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A Pivotal Moment for Alberta Education

The warning signs are there, you just have to look.

1. Corporate input on Alberta's curriculum redesign

2. Corporate backed "21st Century Learning Skills" as framework for Alberta's "Inspiring Education"

3. John Manley's influence within Alberta Education.

These three aspects of "Inspiring Education" in Alberta are making me lose sight of any possible benefit that the original inspiring education plan had. It is becoming more obvious that Jeff Johnson, Alberta' Education Minister, is using Inspiring Education to push through a corporate vision of what education should be.

Today, Alberta Education released the "Task Force for Teaching Excellence" report outlining a number of recommendations that the province should move forward with in order to improve "teacher excellence". This report outlines an extremely "managerialist" approach to monitoring and deeming what an excellent teacher is.

This blatant attack on teachers was organized by a task-force that did not include current members of the profession or the Alberta Teachers Association (The organization that represents teachers). This lack of collaboration is insulting for teachers as we have to watch politicians and non-educators tell us what an excellent teacher is and how we should monitor teaching within our schools.

When John Manley, CEO of Canadian Council of Chief Executives, spoke at the "Inspiring Education Symposium" earlier this year it indicated a clear example that the direction of education in Alberta was going to be heavily influenced by corporate ideology. Why was a symposium on education having a CEO from the corporate world be a keynote to address educational issues? Is there not something so inherently wrong with Manley's presence at that symposium and any influence he may have over the direction of education in Alberta?

Manley is an advocate for merit based pay for teachers, which is extremely problematic as most research studies have shown that merit pay has the potential to dismantle the teaching profession. Manley, and others like him, aim to transform our educational systems into corporate structure that maximize benefit for the workforce they need. They seem to forget that education is not a business, nor can it be managed like one.

Manley and organizations like "Canadians for 21st Century Learning and Innovation" are corporately backed non-profit organizations who aim to influence the way education is organized. Alberta's Education Minister, Jeff Johnson, is heavily involved in C21 Canada and their effort to integrate "21st Century Learning" into the classrooms of the future. The ideas behind "21st Century Learning" seem innocent but we must remember that these corporate backed ideas are aimed at training students for the work of the 21st century. Although preparing students for the life of work is important, we must remember that these ideas should not guide or lead our purpose as teachers and students.

If the purpose of education is to prepare students for democratic life, then we have to ensure that it is controlled, managed, and organized by teachers, parents, students, and community members. The task force on "teaching excellence" recommendations have fallen too much in line with the wishes of Manley, C21 Canada, and other organizations who wish to see Alberta Education take on a more corporate structure.

It is not inconceivable to see Alberta Education implement a merit based pay system as we nose dive further down this hill. With corporations already influencing what is taught within our schools under the curriculum redesign, how much further do we have to go to repeat the mistakes made in countries like New Zealand and the United States? It is obvious that corporate education reform is looking to dismantle educational systems and form them into a structure that can be more easily controlled, monitored, and assessed.

The problem is not that teachers shouldn't be "monitored, and assessed" but who is doing the monitoring and assessing. If we have politicians and leaders who do not have any educational background in teaching, how can they be the ones to decide the direction of education in Alberta.

A real "Inspiring Education" would provide teachers and schools with the appropriate funds and resources to maximize the benefit for students. Small class sizes are paramount to enriching a students learning experience. An excellent teacher is obviously important, but you can't expect that teacher to solve all of society's problems within the classroom.

An "Inspiring Education" would work in partnership with other government sectors and organizations to combat societal issues such as poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, and colonialism as they greatly impact students experiences within schools. All of the above issues can hurt our most marginalized students and if we are to improve a system for all, we need a broad scope to analyze how education can play a part in ending these issues.

These trends are alarming and disconcerting to say the least. They may be warning signs now, but we have to start asserting ourselves as teachers and demand that education remain democratic and free from corporate involvement in any way. This is a pivotal time for the future of education in Alberta, let's start making our voices heard.

Comments

  1. Thanks -it appears that our students, K-12 and post secondary are told in subtle and less than subtle ways, that their main function is to fit into Alberta's economy.

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