The current generation utilizes the most advanced technology in history yet has little understanding of how it works
By Gwyn Morgan : “The proposal is an unprecedented attack on teachers’ rights and collective bargaining.”
“A math teacher should have an edge over a social studies teacher in competition for a job teaching high school math. That’s commonsense.”
“The teachers’ unions have resolutely opposed efforts to pay good teachers more than mediocre ones (and) to fire the worst performers . . . too many who go through its schools are incapable of earning a decent living in an increasingly competitive global economy. The number of jobs advertised, but not being filled is increasing . . . the fact is that teachers’ unions are the primary obstacle to reform”.
If you live in Ontario, you may have recognised the first quote as the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation response to the provincial government’s recently tabled bargaining position. British Columbians might recognize the second quote as Education Minister George Abbott’s defense of a key government demand in the current dispute with the BC Teachers’ Federation. But the third quote didn’t even come from Canada. The source is the October 2, 2010 edition of The Economist, and the topic was “Education in America”.
Welcome to the escalating international battle over entrenched union roadblocks to students gaining the knowledge needed for them, and their country, to succeed. Nations that fail this challenge are doomed to high unemployment and steadily declining living standards.
The global race for excellence
The focus on skilled labour is occurring around the world. Just last week, Frankfurt based Deutsche Bank Research published a report entitled The global race for excellence and skilled labour. “Without . . . skilled labour, companies cannot produce intelligent, innovative products. This is why countries worldwide are now engaged in a race for . . . excellence in education systems.”
A basic requirement for producing “intelligent, innovative products” is workers with strong math and science skills. Yet, here in BC, the province where the Education Minister is fighting the teachers’ union to make sure math teachers actually know math, the statistics are not encouraging. Only 42 per cent of Grade 12 students take math, 27 per cent take chemistry and just 17 per cent take physics. I expect those statistics don’t vary much across the country.
There are a host of reasons, including parents who fail to encourage their kids to take science courses and teachers who are either incapable or too disengaged to turn kids on to science by bringing alive the fascinating facts about the world around us. The irony is that, every day, the current generation utilizes the most advanced technology in history yet has precious little understanding of the scientific principles that make it work.
Last December, the OECD released Divided We Stand, Why Inequality Keeps Rising, a study showing that income inequality among industrialized nations is at a record high. Canada’s 12th place “income inequality coefficient” came in 6 per cent above the average of 34 other OECD countries. Chile ranked highest in income inequality, followed by Mexico and Turkey. Fourth place United States came in almost 20 per cent above the OECD average.
Technological progress driving a shortage of skilled workers, combined with a global surplus of low skilled workers, is expected to further widen income gaps in virtually every country surveyed. The report points out the worrying implications of this inexorable trend, “Greater inequality raises economic, political and ethical challenges as it risks leaving a growing number of people behind in an ever changing economy”.
Union leaders short-sighted
The occupy movement tried to foment a 1 per cent versus 99 per cent income inequality class warfare. But it’s the widening gap between the 50 per cent with the most employable skills and the 50 per cent with the least employable that’s the real driver of growing inequality. This story doesn’t have to end badly for Canadians if we embrace the mission of providing the parental encouragement and the quality teaching needed for students to achieve their full potential.
The biggest threat to raising teaching quality is the short-sightedness of secondary school and university union leaders. Our biggest hope depends upon decisive counter-action by the too silent majority of teachers and professors who understand that, unless their graduates gain needed skills, both their students and our country’s economy will fall further and further behind in the great global skills race.
Gwyn Morgan is a Canadian business leader and director of two global corporations.