WESTERN STANDARD COLUMN: Canadians think the kids aren’t alright, and governments must act

Canadians pay a lot of taxes. Federal sales tax, provincial sales tax, income tax, carbon tax, you name it. But what value are we getting for all of those dollars that end up in the government’s pockets? 

When it comes to the K-12 public education system, Canadians believe the system has gone in the wrong direction.

new poll from SecondStreet.org shows that Canadians are not happy with the direction of the public school system. We hired Leger to ask Canadians if they think the K-12 system has gone in the right or wrong direction over the past 20 years. Over half said ‘wrong direction,’ while only 25 per cent said ‘right direction.’ 

This number has been steadily going up since we first asked the question in 2020 — at that time, only 32 per cent thought the system had gone in the wrong direction.

Given that governments nationwide spend over $7 billion per year on education, it doesn’t seem like Canadians feel they’re getting value for that money.

Imagine you were a family planning to buy a new house. If 55 per cent of the consultants you asked thought the house was built on a crumbling, mouldy foundation — would you still buy it?

So what exactly is going wrong in the K-12 school system?

When asked about the K-12 system, Canadians fingered four aspects particularly that were going in the “wrong direction” than the “right direction.” 

  • When it came to students, respondents were most concerned about “discipline and accountability in schools.” Parents feel like children are allowed to fool around and not worry about doing their work, as there won’t be any real consequences.

    Nobody wants to bring back the days of the strap, but people clearly think kids are getting off too easily.

  • Many respondents raised concerns about children no longer failing subjects, despite not knowing the material. It’s a fair enough concern — when you have a job as an adult, you can’t just show up late every day and never complete your work. You’ll get fired.

    So why not teach kids this important lesson early on?

  • Another big concern was a lack of focus on practical skills, and schools’ priorities on what is taught. One respondent said that “my kids are incapable of doing basic math without a calculator.” This isn’t surprising, as test scores have been steadily dropping over the past 20 years. When kids are in school, they should be learning.

  • Of course, many are concerned about controversial content on sex and gender education. You can look at any number of stories to see why: how about the Saskatchewan school where kids were handed cards describing graphic sex acts, or the male shop teacher who wore massive fake breasts in an Ontario school? It’s easy to see why parents might not want their children exposed to this kind of environment.

So, here’s some homework for provincial governments: pay attention to what Canadians are telling you. 

Canadians have footed the bill for public education and it’s coming up short. So, look at how you can improve discipline and accountability of students, the content that is taught, and the many other issues people are concerned about. Canadians clearly want something different. 

Improving the public system is a great goal, but it doesn’t have to stop there. Some parents simply won’t feel comfortable with their kids in the public school system. Governments should look at what can be done to support those who prefer to have their children educated outside of the public system — charter and independent schools, as well as looking at ways to make homeschooling and other alternatives more accessible. 

Leaving things as is simply won’t work. So let’s get down to the business of making schools better for Canadian kids. 

Dom Lucyk is the Communications Director for SecondStreet.org, a Canadian think tank.

This column was originally published in The Western Standard on June 12, 2024.

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