Sitting on my patio with a Pepsi in hand, I sit staring at this can thinking about the power of that tiny label in front of me. That simple aluminum can, with its’ blue, red and white circle label, prompting a debate about corporate interests in education these days. What can I do? Well, I tip the can back….take a long cool sip of ice cold cola….. and think. Is this whole corporate issue really such a big deal?
When I think of my classroom and the different “freebies” I have been given over my 12 years of teaching, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t have a plethora of stuff. From puppets to posters to free subscriptions, I have stuff, and I mean, A LOT of stuff. Would I say that this stuff has enhanced my teaching? Definitely. Would I say that I have always used these items in the exact way they have been set out to be used? Absolutely not. Would I say that having access to these items has enabled me to be a better teacher on the salary and funding that I have been granted? Most definitely. Have I sold out my students in what amounts to a Faustian bargain? I’m not convinced that I have.
In today’s current world, with the leadership in Saskatchewan’s provincial government that we have, our teachers are being asked to survive with the leanest of the lean. It seems that when we finally master a plan for surviving on what amounts to be, shall I say, bread crumbs (thank you Brad Wall) we eventually get slapped with even bigger cuts that leave teachers scrambling. What are we to do in order to ensure our students don’t get left with scraps for those who show up to teach, when all of these cut backs do away with the future of our province? Well, we do what we preach. We learn to think outside of the box. We begin to find ways to deal in other currency. Or, we simply ditch the field that we are in, and go to where money talks….which clearly isn’t in education.
The idea of corporate involvement connecting with education isn’t new. As Justine and Tyler mentioned in Tuesday night’s debate, this is something that has been happening for years and will likely continue to occur for many years to come. Though controversial and not seen as a positive by many educators, there are definitely positives to having corporate sponsors become connected and invested in schools. In my professional opinion, companies like Scholastic Canada and Smartboard have been enhancing classroom experiences for years.
More and more corporations are offering Ed. Tech programs and software that are being advertised as “free”. But here’s the catch. They aren’t necessarily, really “free”. Their cost doesn’t just deal in the currency of money. Their cost comes in the form of data, BIG DATA, information, statistics, all the fun stuff that we like to think of as “our” personal information.
That being said, is it a big deal, or little deal, to share this information if in return, you are able to access different services that can enhance the quality of education? Some might have a problem with this, but for me, I think it is a pretty sweet deal. I guess I see it like this:
I think we need to look critically at the ed. tech. available to us. Before jumping on the “free” or “funded” bandwagon, we need to decide if the ed. tech. being offered is actually something that will enhance student learning. We need to ensure that we understand what we are seeing as well as what is going on with the products and information that we are producing. We need to ensure that we take the time to familiarize ourselves with what we are being offered, tailor it to our class and then only implement it in ways or parts that are enhancing the education of students. Lia De Cicco-Remu, director of Partners in Learning at Microsoft Canada states that, “you have to show them how to use it pedagogically.”
There is a big buzz about how companies like Pearson profit from the standardized testing that they promote with their product lines. They even profit more so, from students who fail these tests and need to repeat them. I guess my thoughts on this are that we need to be vigilant and take the time to consider what products we bring into the classroom and the effects that these products will have on our students. So, if standardized testing is something that certain corporations are promoting, maybe we need to agree to steer clear of those and look further down the line at corporations that are advocates for learning, through literacy (Scholastic), athletics (Milk), and other areas of education that promote learning of the whole child. We are not short on finding corporations that want to work along side teachers to help students reach their full potential. Is standardized testing a problem of its own possibly?A problem that corporations definitely use and thrive on, but one we should have the smarts to know better than, when deciding which corporate sponsors we open our division doors to?
If these corporations earn their keep while actually enhancing the education system along the way, I have no problem with this, if done with caution. When we look at the way that Saskatchewan is heading with education, we are going to need to continue to think outside of the box to find ways to help our students achieve excellence. Sitting on the sidelines and criticizing the government is definitely merited, but is not going to fix the problem at hand. Maybe it’s going to become a case of the private sector stepping in to help out. As long as we do our homework, work alongside the corporations we deem trustworthy, begin steering clear of the ones (like Pearson) who are not, and proceed with our eyes wide open, I really don’t see any other rectifiable way to find a solution for the problem Saskatchewan is currently in. Do I realize (as Alec mentioned), the result of opening doors to corporate funding will likely create less funding by the government? Yup… I sure do. But ladies and gentlemen, look around. Read the papers. Is that not what the government is already doing? It’s just a matter of time before there is simply, nothing left to take.
Do I think this will change education? Yes…..but I think the government is currently changing education here….at a fast, sickening, and depressing rate.
I am very interested, and nervous, to see where our education system is at a decade from now. Hopefully, somewhere, between here and there, we fall into the right hands. I am hopeful that there might still be some good politicians out there, that recognize that they got to be as wise as they are, from some amazing teachers that motivated them to be excellent, along the way.