I recently had the privilege of hearing a talk by Suzanne Smythe, an education researcher at SFU. It was at an annual provincial meeting of adult literacy practitioners who function as advocates for often-marginalized adult literacy learners. Many of us have done work with community literacy groups, and some of us were regional literacy coordinators when such positions existed.
Suzanne’s talk incorporated many of the things we had told her in prior interviews about our work in adult literacy. In essence, the problems with education in BC are not a result of our own individual failings as institutions or practitioners or communities, but rather part of an internationally recognizable pattern of government policies designed to destabilize public education systems.
This pattern of government policies includes
- downloading responsibility for adult education to community groups (clothed as “putting literacy back in the community”), then failing to implement sustainable funding for these groups–thus creating a perception of scarce resources and an atmosphere of competition among agencies/organizations
- shifting the focus of of education from long-term, broader literacy and numeracy learning to short-term, narrow-focused job training, thus creating a populace more easily convinced to accept poor pay, insecure employment, and poor working conditions
- reducing budget spending for education and health care, thereby increasing appeal to potential international investors (the most attractive of whom are focused on extracting our resources for little local return)
I encourage you to visit Suzanne’s research blog and to download the report she has compiled: Policy changes and cuts to adult education programs in the Lower Mainland, British Columbia [note: direct Word Document download from link]. It’s depressing reading, but I think it’s important to be informed about the larger forces that determine the state of education in our province and to recognize the deliberate governmental actions that lead to crises in our public institutions. By doing this, we can reject the constant barrage of messages saying we aren’t efficient enough with limited funding, that we need to “cut the fat” in our institutional or organizational budgets–in essence, that it is our fault as individuals or organizations or institutions that we do not have the resources to do the job we are tasked with.