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GINTA — Education should not be about money but about critical thinking

Daniela Ginta writes for The Armchair Mayor News on Fridays.

COLUMN — I grew up in a country where I had access to free university education. It seemed logical. I had to pay to live in the dorms and I had to pay for food, of course, and I also had to pay for some of the textbooks that were not available to borrow from school (department or library) but most were reference textbooks that I have to this day and have served me for more than one particular course with a final exam.

Ginta hedMy graduate studies here opened my eyes about paid education. I could pay my tuition from scholarships and by teaching in my particular field, but the undergrads I was teaching often complained about having to work and study at the same time. Some could barely make ends meet, coming from underprivileged families but they were very keen on learning; their debt grew with every year of studying.

I also had many students that arrived to school in expensive sports cars and could not care less about the way cells uptake glucose. There were arguments about marks, haggling over fractions of a mark and an attitude that was that I had to deliver something that will push one’s social status to a higher tier. I guess the perception was that if one pays, the goods should be delivered and they’d better be worth the price.

That was when I started having the distinct feeling that such a conflict of interest might breed trouble. The story repeated itself during my years of teaching at a private post-secondary school. Some students believed that though they were paying (and more so, because they were paying money that did not come easy to them) they had to work hard and make it worthwhile. Others believed education to be some sort of merchandise that was being bought with money. A certain sense of entitlement was often looming over their heads and it was affecting the learning process.

Many a conversation with people who have to pay for their own education bears a bitter taste. Tuition is high and increasing, quality of education often low because, many feel, every paying student has to be caught in the safety net that will not allow very many to fall behind, whether they truly have something to show for it or not, and then, there are the exorbitant prices for textbooks that, on being resold after merely a semester, bring but a fraction of the money back (percentages may vary depending on the discipline and institution.)

Tuition, I was told by a second-year student, includes a bus pass which she uses occasionally, but some do not use at all, it also includes daycare costs (she has yet to have a child in need of a daycare), and union fees; thus, fee by fee, tuition meant to open the avenue to higher education becomes an avenue towards frustration.

Should education cost so much? Getting a loan these days becomes increasingly difficult. Between not having well-to-do parents and/or acceptable co-signors, many a student willing to learn are pushed out of line because they cannot afford it.

The cost of living even in a city like Kamloops is increasing, rent and food, and many have trouble paying for textbooks that rake bills in the hundreds just for one semester, which makes one wonder about it all. Should education be free and standards higher, wouldn’t the whole society benefit after all?

By higher standards of learning I do not mean forcing kindergarteners to read before their time or promoting competitiveness at the expense of true knowledge and common sense, but rather allowing them to learn at their own pace while providing them with enough time to play and express their creativity and encouraging them to develop critical thinking as they see the significant adults in their lives use theirs.

As soon as we put a price on education, everyone suffers. The learners in the first place, the instructors, and the society. By promoting values and true knowledge, with no price tag, students feel like they have truly achieved something when they graduate from school, be it elementary, high school, university or post graduate) and moving forward. I have heard from high school students and university students as well that they do not feel challenged enough so when they finish school they almost feel like frauds. That is a sinking feeling.

On the other hand, no one benefits from anyone entering society with superficial knowledge or barely any knowledge, just like we do not benefit from people doing jobs without much passion and just for the monetary gain. We see critical thinking and common sense missing; in politics, at a family level, in all types of learning institutions and workplaces, we see it everywhere and at all levels.

Education should not be about money but about learning and acquiring knowledge not just for personal benefit but in order to bring a contribution to the society that has enabled us to get an education to begin with. When financial issues get entangled with education, a certain bias is bound to overshadow the noble and worthy endeavor of acquiring true knowledge.

A first discussion topic on many an education board should perhaps be disentangling the learning and finances for everyone’s gain… for the greater good, you could say, and that is a lofty goal for any society where critical thinking and knowledge are valued.

Daniela Ginta is a mother, scientist, writer and blogger. She can be reached at daniela.ginta@gmail.com, or through her blog at http://www.thinkofclouds.com.

About Mel Rothenburger (8047 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

2 Comments on GINTA — Education should not be about money but about critical thinking

  1. Learning something, or buying degrees, that is the very important question! Thank you Daniela and Sean for getting this discussion started. A very interesting perspective was also given by Crawford in the article at: http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2015/01/01/Canada-Education-Superpower/
    where he argues that even with free tuition, the whole educational enterprise will pay off in the long run.

  2. Sean McGuinness // February 6, 2015 at 1:16 PM // Reply

    This article strikes a chord with me. As a professor at various universities, I have seen how different systems work. I taught at Dartmouth College in the U.S. for one year, which is an Ivy league college having extremely high tuition rates ($37,000/yr when I last was there). The question is whether such rates are justified when one can take similar courses at a publically funded university at a fraction of the cost. A short answer might be, pedigree. A diploma from an elite college carries more weight in the job market. In any case, a diploma from a publically funded university might be worth just as much in terms of the education it represents, but it might be the wrong brand name. Depending on where you get your degree from, it can become a marketable asset. It is mostly the private universities and colleges in the U.S. that are symbols of prestige. And to a large degree this is what they are selling. For the vast majority of other private colleges, education is big business.
    My experience at private universities did not instill faith in the whole education for money concept. First of all, you will be made acutely aware of who the “customers” are. Secondly, you are no longer part of system that sells access to an education, but rather one that just sells education. Along with this, you will see an erosion of standards and bending of rules. My conclusion was that there is an inevitable conflict of interest when education becomes a business.

    I also taught in Scandinavia for many years, where the philosophy is completely different.
    Tuition was free, and students recieved stipends to study. The attitude being that an educated society is a better equipped society. Canada is not Scandinavia, but it is not the U.S. either. However, we are gradually moving towards a U.S. based philosophy where universities are run like businesses. There are things that are too important to mess with, and education is one of them.

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