Charlotte Views: Return of free adult high school and English classes is a good start

By Tom Kertes

There are many of kinds education, the most important being the informal education we receive from our families and communities. Both my parents were professionals, so a lot of what I learned at home mirrored what is taught in schools (for example, writing in my family was taught formally — and was far more intensive than what was taught at school). But I also learned faith, ethics, culture, and family values at home. I learned to love literature (not just study it), play with language (not just use it), and to question authority. Education at home included family gatherings, cultural celebrations, trips to historic sites and national parks, and “family meetings” where my brother and I had a voice in things.

While the informal education provided by family, community, and place is essential for us all, formal education has a role, too. Professions require formal training, and the credentials that come with it. Many other occupations require specialized tools and training, beyond what most families can provide. Liberal arts education opens minds, regardless of career. And schools are places for young people to see beyond what is immediate. Besides, a lot of informal learning takes place in schools. Young people learn about friends, explore a range of interests, see other points of view, and develop a sense of independence by attending school.

Most people require both formal and informal education. That’s why the universal provision of formal education is recognized as an economic human right by United Nations conventions. Public schools opendoors for everyone. The education they provide is of such value that it’s tempting for governments to put a price tag on it, like the B.C. Liberals did when in power. By charging adult students for basic education, to complete high school, and for learning English, the past government closed the door on these basic human rights. Like MLA Jennifer Rice said last week, “people leave school for different reasons, but cost should never be a barrier to return.”

She’s right. Eliminating fees for adult basic education and English language programs are steps in the right direction. But more is required, as post-secondary education is also essential for social mobility and fair economic development. There should never be a barrier to start your education either. Beyond interest-free loans for students, community college should be free for all residents. Tuition everywhere should remain affordable for all income levels. Opening up education also requires more than tuition support, as quality programs, $10-a-day child care, living wages, housing affordability, and good jobs for young workers are important too. Building a strong economy that works for everyone requires infrastructure across the board.

Also important are other ways of investing in and supporting young people. Formal schooling is not just about academics. Youth need to connect with each other, build and be part of a caring community, see the world, and exercise meaningful leadership. That is why sports and clubs are an important part of public schools. Youth in Haida Gwaii and other remote and rural communities face barriers that require government attention. It costs our students thousands of dollars more to attend basic events like tournaments, retreats, conferences, exchanges, and university tours.

Travel grants for school-sponsored extracurriculars are needed to equalize opportunities for youth in remote and rural parts of the province.

Education is a human right because it’s empowering and of such benefit to wellbeing and community. Policy makers should recognize the value of extracurriculars for supporting a healthy youth community, especially when young people are in charge and recognized as the leaders of these activities. Hopefully the NDP will listen to our young leaders, and provide funds for transportation, safe spaces, and opportunities for explore, learn, and grow together.

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