The High Cost of Education

Says this writer: Costs of secondary education have passed all reasonable bounds . . . our schools are loaded with a mass of useless fol-de-rols


The High Cost of Education

Says this writer: Costs of secondary education have passed all reasonable bounds . . . our schools are loaded with a mass of useless fol-de-rols


The High Cost of Education

Says this writer: Costs of secondary education have passed all reasonable bounds . . . our schools are loaded with a mass of useless fol-de-rols


THE basic needs of man are food, clothing and shelter, and may be grouped under the heading of sustenance. His secondary needs are education, recreation and religion, the last mentioned term being used to connote any form of philosophy of life. These might properly be classed as developing needs.

Necessity and instinct force him to seek the basic needs without other urging. Under ideal conditions the same should be true of the secondary elements. Lazy man, however, must be driven, cajoled and led into doing for himself those services which are not absolutely necessary to existence. This has been particularly true of education. The task of its propagation has always fallen on some other agency than the individual. First, it was the home upon which this duty devolved, then the church and finally the state, which has gradually built up a tremendous system. In this country the system is controlled by provincial and municipal governments.

It is a wonderful thing but, like many good things, it can be overdone. Canadians are beginning to wonder if that stage of its development has arrived. Only profound study by experts can show the exact situation, but there is sufficient surface and subsurface information available to convince even the mildly curious that some changes are imminent and necessary. It will be the aim of this article to show:

1. That general expenditures for educational purposes in Canada have increased at an alarming rate.

2. The expenditures for secondary education, in particular, have passed beyond reasonably proportionate bounds.

A detailed statistical analysis will not be attempted. • Because of the manner in which the various provinces present their figures, it would be next to impossible and it would only serve to confuse the average reader. A mass of figures can be made to prove anything or nothing. But certain definite totals, compared over a period of years, may convey some idea of the general trend.

There are ten educational systems in Canada, with no two of them entirely alike. In one important phase there is a resemblance throughout the country. Comparatively small groups of people are in control, and have designed and developed the various school departments, not to meet the wishes of an indifferent public, but to render the service which these minority groups believe to be best for the jieople. This is a situation not unusual. Nor is it unusual to find impositions and burdens arising from such a situation.

There has been a false tenet set up that educational expenditures of any character are above reproach, that they cannot help but be beneficial by their very nature. Examined in a coldly logical manner, that is a foolish tenet. But there

is that element of truth in it which makes it dangerous. Its position has been strengthened because, judged as a class, the men and women attracted to the elective and administrative positions in educational matters in Canada have been of high standing in their communities, a great many of them of national and international note. Their work has been carried on without any suggestion of political machination or scheming for personal gain.

Yet the taxpayers’ money is just as surely wasted when thrown away on extravagant and impractical theories as it is when handed out in graft and party patronage. Indeed, it is worse. Political spoils, to a great degree, may be found to work some eventual good. But excessive waste in the educational system is not only reprehensible in itself, but also of grave concern because it threatens one of the country’s greatest agencies for common welfare and better citizenship. And it is harder to fight. The educational fanatic is a bigger problem than the political demagogue. There is no limit to his resistance, whereas the party stalwart continues his spellbinding only so long as it remains profitable to himself and his friends.

Mounting Expenditures

DROM a total of more than ten million people, it is very

difficult to estimate what proportion may be actual taxpayers. Every individual who earns and spends money is a taxpayer in some way. Canadians paid an average of $16.50 -every man, woman and child of the population— for education in 1930. Of that sum, $13.50 was contributed as taxes and $3 as voluntary payment for university and private school fees. What the average taxpayer was assessed can only be conjectured, but it was undoubtedly more than $30.

Perhaps that is a proper amount. But the $13.50 of compulsory taxation was only between $3.50 and $4 in 1913. It is true that the figures quoted as those of 1930 are arrived at from expenditures made in some cases in the school year 1929-30 and in others the calendar year 1930, and both were at the peak of extravagant spending by individuals and governments. It is also true that the 1929 dollar’s purchasing power was less than that of 1913. Taking this and all other equalizing circumstances into consideration makes a slight difference, but still shows an amazing percentage of increase.

Examination of the table which follows reveals that in all but one province, the total expenditures have more than doubled themselves, while in New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario they have more than tripled.

The best comparative showing is in the Prairie Provinces, where it might least be expected. Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta experienced, during the fifteen year period, a tremendous influx of settlers. They came from all kinds of

nations, spoke all sorts of languages, and were in a large measure practically illiterate. School facilities for them were imperative. Not only that, but in a very short space of time a complete system for teacher training had to be set up. and tremendous problems of scattered population and high costs solved. The reaction is best reflected in Manitoba, where the total expenditure in 1921, 1922 and 1923 was greater than that in any other years. There wa'S a less marked but very distinct record of the same kind in Alberta and Saskatchewan, but in both these cases all previous high marks were surpassed in 1928 and 1929.

Ontario, most heavily populated, with its people congregated in great communities and its educational system functioning when other provinces were still unborn, takes the doubtful honor of heading the spending list all through the piece. The optimist may say that the progress justifies the difference. The pessimist or cynic can undoubtedly point out that industrial prosperity and massed population made it easier to get more money from the people. The ordinary man can only wonder. Certainly investigation of the detailed reports does not put Ontario that much ahead of any of the provinces, particularly those of the West. Indeed, there may be some points on which it may learn from the Western authorities.

Percentage Expense Province 1913 1930 Increase Per Capita P.E.I............. S 207,606 S 486,059 139 $ 5.52 Nova Scotia...... 1,487,590 3,970,025 167 7.74 New Brunswick. . . 942,203 3,113,948 230 7.63 •Quebec........... 9,225,771 32,917,489 257 11.45 •Ontario.......... 15,268,291 55,006,999 260 16.03 Manitoba......... 5,036,795 11,627,399 130 16.61 •Saskatchewan..... 8,787,904 18,228,806 104 19.77 •Alberta........... 8,684,186 14,396,549 65 19.98 British Columbia.. 4,658,895 10,008,256 115 14.42 •Figures under “1930'' are those for 1929 in these provinces.

Interesting Comparisons

INTERESTING too, and of particular benefit to those -*• uninformed people who persist in regarding Quebec as “backward” and lacking in the modem fixings and gay expenditures which passed for progress until 1929, is the close run given Ontario by its near neighbor in percentage increase and in total cost in proportion to people.

The per capita expense shows an advantage in favor of the Eastern portion of the country. This can be largely accounted for by examining the figures of the 1931 census regarding urban and rural population. Per capita expense and cost per pupil are always much higher in rural than in urban communities. This is easily understood, but it is not so readily comprehensible why the highest increases in total expenditure should be in those provinces which have the largest urban population and the lowest increase in

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the average attendance of pupils. The following table shows comparison of average attendance in 1913 and 1930, the percentage of increase, and the 1930 cost per pupil based on average attendance.

Cost Per Average Attendance Per Cent Pupil in 1913 1930 Increase 1930 PE.I. . .. 11,003 12,201 10.88 $39.84 Nova Scotia.. . 65,686 85,080 29.52 46.66 New Brunsw'k. 44,375 67,156 51.32 46.37 ♦Quebec....... 324,447 464,224 43.39 70.91 ♦Ontario....... 330,474 562,702 70.28 97.93 Manitoba..... 48,163 117,037 143 . 99.35 ♦♦Saskatchewan. . 56,005 169,893 203.35 112.77 ♦♦Alberta....... 45,888 132,573 171.2 116.59 British Columbia. 43,072 96,196 123.33 104.04 ♦All "1930” listings based on 1929 records. ♦♦Average cost per pupil based on 1929 expendi-

It is hard to understand the variations. Ontario and Manitoba make an amazing comparison. The cost per pupil is approximately the same. The per capita expense is practically the same. Yet, with double the increase in average attendance of pupils in proportion, Manitoba has only half the proportionate increase in total expense. The four Western provinces all compare very favorably with the others regarding percentage increase of expenditure when the tremendous gains in average attendance are noted.

Municipalities Are Reckless

THE Federal and provincial governments are ranked in the mind of the average man as the nobility among reckless spenders. But the title of royalty in that regard must go to municipalities or local governments. This is true of almost every branch of public administration for which the consumer pays. In 1913 the people of Canada contributed $61,000,000 for local taxation other than schools. In 1929 they paid more than $170,000,000—a fine increase of 180 lier cent. But over the same period, the amounts collected in local taxes for school purposes mounted from $29,000,000 to over $97,000,000 —a truly spectacular increase of 236 per cent.

These amounts do not include taxation imposed by provincial governments and paid out as grants for educational purposes, nor the amounts contributed by the Dominion government to certain special forms of public education. Provincial grants increased 170 to 190 per cent, but municipal increases far surpassed them.

It would be manifestly unfair to attribute all these great increases to wasteful spending and lack of judgment on the part of educational authorities. Some of them are due in part to quite legitimate natural expansion and improvements in both staff and equipment.

Throughout the country, standards for grading both teachers and pupils have been raised higher and higher. The average school life has been greatly lengthened, and modern sanitary buildings have replaced the poorly ventilated and pœrly lighted structures of other days. In Ontario, as doubtless in other provinces, what was formerly a university year has been thrown back on the high schools, and in all provinces the permissible age for leaving school has been raised during the period under review. Other branches of government have saddled the educational system with a nuaiber of highly specialized and expensive responsibilities. Teachers have made great progress in their uphill fight for payment in accordance with their qualifications and the importance of their labor.

^ et all these together do not account satisfactorily for the amazing increase in cost. Chief among the many other responsible factors is the false premise that education has a definite marketable value according to its extent, the demand of business and industry for technically trained young people to fill the gaps left by the almost vanished apprentice system, and the determination of a growing band of influential faddists and fogeys to load the schools with

a mass of practically useless decorations and I fol-de-rols under various excuses and disguises. These last are especially notable in urban centres.

Secondary School Problems

V\ 7HICH brings us to that particular W branch of the system in which increased cost is most noticeable, the secondary schools under public control. There is a disappointing lack of concrete and understandable figures on this branch in the reports of nearly all the provinces. True, there are pages and pages of reports, and additional pages of speeches in Hansard. They are similar in that the average man can only wonder what they are all about.

The most comprehensive general report on the country's educational systems is published by the Dominion Bureau of Statistics, but only Saskatchewan and Ontario have expenditures for secondary education listed separately. Both are for 1929. In Saskatchewan, again using 1913 and 1929 as comparisons, the cost of secondary education increased 177 per cent. In Ontario, during the same period it increased 514 per cent. That it is a big factor in general increase is evident, because in Ontario secondary school costs were 19 per cent of the total in 1913 but had increased to 33 per cent of the total in 1929.

The onrushing tide of spending for secondary schools can best be shown by some particular examples in Ontario. In one small town with a total population of about 3,000, a new high school was built within the past five years. The total cost was, roughly. $225,000. The total available population to support it can hardly exceed 6.(XX), as there is another high school eight miles in one direction and a new continuation school six miles in a second. in that town assumed

Every person in that town assumed a debt of $75 with interest when the building was turned over by the contractors. Total cost of maintenance in the year 1929 was over $70.000, and of that $13,000 went for debt charges -18 per cent of the total money spent that year. The 1929 expenditure represents about 30 per cent of the capital invested. In the ordinary course of events that expenditure will increase and the value of the investment depreciate. The total enrolment for the school was less than 200 and the cost per pupil approximately $350. It sounds extreme, but the figures arc taken in round numbers from the report of the Department of Education.

A good half of this high school building, from basement to roof, is occupied by a magnificent swimming pool, a modern, fullsize gymnasium, and an assembly hall or theatre fitted with the proper seating accommodation, stage, curtain, etc. Advocates of this equipment will tell you that a great deal of it is necessary in order to get Government grants. Yet the departmental regulations do not call for swimming pools; the maximum allowance for a gymnasium is $160 a year; the maximum allowance for the assembly hall $8 a year; and the total Government grant for all reasons to that school in 1929 less than $3.000.

There was a county grant of about $25,000, which means nothing. No municipality which is part of a county system may take more frotn that system than it pays in. Indeed, the payments made through the county and thence back to the municipality are much more costly because of the cost of county administration. The same people pay the total bill, whether it be listed a municipal, county or provincial taxes. And remember—the people of this town have public school taxes to meet as well.

A Larger School

IET us look at an older school in a larger J centre. There is a collegiate institute for instance, in an eastern Ontario city. The total capital invested is less than $400,000. The expenditure in 1929 was $92,000,

I or 23 per cent of the capital. About $30,(XX) nearly 33 per cent of the total, was for debt charges. There is an enrolment of nearly 500, with a cost per pupil of about $185. To this school the total provincial grant was less than $2,000. It is in a better position than the first institution described, having a much greater territory from which to draw support and also a longer period of establishment in which to better its financial position.

What of the large cities? In an article in the Financial Post, Floyd S. Chalmers, analyzing an expenditure of $125,000 for an addition to one of the Toronto collegia tes, gives the following interesting summary;

Per Cent of Total Two gymnasiums, sjiectators’ gallery, dressing rooms, shower rooms, rooms for storing gymnasium equipment........$59,500 46.6 Swimming Pool............... 17,000 13.6 New manual training and domestic science rooms.. . 32,500 26. Additional boiler capacity required because of above............. 4,(XX) 3.2 Conversion of present manual training and domestic science. rooms into four classrooms..... 8,000 6.4 Enlargement of administrative offices, involving elimination of one of present classrooms...... 4,000 3.2

A statement of that nature requires no comment except that the proposed $125,000 grew to $160,000, and for that sum a net gain of three regular classrooms resulted. And, while this was a live issue and while similar expenditures are being made, the Toronto Board of Education finds itself faced with the problem of having no seating accommodation for a growing number of collegiate pupils in one section of the city, and at the time of writing was seriously considering running a double shift. It rather reminds one of a man camping on the law-n of a ten-roomed house because elaborate furniture and special rooms inside allow of no accommodation for the members of the family; or perhaps it more closely parallels an individual in a shabby, ill-fitting suit spending twenty-five dollars for haberdash-

The names of the first two towns mentioned have not been given, although consultation of the official reports might reveal them. There is no desire nor need to hold them up as “horrible examples.” They are merely cases which are sufficiently accentuated to drive home the idea of conditions on the average. They are splendid examples of the high costs of buildings and maintenance in the secondary school system and of the great portion of such cost consumed by unessentials.

Equipment Costs

THE heavier forms of equipment, essential or otherwise, are closely allied to building construction and maintenance. But there is another branch of expenditure relating to lighter equipment into which many thousands of dollars are poured with little benefit. Laboratory apparatus for physics, chemistry and other science subjects, the special paraphernalia for domestic science and manual training and dozens of kindred things are purchased quite freely and at high prices. The conventional combination consists of a zealous or ambitious teacher, a good salesman and a gullible trustee. One cannot blame the teacher. His philosophy is that he must have every new wrinkle for his courses, or he may even be sincerely convinced that he needs the particular thing in question. Certainly the salesman cannot be blamed for securing all possible business. And the poor trustee, lacking technical knowTedge of the question and subjected to such a barrage of adroit lobbying that he comes to look upon a refusal of his sanction as tantamount to throwing iron filings in the gears of the educational machine, succumbs. In spite of his misgivings he repeats the performance again and again until, forced to defend himself to the people he represents, he becomes an ardent champion of the very things he has once strongly questioned.

Precisely the same method is used for g(xxl things as for useless gimcracks which I conclude their careers after a few months or

a few terms in a corner of the storeroom or in the garbage can. So wre find elaborate signal systems, room-to-room telephones, electrical egg cookers for the lunch room, electric fans for the lady teachers’ rooms, hand driers, hair driers, submarine lights for swimming tanks, air purifiers, water treaters, smoke eliminators, extra special lighting equipment and what not. If one cf our really “progressive” high schools had only maintained a museum of broken, obsolete and forgotten equipment during the past twenty years, it would offer a wonderful lesson.

Special Courses

1 INKED closely with waste space in J buildings and extravagant equipment is their cause—special courses. Here are some which might be considered either as entirely unnecessary or as fit for drastic curtailment : Agriculture and horticulture, Greek. German, Spanish, Household Science, Art, Music, Business Arithmetic, Commercial Law, Economics and History of Commerce, Botany, Zoology, Algebra, Geometry. Trigonometry, Physics and Chemistry, Military Drill.

There will undoubtedly be heavy protest at the inclusion of the mathematical subjects. Yet, except in their basic outlines, they are a form of study absolutely unsuited to the adolescent mind. There are thousands of men and women of mature years who can definitely trace the delay or discontinuance of their school progress to the insistence of the authorities on an excellence in mathematical subjects which these people would never have attained with a lifetime of study. It is no indication of superior intelligence to be able to follow the maze of hieroglyphics obtained by the mathematics master with the assistance of his textbook. To the present writer, who is prejudiced on the point, it indicates abnormality.

Teachers, as a class, are definitely opposed to the bewildering variety of courses and processes imposed upon both elementary and secondary schools. Within recent times the board of high school principals of the city of Toronto made strong recommendations that domestic science and manual training should not be added to the curriculum of new schools. They stated that the high school course is already overloaded. Yet those courses went into the curriculum of subsequent schools.

Within the last few weeks a daily paper reprinted a poem of a humorous nature read at a convention of teachers by one of their number. It was one of those “half-funwhole-eamest” things and occasioned outspoken approval. The climax of the narrative was that the teacher, on being asked to fill a department form calling for a record of the time spent on each ordinary subject, merely remarked: “There’s no time left to teach.” The poem cited eye treatment, inoculations, dental inspection, special physical drill, music, visits by officials, diet talks and a host of other quite unnecessary interruptions.

Even with this evidence, the opinion of experienced teachers who do not appear in the public eye has been sought. There is an amazing unanimity of opinion among those interviewed. Only one took a different stand and that one is at present teaching one of the “special” courses. His reaction is natural.

Nor is it limited to Ontario. Teachers throughout the country have expressed themselves as favoring much more simple curriculums, with a great deal more time devoted to the basic subjects. A rather well-known Canadian who addressed a meeting of Montreal teachers during the present winter and was outspoken in his opinions along this very line, met with a big surprise when a delegation of the teachers waited on him the next day and not only thanked him for his remarks but endorsed them.

Could any greater condemnation of the “extra” and "special” courses be offered than this attitude on the part of the very people best qualified to give an honest opinion?

Educational authorities have made the mistake of vesting in themselves or accepting when thrust upon them, a multitude of

functions belonging properly to other agencies. They not only load their pupils with special courses but with a second division of classifications and groups in these courses, and a third for various types of mentality. In addition, they have undertaken to supervise the teeth, eyes. ears. feet, hands and general health of their students. They have ventured into the field of moral conduct far beyond their proper rights and have to some extent imposed military training. They have sought to become all things to all children.

Some measure of exemption from these charges must be given to the trustee boards of rural schools. While their abstinence may be more necessity than virtue since their schools do not lend themselves as readily to exploitation as those of their urban brethren, the fact remains that they have in most cases managed to get along without any more frills than those already plentifully forced upon them by the Department of Education.

What is the Solution?

TN CONNECTION with the industrial

depression there is a story of the elderly president of a large Canadian company. During the halcyon days previous to 1929 he had watched the high pressure methods of his younger associates with only that mild intolerance held by the veteran for the tenderfoot when nothing great is at stake. The firm acquired supersalesmen at enormous salaries, spent lavishly for entertainment of clients, poured money into freak advertising and even engaged an efficiency expert.

But when the going became heavy the old gentleman put away his golf clubs, shoved his mahogany desk into a corner, and started his reorganization by firing the efficiency expert.

“We have to get down to brass tacks now,” he said. “It’s time to forget efficiency and settle down to real work.”

Perhaps that principle might be applied to our educational systems. Every man who has been through school during the past twenty years can remember two or three good, solid teachers of the old type who taught him more than all the others put together, both of sound academic knowledge and proper attitude toward life. Supplement these men as leaders with the really fine body of younger teachers of both sexes available and give them powrer to act. Their recommendations might amaze departmental officials, but there is a strong possibility that they would please the general public.

Any real plan of solution must lie with the electors of the country. Usually they are a forlorn hope, but even their indifference may be overcome by the present financial stringency and heavy taxation. No governing body, whether municipal, provincial or federal, is so shortsighted as to ignore public sentiment if it washes to remain in office.

Hopes for a change are centred in a small body of people in each community. These may be the present governors of matters educational who will act at once, or able men and women wrho will dislodge the “diehard" element among those now in office. Above all they must be people urho, by experience or observation, have come to realize that the term “education” is in danger of becoming a fetish and of losing its true meaning, that all academic training, whether utilitarian or cultural in its objective, is useless except as a groundwork on which the recipient may build in after life, and that the simpler and more substantial the foundation, the greater the probable benefit derived.

As far back as 1928. Dr. Horace L. Brittain, director of the Citizens’ Research Institute, said:

"Even on the basis of investment, school expenditures merit enquiry. A poor investment is as bad as. and may be w'orse than, an unnecessary expense. In so far as school expenditures represent value received, there can be no quarrel on the part of the public. But in so far as good or better results could be obtained for less expenditure, the public

lias a right to know the facts. Waste in education, where and when it exists, is more, not less, reprehensible than any other form of waste. The ideas that educational expenditures are too sacrosanct to be submitted to examination and that anyone who asks questions regarding school expenditures is an enemy of education, are worse than ridiculous; they are hostile to the best interests of education.”

The facts and figures in this article are given only after careful and open-minded investigation. It is not maintained that educational authorities have been any more culpable, any more shortsighted, any more extravagant, making due allowance for the arbitrary powers with which they are vested, than most other individuals, firms and public bodies during a similar period.

But it is very evident that educationists hold the belief that present adjustments and retrenchments do not apply to them, that they are different from the rest of the world economically and that a slight pause in their activities will solve all their problems. A few of them are beginning to see the question from a commonsense point of view. As the people become better acquainted with the situation, the great mass of those in control will either change their minds or their jobs.

Two questions face those people who have already received their municipal tax bills for 1932. Is the large proportion of the total which is devoted to education yielding returns at the rate of one hundred cents on the dollar? Can the country afford to maintain it, whether it is or not?