Education Notes

Education Notes

November 29 1999
Education Notes

Education Notes

November 29 1999

Education Notes

On the chopping block

School closures mount as Ontario keeps cutting

Nearly 100 schools in Ontario are earmarked for closure over the next 18 months, and more closings are on the way, says a report released last week by People for Education, a Toronto-based parents group. The report, based on a survey of school boards, blames underfunding by the provinces Progressive Conservative government. In a taste of things to come, angry students from W. D. Lowe Secondary School in Windsor,

Ont., travelled to the legislature to fight the closing of their school next September. The document came a day before a newspaper report claiming the Ontario government plans to slash spending on education by an additional $800 million, including funds slated for deaf and blind students. Premier Mike Harris denied the report, but confirmed plans to cut $900 million from all ministries by 2002. In the first phase, the government detailed $309 million in cuts, including about $30 million from postsecondary education. Harris also said Ontario may open the door to private universities. In another report last

week, the Ottawa-based Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives ranked Ontario’s postsecondary system last among the provinces in overall quality.

Rating the profs

Pick a prof, any prof. It can be a risky business at the best of times. But a new Web site could make the choice easier. At most Canadian universities, students typically fill out evaluation forms at the end of each course. The results are used

internally when deciding on tenure and promotions, but are often not released to students. That doesn’t sit well with Ben Mattes and Bill Klein, two thirdyear computer-science students from Concordia University in Montreal. They’re the brains behind Profscan (www.profican.com), which enables students to post comments on their professors’ teaching abilities and to rate them from zero to 100 in five areas. “He gives his lectures in a monotonous voice,” reads one remark. In another review the student notes: “She comes across as being moody.”

Launched in 1997 for Concordia students only, the service expanded this month to Montreal’s McGill University, and its founders hope it will eventually spread across Canada. But if Concordia is any indication, don’t expect professors to be thrilled. When Profscan first appeared, teachers worried it would be used to attack them, says Morton Stelcner, president of the Concordia faculty association. Those anxieties have died down, but critics still argue there is no way to tell if the ratings are really from students. Mattes, 21, says entries are screened carefully, but admits the system is not foolproof.

A Prairie tax revolt catches fire

Saskatchewan farmers, battered by bad weather and plummeting commodity prices, are taking aim at the spiralling tax bill for education. In recent months, residents of 10 rural municipalities have voted to withhold their 1999 property taxes, which cover about 60 per cent of the average school board’s budget in Saskatchewan, up from about 40 per cent in the 1970s. The rest is funded by the province. Art Mainil, a farmer living near Benson, Sask., and a leader of the movement, says he expects residents in about 60 more communities to follow suit in the coming months. At its annual convention last week, the Saskatchewan School Trustees Association renewed calls for the province to shoulder more of the cost of education. Governments in Ontario and Alberta have stripped school boards of their taxing powers entirely, but the Supreme Court of Canada will rule early next year whether their constitutional rights have been violated.

Access for all

Saint Mary’s University is helping to break down the barriers that make lectures inaccessible for many deaf and disabled students. The Halifax school has teamed up with three other institutions and two corporate partners to launch the Liberated Learning Project, which will begin classroom tests in January using speech-recognition technology developed by IBM. The software instandy converts the lecturer’s voice into text, which is projected onto a

I. 8-m-high screen. After class, students can obtain transcripts on disk, which can be converted to braille. The initiative is based on a pilot project last year by David Leitch, head of the university’s Atlantic Centre of Support for Students with Disabilities, and received a $1.2-million grant in June from the Montreal-based

J. W McConnell Family Foundation.