Portals and Pathways:
Report on post-secondary education totally ignores teaching
The provincial government released the report of the Investing in Students Task Force on March 20. This is the provincial government’s major initiative in the post-secondary sector in Ontario. The Minister commissioned the study as an assessment of the current situation and a roadmap for the future.
The report is called Portals and Pathways: A Review of Post-secondary Education in Ontario. The five-member Task Force was chaired by Jalynn Bennett, president of Jalynn H. Bennett & Associates, a private consulting firm. It included Jean Bédard, a lawyer with Sotos Associates, Roderick D. Fraser, President, University of Alberta, Ray Ivany President and Chief Executive Officer of Nova Scotia Community College, and Courtney Pratt, President and CEO of Hydro One Network Services Inc. The report runs more than 160 pages and is available at www.edu.gov.on.ca.
While it comments on underfunding in both the College and university sectors in Ontario, the report offers no solutions to this basic problem. Instead, it synthesizes and reaffirms much of the current education jargon. When it addresses College concerns particularly, the report reiterates the public positions of the Council of Presidents and college management’s lobbying body, ACAATO (the Association of Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology of Ontario)
"Individual institutions have been cost effective and innovative, but future efficiencies must be achieved on a system-wide basis." Sound familiar?
The report also says: "Colleges have effectively reduced their operating expenditures per student. They have kept their administrative costs under control and are operating at a high level of efficiency, particularly on a per student basis." Of course – and this has been accomplished by taking in more students than can properly be handled let alone properly educated. Some of the more forthright college presidents are now acknowledging the serious academic quality problems this strategy has produced.
The report advises that they expect an additional 88,000 students in the colleges and universities by 2005. Yet in not one of the 160-plus pages, nor in any of the 33 recommendations, does this Task Force suggest or even acknowledge the need for more teachers. It notes that faculty are retiring and will need to be replaced. Replacement and maintenance only. Not a word about hiring more teachers. Not a word about developing more teacher training for new teachers and for those already in the systems. Not one word in all these pages. "Attracting the talent needed to maintain high quality education is going to be a major challenge in both colleges and university sectors." That’s it. No proposals, no recommendations.
Under the section entitled "Support to the Learner and Teacher," there are just two recommendations:
Note that there is no mention or notice of e-teaching. None throughout the report, unless, of course, one counts the quoted comment of an unnamed college president about the challenges for web-based learning —"Faculty members’ skills limited to content development only." p.34
This lengthy report makes no mention of the need to invest in teachers, teacher training, and professional development. The shortsightedness is stunning. The report views investment in students as being essentially, if not wholly, an investment in infrastructure and technology. This is frightening. Riding the most current wave, spouting the latest edu-babble is not a pathway to a future of quality education.
When it talks about the Colleges, the Task Force report parrots the published ACAATO position for "A New Charter." College presidents want to decentralize collective bargaining, and concentrate power and decision-making in their own hands by eliminating the Council of Regents, which provides a central co-ordinating function.
The Task Force boasts that it used a consultative process of 20 Roundtable discussions and numerous meeting with "stakeholders." Who was there? Colleges were represented by 76 participants – 20 students and 56 presidents, governors and administrators. (For the universities, it was 18 students and 53 presidents, governors, and administrators.) At the stakeholder meetings, there were 25 "College Representatives," 23 of whom were College presidents. When the Union representing faculty asked to meet with the Task Force, they were turned down. The Task Force did not meet with either college or university faculty representatives. So it is little wonder that the recommendations do not reflect or even recognize a teacher’s viewpoint
The mandate of the Task Force called for it to, "seek the views of students, post-secondary institutions, faculty and staff associations, local communities, business groups, and other organizations as appropriate to ensure a broad, system level perspective is obtained." Not only did the Task Force not seek out the perspective of teacher and staff associations, it rejected their request to meet and to offer those perspectives.
The Task Force report recommends adopting "best practices." Regrettably and remarkably, the task force has failed to follow its own advice. So, if the government chooses this report as its roadmap for post-secondary education in Ontario, will it be "Portals and Pathways"? Sadly, the potholes that will quickly develop will render the pathways treacherous and impassable.
Ted Montgomery, Negotiating Team Chair
Ontario Public Service Employees Union, 100 Lesmill Rd. Toronto, ON M3B 3P8 (416) 443-8888 www.opseu.org