Sunday, November 18, 2007

Education Hit

As an educator reading about how school funds are being hit by SIV debt in supposedly "safe" investment pools saddens me.

As an educator I would not advise anyone to go into the profession today and I would encourage people to encourage their children to go into other professions that will enable them to have some kind of standard of living rather than an existence. My experience with education has been in Vancouver, a place hit with the highest cost of living in Canada and for teachers, the wages are not the lowest, however, the workload is 17% higher than Ontario and the wage is about 17% less than Ontario, effectively about 30-35% less per hour worked, and Ontario teachers are hardly well off.

For Canada, Vancouver has probably been hardest hit in education in terms of what is going to spread every where as government budgets get tighter. When you factor in the true cost of living, Vancouver teachers are the lowest paid in Canada. The US already grossly undervalues their children and teachers by the level of funding, more so than Canada. To me, education is the most important investment a country makes in their collective future, not just the children's future.

So, you end up with extreme education systems, like in Britain where public education is so poorly funded they have had a teaching shortage for 25 years. In Britain if you want to be a teacher you will not pay tuition at university, yet even with these incentives Britain has not been able to reverse their teaching shortage, and the consequence to their children in public education and the country's future is enormous. They have the highest teen pregnancy rate, the highest drug use, and the lowest literacy rates out of all "industrialized" countries in the world. The social problems I saw there left me in constant shock. Only 77% of their population completes school to what is a grade 10 level of education in Canada.

If you were starting a family in Britain you'd be immediately asked if you were saving for your unborn child's education. Your child would hardly have a chance of success in public education and public attitude is very much that only children of parents who pay for education deserve an education.

In Vancouver I know far too many teachers that do not make ends meet. I know far too many teachers that after 10 years in the profession have barely made a dent in their student loans, never mind managing to accumulate any kind of savings. The only teachers that actually have a standard of living and aren't merely surviving are the ones that managed to buy a home before the housing bubble, and when university education was reasonably funded. The division of teacher wealth in Canada as a profession has the greatest extremes in Vancouver. There are teachers coming to retirement age with not just one home, but two homes, yet those entering the profession will hardly be able to get their student loans under control, never mind achieving any kind of economic security.

Go into teaching in Greater Vancouver and if you get your own classroom straight out of doing your 6 years of university the starting salary is $42,840, and in your 11th year you will finally make the top salary of $67,362. Just paying the interest on your $40,000 student loan will cost about $4,000 per year (prime plus 5%). Chances are you will not get your own classroom for the first two years and your wage will average about $20-25k per year. So, go into education and at around age 35 you can expect to make about $67k per year. There is nothing that justifies the years it takes to get the top of the pay grid, however, if the job was a 40 hour per week job the pay might be justified. However, the job is about 60-80 hours per week for a beginning teacher and about 50 hours per week for an experienced teacher, at least for teachers of academics. Summers off are earned overtime. The workload increases have been manageable for experienced teachers, but they have utterly buried beginning teachers.

The average price for a house in Vancouver is a low of $446k in Maple Ridge, which is more than an hour drive in rush hour to Vancouver, to a high of $1,456k in West Vancouver. Burnaby, which is central to Greater Vancouver has an average house price of $711k. Even an apartment in Burnaby has an average price of $334k. In Vancouver one needs about $80k for a down payment on an apartment.

Governments are being squeezed more and more and education is not recognized as the future investment to enable people to look after themselves and perhaps be the single largest investment in the future to reduce the social demands on government. No, society cuts education to the point that teachers are overworked and can not make ends meet. The thing about teachers is when they feel empowered by giving extra hours to children and they get to watch children blossom, they do so. When the workload gets to the point that there aren't enough hours to meet their student's needs, or they are so overworked they don't have time to do the fun things they wanted to do with students, well teachers are human and they don't give free hours without feelings of accomplishment and appreciation. When it become hopeless, and they aren't making ends meet, well, they leave the profession. Historically in Canada about 40% have been leaving the profession in the first five years, and I suspect that rate will increase.

Britain broke the that critical point of a workload that gives some reward to teachers in that you know you are making a difference in children's lives. Britain's public education system is so grossly underfunded, the workload is so high and the outcomes are utterly hopeless and the result is that they can not keep teachers. I taught in Britain and my students that were leaving school that year did not know what a percent is, how to do multiplication, essentially their math literacy was at about a grade 2 level, and the way Britain divides students, well these were slightly below average students in the school, but a third of the students in that school had even less ability. So tell me, what kind of future does a country have when this is the state of their education system the abilities of their future adults?

There is a point when individuals must chose a profession based on the ability to look after themselves and as much as I believe in education, I no longer believe that teachers going into it today will be able to look after themselves. It is no longer a case that you could do better elsewhere, but the rewards of education make up for it, and you can still make a living. The dumping of excessive workload on teachers steals the rewards of teaching and leaves hopelessness in its place. Children need stability to develop to their full potential. When there is a revolving door of educators there is no stability in education for children and children become unmanageable faster than you would expect. Places that teachers still manage a standard of living, rather than an existence, are likely to disappear due to increasing economic pressure on the governments that fund education.

But back to the article I linked, these kinds of losses in education aren't just about money, they are about children's future and indeed our collective future. I can survive my pension being hit, but can we survive the hit on our collective future?

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