4:58 pm - Tuesday May 21, 2024

BC’s education system gets low marks in poll

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British Columbians are among the least satisfied across Canada with their education system, from kindergarten to post-secondary.

That is the finding of an Angus Reid Global survey that found fewer than half of respondents at times found the provincial government to be doing a good job.

And most observers, like the government itself, blame poor labour relations that have plagued the public K-12 school system for years.

That dim picture includes contract talks being held under the threat of a teachers’ strike, negotiations that are stalled by a dispute over wages and class sizes.

The results of the Canada-wide survey, made available exclusively to The Province, span the past two years.

The data on whether or not provinces are doing a good or poor job regarding primary education and secondary education in general, as well as the accessibility and quality of post-secondary education, is collected by the B.C.-based polling firm four times a year, said vice-president Shachi Kurl.

“In many of the quarterly results, B.C. is an outlier,” she said. “They would be at the bottom of all the provinces.”

In the first quarter of this year, as an example that roughly reflected the numbers across the two years, 52 per cent of B.C. respondents said B.C. was doing a good job with respect to primary education. That compared with a 63-per-cent average of all other provinces.

The B.C. rate dropped as low as 47 per cent in the first and second quarters of 2012, while the provincial average remained at 63 per cent.

The results were similar for secondary education, the “good” responses ranging between 47 and 58 per cent for British Columbians, compared with a range of 59 to 67 per cent for the average among other provinces.

British Columbians weren’t much happier when it came to access to post-secondary education, with “good” results dropping to 45 per cent and topping out at 52 per cent over the two years (compared to the rest of Canada averages of between 58 and 63 per cent).

British Columbians were happier with the quality of post-secondary education, with between 62 per cent and 68 per cent calling it “good.”

But the results were still lower than the overall average of between 66 and 72 per cent over the two years.

The responses indicating B.C. is doing a poor job tended to come from people 35 to 54 years old who earn less than $50,000 a year and voted for the NDP in the last provincial election.

For instance, 37 per cent of those who voted NDP gave the government a “good” rating in the first quarter of this year in respect to primary and secondary education.

By contrast, more than three-quarters of those who had voted Liberal rated the government’s performance as good.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender blamed negative advertising by the B.C. Teachers Federation for what he called “people’s perceptions” that the education system is flawed.

“The BCTF has run television ads that raise concern about the state of education,” he said.

But he said funding is up and costs the province $1 billion a year.

“And we always rank (academically) in the top of the world,” he said.

Fassbender acknowledged that the results, which show B.C. respondents also are unhappier with post-secondary education access and quality than people in the rest of Canada, point up the need to increase spaces in schools, especially in growth areas such as Surrey.

Melanie Anderson, a Delta mother of two who founded the advocacy group B.C. Partners in Education, said she would vote that the province was doing a good job and she speculated the low satisfaction numbers were caused by repeated strained labour relations.

“There’s been job action after job action and it gets really tiring,” she said. “Neither side is doing good by the kids. I can’t blame just the government.”

Terry Berting, a Burnaby father of three and president of the B.C. Confederation of the Parent Advisory Councils, was dismayed by the results.

“There’s an unfortunate disconnect between the good that’s done in schools by wonderful people,” Berting said, “because it’s overshadowed by the negative atmosphere and sour relationship between the union and the government.”

He added: “B.C. has just been pounded with the negativity and ferocity of the negotiating.”

BCTF president Jim Iker wasn’t available for comment on Friday.

Contract negotiations are scheduled to resume Tuesday.

Teachers, who approved a strike mandate earlier this month by 89 per cent, are seeking a three-per- cent hike in each of three years, which compounded would be 13 per cent, and the employers are seeking a 10-year deal, with a seven-per-cent raise over six years, with the possibilty of binding arbitration if a wage deal can’t be reached for the remaining four years.

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