Chapter Ten: Prospects for Education

10.2 Pressures on Canadian Schools

Schools, whether in Canada or in other countries, have always been subject to considerable amounts of criticism. One can find complaints about the declining quality of education going back to the ancient Greeks, and in almost every generation since then. After all, expectations for public education are very high. People expect schools to do countless things, as was seen in our initial discussion in Chapter One of the goals of schools and the education system. Imparting knowledge is an important and primary purpose, but schools are also expected to teach dispositions, knowledge, and skills for a whole range of areas. In a sense, schools are expected to help everyone grow into the best possible version of themselves—a tall order indeed!

Over time, Canada has seen a great deal of debate about the quality, equality, and the costs of education and the need for improvement in schools. Some critics have complained about what they see as high drop-out rates, an unchallenging curriculum, and under-performance by Canadian students on international tests. Much attention has focused on the growing importance of education for economic success and the need for better outcomes in the light of growing international competition for jobs and wealth. A different set of criticisms challenge public schools to live up to its ideal of inclusion and to address with some urgency systemic discrimination and human rights concerns. An emerging set of criticisms of schools relate to the very limited ways in which schools engage with the environmental crises that threatens the globe. A fourth broad set of concerns, taken up in Chapter Five, hinge around how schools should be funded and whether schools are currently appropriately funded.

Calls for change reflect both the diversity of people’s goals for, and interests in, schools and the fact that schools are public institutions embedded in a larger social, economic, ecological, and political context that is constantly impacting on the realities of life in schools.


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