Backchat: Education

In response to National Post article ‘Out of control’: Immigration minister says he wants to reduce international student arrivals

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The recent National Post article did not unveil any new insight but, instead, needled a cause of frustration for many Canadians that had been around at the back of their minds for a while now. As of 2023, it has become a primary concern that cannot be ignored. With the recent announcement of Canada’s Immigration Minister Marc Miller’s decision of tightening the intake of international students, many Canadians wonder why it took so long for the federal government to address the issue. Indeed, with approximately 800,000 international students coming to Canada on an annual basis, Minister Miller himself has stated that the situation has “gotten out of control.” With the current housing crises in Canada, many look towards the influx of international students as the root of the housing shortage in the nation.

Decisions from provinces such as Ontario turning away international students from food banks due to its priority to serve Canadian citizens may seem completely unjustified. Indeed, the idea seems fundamentally
contradictory to Canada’s emphasis on extending help towards those in need, a value that had been so ingrained in the nation’s culture, it has taken shape as a national identity. However, it is also important to note that it has become increasingly difficult and unrealistic to help temporary residents when the nation is struggling to even allocate
resources to helping existing Canadian citizens.

Canada must be able to take car of its existing population first

While it seems wrong for social services such as food banks to turn away temporary residents, it is worth emphasising that international students are required to confirm in the visa process that they are fully capable of sustaining themselves during their studies in Canada. In recent years, it has become clear that Canada has increasingly been straining to accommodate the mass number of students coming to the country each year. Therefore, it is clear that Canada is not unwilling to help but unable to help.

Since Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party came to power in 2015, the number of international students has steadily increased. As of 2023,
the amount of international students has tripled. While many complicated factors are at play for Canada’s housing issue, it is, however, undeniable that the influx of international students is not remedying a worsening problem that has become more and more unmanageable. Immigration, by all means, is not only necessary for the North American country but crucial. As the second largest country in the world by landmass, the country’s population is approximately half of the United Kingdom, a country that is 40 times smaller than Canada. With an ageing population, there is no question that Canada is in need of skilled immigrants. Therefore, the problem is not immigration itself but rather the incredible speed of which the federal government has allowed for it to occur. By introducing policies over the past decade that have exponentially increased the rate of immigration, Trudeau’s government has also neglected implementing viable support for the sudden, growing population. Moreover, with the majority of the Canadian population living near the southern border, the housing crisis is invariably worsened when everyone aims to live in the same place, which inevitably drives up
the cost of living by a substantial amount. At the moment, Canada’s struggle with its housing crisis has shown the desperate need for a necessary shift of the federal government’s focus. It becomes more and more apparent that instead of increasing its population, Canada must be able to take care of its existing population first.

In response to ‘The Rest is Politics: Leading interview with Gillian Keegan’

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The latest longform interview in Rory Stewart and Alistair Campbell’s Leading podcast is with Gillian Keegan, the current Secretary of State for Education. Probably one of the most moderate members of Rishi Sunak’s cabinet, Keegan communicates well, hammering home (relentlessly) the sentiment ‘Tories are better than Labour at Education’.

Whilst admitting that SENCo (Special Educational Needs Coordinator) provisions and school attendance need work, ultimately Keegan pushes the party-line that the Conservative record on education is not only good, but better than Labour’s. The point of this column is not to prove that she is wrong (though the Institute for Fiscal Studies has reported that school spending per pupil “declined by about 9% in real terms in the decade up to 2020”), but to argue that it is essential that the politicians in charge of education accept the realities facing British schools in the run-
up to this year’s general election.

During the interview, Keegan and Campbell argue over the state of schools. He says, “I’ve not been in a school recently where the headteacher hasn’t said that things are going backwards, that things are getting worse”, whilst she blankly denies the sentiment: “I go to loads of schools…and generally I just don’t see the same picture” and “we’ve [the Conservative Party] really focussed on improving the standards of schools”, concluding that the Conservatives have increase the number of ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ schools since 2010.

Education does not appear in the Conservatives’ five pledges

Clearly, it is in the nature of party politics to deride the opposition’s record in government in order to amplify your own party’s achievements, but surely the Secretary of State for Education has more to say about the Conservatives’ education policy agenda in the run-up to a general election?

Keegan’s failure to present a convincing vision for the future of education is symptomatic of its relatively low priority on the party’s agenda. Education does not appear in the Conservatives’ five pledges, whereas Labour has set out its goals for education under its ‘opportunity’ mission. They have pledged to “boost child development with half a million more children hitting the early learning goals by 2030”, “see a sustained rise in young people’s school outcomes over the next
decade” and “expand high quality education, employment and training routes so more people than ever are on pathways with good prospects by 2035”.

For the Conservative 2024 campaign to be convincing, they need to do more than claim that the last ten years of government have not been bad and systematically decry Labour’s past in office.

In response to experiences of education in relation to geographical, socioeconomic, and technological changes.

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The contours of education are undergoing a profound transformation,
driven by the relentless march of technology. Online learning platforms, virtual classrooms, and educational apps are now integral components
of education, fundamentally reshaping the traditional landscape of teaching and learning.

Advancements in technology have effectively democratised education, dismantling geographical barriers and opening access to quality learning resources for students globally. Online platforms serve as gateways to a virtual world of knowledge, fostering inclusivity and addressing educational disparities. However, the utopia of universal access remains elusive as the digital divide persists, leaving marginalised communities in the shadows of the digital revolution. While technology opens doors, it simultaneously erects barriers, accentuating socioeconomic disparities.

This socioeconomic gap can exacerbate existing inequalities, reating a two-tiered educational system where those without access are left at a disadvantage. At the heart of the digitalisation narrative is the concept of personalised learning, a pedagogical frontier where educational apps and adaptive technologies cater to individual learning styles. Yet, as
algorithms dictate the ebb and flow of educational content, questions
arise about the unintended consequences of algorithmic bias and the risk of pigeonholing diverse learners into narrow educational pathways. Personalisation must not morph into an algorithmic straitjacket that stifles the richness of intellectual exploration.

Advancements in technology have efficiently democratised education

This algorithmic dictatorship creates concerns about the de-personalisation of education. While digital tools promise efficiency and scalability, they risk diluting the human touch crucial for holistic development. The challenge lies in harnessing technology as an ally in education without sacrificing the nuances of mentorship and the understanding that a human teacher provides.

Beyond the glossy exterior of virtual classrooms, the digitalisation of education harbours unseen costs. The strain on mental health — which peaked for children and adolescent during the COVID-19 pandemic, conducts problems and educational setbacks and delays in their social
and emotional skills — the erosion of privacy, and the susceptibility to misinformation are shadows cast by the digital glare. Navigating these perils requires not just technological literacy but a profound understanding of the ethical dimensions inherent in the digitalisation of education.

Image credit: Harrison Keely via Wikimedia Commons

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