Parents fight to keep education in the election spotlight
The offer was unconventional, but provided ample evidence that parents are determined to keep education on the front burner during Ontario’s heated election campaign. In a letter to Premier Mike Harris, three Ottawa parents of special-needs children each vowed to donate a kidney to anyone in need if the money saved in health care was used to preserve educational
services for their kids. Funding reforms have triggered dramatic cuts to special-education programs. In the Ottawa-Carleton district alone, the budget for special-ed services, including speech pathologists and psychologists, has been cut by $20 million to $43 million.
Harris, himself the father of a child with cerebral palsy, has yet to reply to the letter. But the signs of discontent are not limited to parents. Last week, negotiations between the government and 273 teachers at correctional facilities and 15 provincially run schools for the deaf, blind and learning disabled broke down over salaries and job security.
Still, many parents fear their message is being drowned out in the debate over health-care issues, which most surveys show is the number 1 issue on voters’ minds. “Education is not as sexy as
health care because we don’t have bodies covered in blood,” says Annie Kidder, a co-founder of People for Education, a Toronto parents’ group. “Although at some point, it will become an emergency.” Kidder’s group is receiving about 50 calls a day from parents interested in distributing leaflets or putting up lawn signs. Says Kidder: “The health of the public education system reflects the health of the whole society.”
Degree deluge j
Tuition may have risen an average of | 67 per cent since 1993, but it has not de° terred a growing number of students § from pursuing a university education, g According to the Association of UniverJ
sities and Colleges of Canada, the number of degrees granted by Canadian universities has jumped by 53 per cent over the past two decades. Women have been the driving force behind university expansion, accounting for 75 per cent of enrolment growth since 1982.
Still, many ask whether a university degree leads to a job. This month, the Council of Ontario Universities released a report showing that roughly 91 per cent of the province’s 1996 graduating class found work within six months, and 96.7 per cent were employed after two years. Information on how many of the 25,000 grads surveyed obtained work in their chosen fields will be released later this year.
But while the prospects look good, some educators say Canada risks losing its competitive advantage as other countries, including South Korea and Ireland, reinvest heavily in universities. Says Herb O’Heron, senior analyst at AUCC: “We have a very respected system, but we’ve let it erode in the past few years,” he says. “We do that at our own peril.”
Work for grads
Celebrities on campus
He is the ultimate big-picture guy. And earlier this month, Graeme Ferguson, one of the pioneers of Imax giant-screen technology, helped lead off the annual parade of those receiving honorary degrees. Ferguson, 69, was honoured by his alma mater, Victoria University, which is federated with the University of Toronto. A fellow Vic grad, film director Norman Jewison, paid tribute to Ferguson’s rare creativity. Students were even treated to scenes from the latest Imax film, which chronicles a journey along the Yangtze River.
Other grads have had to settle for a less spectacular display,
but the ceremonies have been no less star-studded. Recent honorées include CBC anchor Peter Mansbridge at Mount Allison, and Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel at the University of Manitoba. Last week, UN war crimes prosecutor Louise Arbour accepted an honorary degree from the University of New Brunswick. Cited as a pioneer in the field of human rights, the Quebec-born judge praised everyday acts of bravery. “Your professional accomplishments will never be the true measure of your worth,” Arbour told graduates. “It takes courage to yield, not to win; to compromise; to hesitate, when the personal rewards are so great that they may blur the harm to the common good.” A voice of inspiration.
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