One of the best things about school is that it’s the only place where the beginning of the year comes twice. September is about hope, the buying of fresh supplies and vows to study and eat healthy lunches. January is for resetting the first three months – and forecasting. What will be the most interesting issues in education before we all make like Alice Cooper? Here are five predictions.
1. Making do with less: The University of Alberta has been in turmoil since the province’s budget cut $147-million last March. That reduction was softened with a $50-million injection this fall, but the discussion it generated around which programs are sustainable, how many faculty are needed and how funding sources can be increased will continue. While students at UAlberta are questioning where they fit in, it’s good that the conversation on how universities can adapt to less generous governments is happening in the country’s most prosperous province. Discussions on maintaining quality while saving money are best without a gun to the head. Other universities are likely to learn from the choices UAlberta will make.
2. Student movements will grab headlines: The most striking example is Chile, where new president Michelle Bachelet has promised her government will establish free higher education, in response to years of protests. In Turkey, students and academics have sparked a wider political movement – now in Ankara; in Egypt, hundreds of students have been hurt in demonstrations over the presence of police forces on campuses. U.K. university protests have centred on a similar issue, the attempt to recruit students to spy on activist classmates at Cambridge. (Meanwhile, Quebec’s commission on the Maple Spring has said it may never reach a conclusion.)
3. We will get better at equations: The end of the year brought Canada’s international education report card and some people called the math results a national crisis. Education ministries have dispatched bureaucrats to classrooms to study what’s failing. One way to improve as a country will be to encourage girls to stick with the subject. A study released by Statistics Canada in December showed that girls are much more likely than boys to drop math in postsecondary even when they excel at fractions in high-school. That’s a statement on cultural rewards for being ‘bad at math.’
4. ‘Values’ battle: Many Quebec universities took a few months to respond to the Charter of Values, but they have now expressed their opposition even as Democratic Institutions Minister Bernard Drainville insists they will not be exempt. Will universities follow the lead of Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital and simply ignore the Charter?
5. The rebirth of “MOOCs”: If judged on the quality of the acronym, massive open online courses do not deserve to succeed. But a new, massive study breathed hope into delivering a high-end education using technology. Far from serving undereducated populations with insufficient resources (as supporters have argued), MOOCs are most appealing to highly educated men, the study found. MOOCs may not democratize education, but they’ll make a profit yet.
Simona Chiose is The Globe and Mail’s Education Editor. Follow her on Twitter @srchiose