Re: Public education for the public good (Sept. 15, 2010)
Education is a right. In fact, Article 26 of the Declaration of Human Rights deals directly with education: “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory . . .” Once that education is obtained, individuals should be reasonably prepared for the many challenges life will bring.
However education is also a commodity, particularly at the post-secondary level. This is ever more apparent in our knowledge-based economy. With so many jobs and careers in the labour force that require specialized training and education, a post-secondary degree may put one candidate above another.
Many students attend a post-secondary institution for just this reason, the basic line of thought being university degree = desired career + high salary. Therefore, an investment in the present for most students has the potential to pay large future dividends. Even if that investment, like a mortgage, is temporarily more than one can afford, it can also be paid off quickly if managed correctly once that higher paying job is attained.
This is not to say that the federal and provincial governments should not continue to fund post-secondary institutions. Although rarely mentioned, the government already pays the majority of your education (tuition) costs. That they continue to do so and to provide substantial grants, bursaries and loans programs to individuals highlights their commitment to not only your own personal education, but also the future of the country.
As with all commodities, the price of education is subject to increase due to a number of factors. For those worried about the slightly rising costs of tuition, excellent education need not cost a student anything. Students genuinely interested in a particular subject can simply sit in on public lectures or classes. Those too busy to do so can make use of the vast resources of the public library system or the Internet and learn to their heart’s content. Real world experience is also an excellent teacher, and truthfully I have learned more through my summer jobs than I will have in the classroom once I complete my university degree.
Having attended a post-secondary institution full time for the better part of a decade, I am, like many others, an impoverished student. If my peers feel that they do not have time to get a free education because they must work to pay for a “real” education, they should look at their means and motives. What they are paying for is a certificate (diploma) that says they know something and therefore appear more marketable and qualified to the hiring employer. If this is the case, they have clearly shown the education they are seeking is indeed a commodity, even though the knowledge was free for the taking all along.