myriad of highly skilled jobs in Canada that cannot be filled because the university programs do not supply enough graduates. Doctors, nurses, imaging technicians, chemists, research scientist of all flavours, biologist, lab techs, geologists etc are all in short supply. These shortages endanger our lives, endanger our progress and endanger our economic well being.

Green Assassin Brigade educational reform plan

1. I would like to see university standards raised enough to shave the bottom 10% off enrolment, to cull the under qualified students who do not give us good value for our investment.

2. Or a component of standardized testing like the LSAT is added to the qualification process to discourage high schools padding marks and to equalize regional differences in marking standards. I would but still want 10% cut off enrolment.

3. Academic probation would only exist in the first year of university. A little slack should be allowed to account for the students first time away from home and the differences in high school to university etc but by the second year those who cannot thrive need to be taken out of the system before they waste more resources better used for someone else.

4. Industry and Government need to set the number of graduates in certain disciplines needed to support the current economy and perceived growth, universities must supply enough seats in these disciplines to supply the country’s needs

5. Governments and universities need to price education to reflect market needs. Example. The money saved by eliminating the bottom 10% of under qualified students should be reinvested to subsidise the education costs of those courses that meet the countries economic need. If we need only 10% more chemists, perhaps a 30% reduction in tuition and free books would be incentive enough to increase enrolment. If we need 200% more geologists (absolutely huge shortage, the Canadian average age is near 60) we might have to offer free tuition guaranteed summer employment or accommodation.

6. Fluff courses should go up in price 10-15% and the number of seats reduced, this is not censoring, no course stream would be cancelled, this is just a case of utility and value.

7. All sciences courses should have tuition lowered by 10-15% and frozen

8. The projections of needed graduates would be fed into the secondary school system and money supplied to hype needed skills and host pre university job fairs to promote enrolment.

9. A contract with students would stipulate repayment of the cost should they leave Canada with their free or extra subsidised education, (see number 5) 10 year duration.

10. Similar incentive and promotion programs aimed at the shortages in college based programs.

11. Free education for seniors does not add any value to the economy and is a luxury that should be cancelled.

Like clean air, fresh water and oil, money is not infinite. At some point in the future we are going to have to rationalize our needs vs. our wants and do a cost gain/analysis on many of the things we take as granted. The idea that everyone has the right to a university education, is bright enough for university or is even hard working enough for university is totally wrong. The fact is we are doing our country a disservice by spending billions on education without devising a way to make the system supply us with the needed intellectual tools to make our country competitive, innovative and strong. Education is an investment and we need to assure ourselves or a reasonable return on this investment.

With dangers like Peak oil and climate crisis on the near horizon we no longer justify 10,000 French Renaissance poetry majors or what ever other courses that give us questionable utility and value for our bucks. The move to a Green economy is going to require many high tech skills that we are lacking, we have to start changing the system now before lest we fall behind or become dependant on foreign contractors who will bleed our capital away while our graduates recite Plato from behind the deep fryer at McDonalds.Recommend this Post