This Week in Teaching: Happiness or Better Jobs? What do you want your kids to get out of school?

Each week we look at a news story on education and make a few comments.  This week’s commentary is about a post in The Province titled, “Education divide: While Canadians stress happiness for their children, Asians tend to focus on high achievement.”

Here are a few clips summarizing the article:

In a nutshell, Canadian parents put a top priority on their children being happy. Asian parents play this down and put more emphasis on higher education instead.

Just 48 per cent of parents here consider it necessary for children to obtain an undergraduate degree to achieve their life goals, and 24 per cent say the same about a master’s degree or higher.

Compare this with attitudes in India, where 91 per cent of the parents polled put priority on undergraduate degrees and 88 per cent believe advanced degrees are essential. These numbers are 96 per cent and 67 per cent for Indonesia, 92 per cent and 65 per cent for Malaysia, 97 per cent and 52 per cent in China, 90 per cent and 40 per cent for Singapore, 85 per cent and 40 per cent in Hong Kong, and 84 per cent and 37 per cent for Taiwan.

Finally, Canadian parents are the least likely to sink money into education. Just 23 per cent have paid extra tuition at some stage of their children’s schooling. This compares with a global average twice that high, with 74 per cent in China.

Economists David Green of UBC and Kelly Foley of the University of Saskatchewan co-wrote an analysis — drier and more technical than the HSBC paper — that skewers the idea education is a silver bullet against rising income inequality.

They argue that increases in educational attainment in recent decades haven’t done much to improve income equality in Canada.

Are we sending our kids to school so they can be happy or so they can get a better job?  Apparently Canadians are more concerned about happiness while Asian cultures equate higher education with higher paying jobs.  What is missing is the question, why we educate?  Our system finds roots in the Renaissance humanist school of education (which finds roots in the Classical schools of education) that saw education as the path to human flourishing. An educated person contributed to the common good through whatever job they had.

As we expanded access to education and created a public system for all, the same value applies.  A more educated public is a better public.  If the focus is competitive and driven by the the idea that “what I’m learning is going to get me a better job,” we end up reducing education to skills training. Training programs have their place and are necessary to produce the skilled workers our society needs.  Yet it must be built on an understanding that to be educated means to be human, more human, to have a better understanding of oneself and others.


Meet the Author

I am living the dream as a Middle School magician in Langley, BC. I am co-creator of The Magic Classroom and a team leader and presenter in School District #35. I'm excited to be speaking at AMLE 2015 in Columbus, Ohio in October and at Ignite 35 in Langley in September.

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