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BCTF Advantage

Teacher Newsmagazine   Volume 25, Number 3, Nov./Dec. 2012  

Corporate influence in the BC Ed Plan 

By Tara Ehrcke  

It is easy to think that we are immune here in Canada from the influence of the global “education reformers” who claim to want to improve schooling. What they really want is to reduce government expenditures, reduce public service delivery, and reduce the levels of service that are publicly funded. At the same time, they want to create a massive opportunity for corporations in the long sought after K–12 “market.”

BC is actually a case study in how these ideas have been purposely propagated as part of a global strategy.

Take a look at GELP, otherwise known as the Global Education Leaders’ Program. If you are familiar with ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council—a right-wing organization that is propagating reactionary anti-union legislation through all the US states), GELP will look frighteningly familiar. It is a global group of “leaders” with a vision—transform public services so they do more with less (so they say), with private partners. It is kind of like charter schools or vouchers, except with the appearance of making things better—more 21st century.

GELP describes themselves on their web site: “GELP is a community of system leaders, policy-makers and thought-leaders collaborating to transform education at local, national and international levels, to equip every learner with the knowledge and skills to thrive in the 21st century.”

They acknowledge their “partners”— Promethean, a “global education company that supports teaching and learning through integrated technology and training,” the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Cicso Systems Inc., the Ellen Koshlan Family Fund, and Innovation Unit, a “not-for-profit social enterprise that supports innovation in public services.”

One of GELP’s jurisdictions is none other than BC. There is a proud link to the bcedplan video here: http://tinyurl.com/ 9emv9ea. And a little more digging finds a GELP case study report on, yes; you guessed it—the bcedplan. You can find the whole thing here (http://tinyurl.com/9nofbsv), but interestingly, the report identifies the origins of the plan: “At an international conference held in Vancouver in 2009, a team from the Ministry connected with Valerie Hannon, a director of Innovation Unit and a consultant in the Global Education Leaders’ Program (GELP). Her presentation, Only Connect, struck a chord with the BC Ministry and under the leadership of Gordon Campbell, then Premier in the Province, a series of high level meetings took place which resulted in a radical vision for transforming education in British Columbia.”

What is Hannon’s view of a “radical vision”? Some insight can be found in a paper she co-authored for Cisco Systems. In “Developing an Innovation Ecosystem for Education” (http://tinyurl.com/94p48vs), the radical vision is described clearly: “how to design public services that deliver different and better outcomes at a lower cost.” (page 7). This is done through “radical efficiencies,” such as “a reduction in the number of interventions made by professionals,” “decommissioning of space,” “looking to alternative providers,” and having “users of services frequently assume a more active role in their delivery, which serves to enhance the benefits of the service for these and other users and to reduce the costs of provision.”

What does this mean in BC?

Well, just one example is special education—perhaps one of the most expensive areas of our current school system. The process of gutting special education services began back in 2002 with the elimination of targeted funding for most students with special needs. It has progressed through the decade with the elimination of class-composition limits and with the loss of over 700 special education teachers.

Evidently, there is more work to be done. Here is how GELP’s case study describes the “next wave of reform”— “Decategorisation of special needs education. In the words of Rod Allen, there will be ‘no labels and no medical model. In a 21st century personalised world, I’ll tell you what a special education looks like if you can tell me what a ‘normal’ education is.’”

It is not surprising that Gordon Campbell was struck with Valerie Hannon’s ideas. The past decade has been all about the same type of “savings” she describes. As the BC Education Coalition (stopeducationcuts.org) pointed out back in 2010:

  • Between 2000–01 and 2009–10, the Education Ministry reports that BC has seen a net loss of 148 schools (what Hannon calls “decommissioning of space”).
  • Net loss since 2001–02 of public school teachers: 9% (what Hannon calls “reduction in the number of interventions made by professionals”).

It is critical that teachers see through the smoke and mirrors presented as 21st century learning and see the corporate agenda underneath. Only then can we advocate for better schools for all students in BC. 

Tara Ehrcke, president, Greater Victoria Teachers' Association 

Reprinted from Tara Ehrcke’s blog www.staffroomconfidential.com 


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