Chapter Five: Resources for Education

5.2 The Concept of Resources

When people think about resources for education, they are most often talking about money. People tend to measure the quality of our schools in terms of how much money is spent on them. Thus, educators may argue for additional funds to meet new needs and critics of schools may talk about the perceived lack of value given the increasing amounts spent on education. School boards may talk about the programs they can or cannot deliver because of public resistance to tax increases. Teachers are particularly aware of the ways in which their work is constrained by lack of money or other resources.

All this is not surprising; money plays an important role in education, and in our society generally. It is often seen as the common denominator of value for many things. In education, however, it is misleading to use money as the only, or even the most important, indicator of value or quality.

The educational system contains many kinds of resources. Many of these are purchased goods, such as buildings, equipment, books, and supplies of various kinds. Here it might be reasonable to assume a link between spending more and getting more: more money buys more library books, or more computers, or a bigger or better-equipped building. But goods are not the critical part of education. Far more important are the people who work in a school, the students who attend a school, and the people who live in the school’s community, along with their skills, interests, motives, and effort. These resources cannot easily be counted but are nonetheless critical to the process of education. Two teachers may command the same salary yet be quite different in their ability to work with students. The students themselves will need or want quite different kinds of teaching or support services from the school. A community that sees schooling as an essential route to success is quite different from a community that sees schools as irrelevant to their needs and lives, or even as oppressive institutions. There are very important resources whose nature and impact cannot be translated into monetary terms. The data on spending levels tell us very little about them.

Thus, the conventional view of resources as involving only money is too narrow. Before returning to the question of how resources are used, however, it is important to understand the basic framework through which education in Canada is currently financed, where the money comes from, and how it is allocated and spent.