Tuition and Post Secondary Education

Recent events by UBC’s AMS executive have brought the question of tuition fees into the public light.  The students have focused on the manner by which their executive did this.  Leaving aside student political infighting the fact remains that tuition fees and the associated costs of post secondary education in Canada have been flying up with the net result of narrowing the window of accessibility.  For many students this is not much of a problem as they rely upon parental resources to both prepare them for university and to fund them while they are at university.  But and especially in the face of a growing downturn in the global economy tuition becomes a structural barrier to those potential students without parental resources.

I’ll pause right here to acknowledge all of the people who have pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps, the Jimmy Pattersons of this world who provide the content to the story that if only you try hard enough anythings is possible.  I will also acknowledge that there are indeed a variety of funding programs from scholarships to bursaries that attempt to open the door a little bit wider for those who are seen to merit it.  All this being said the structures of class power and privilege are such that unless they are explicitly targeted these structures still work (in spite of the one off examples) to exclude many people from accessing post secondary education.

The Ubyssey wrote about what they have called the tuition debacle (not debate) in which mention is made to the doubling of tuition fees at UBC since 2002, student protests elsewhere, and the avenues open to students to engage on this issue. Yet there was a tone to the article that seemed to suggest the issue of tuition fees isn’t really that important to many UBC students.  One wonders.

Homework -the perenial issue

Homework, and how much of it, is a perennial issue in education and parent circles.  There doesn’t seem to be a happy medium.  Many educators say there is too much homework, but it is being demanded from parents. But then one comes across stories like the one quoted below about the Calgary couple who found that there was too much homework being issued from the school.

A Calgary couple signed a unique contract with a school this week that prevents teachers from giving their children homework, the Calgary Herald reports. Tom and ShelliMilley negotiated the deal because their pre-teen kids were spending as many as three hours each evening on homework, the paper says. (Read the full story on Janet Steffenhagen’s blog: Calgary couple signs no-homework deal with school – Report Card)

In the Calgary story is seems that a policy designed in the school to limit homework -a quota of 10 minutes per night- became transformed into ten minutes per subject per night.  The net effect was an ordeal of several hours of home work for the Calgary family’s young children.

Of course, ‘ordeal’ might sound a bit much and when one reads of the couple’s jam-packed itinerary for their kids it might be that they had a bit much already on the go.  Nonetheless, the issue of how much, what kind, and how effective remains a continuing debate -especially in the elementary grades.

I certainly recall the issues around homework for my sons in the primary grades, especially the feared ‘dictee’ practice for my son who was in French Immersion.  I also recall being critical of the route learning approach and the clerical nature (i.e. recopy such and such) of a lot of that earlier homework.  There is a place for doing activities at home which support learning in the classroom.  However, I am of the opinion that what is most important are activities such as reading to one’s children, engaging in activities that combine literacy and/or numeracy activities in play,  guided support of in-class activities and all of this supplemented by activities outside of the home that involve more than organized sports or extracurricular lessons.

There is much to be said about unstructured play and exploration outside.  Yet, the culture of fear (see also) has corralled parenting activities into organized supervised scripted activities.  It’s time that we support our children in finding their own capacities and opportunities through less scripting and letting them have the gift of failure at a stage in life when it is a benefit and not a risk.  Releasing children from an over burden of homework, from overly scripted activities, and into unstructured activities outside of the garrison that has become the North American home is ultimately in our children’s best interests.