Education is a universal right - Geography Prof Statement

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

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Education is a universal right, not a privilege nor a commodity, and the threat to that right would be detrimental for many reasons. One of the most obvious reasons is that it would contribute to economic inequalities (access to skills and a degree that provides opportunities for job access and advancement in labour markets). But the reasons go well beyond the immediate 'economic' ones and also have to do with issues of social integration and political empowerment.   

Schools are not just sites of skill and knowledge acquisition; they are also sites of critical reflection of what our roles are as citizens of the places we inhabit - reflection that is enhanced with collective modes of engagement. They are also sites of 'socialization', in that they provide students with social connections to other students and faculty.  In a context of neoliberalism, where the 'individual' and the individualization of work reigns supreme, these social ties are increasingly critical for allowing individuals to look beyond the "self-managing, entrepreneurial model" and to provide support for one another, and especially for those who are locked out of already existing insular networks and exclusive employment opportunities. Moreover, these ties - when encouraged through teamwork and participatory classroom settings - can also highlight how knowledge production/reflection is a collective, not individual, process, and this can provide a basis for challenging the individualistic bent of the neo-liberal paradigm within the university and its over-riding emphasis on creating 'human capital' - to prop up the economy - at the expense of providing a context for life-long learning and critical reflection.

Finally, a policy today of raising tuition sets a dangerous precedence for the future. Whenever governments are 'cash-strapped' (in reality, they are just privileging certain investments over others and calling it 'austerity'), then tuition can easily become a target for future increases. It is better not to open the floodgate in the first place.

This is your chance to be part of a broad sweeping movement, like the Arab Spring and the Occupy movements. Everyone is watching Quebec - which could become the symbol for a larger struggle for universal education. 

Norma Rantisi, Associate Professor, Dept. of Geography, Planning & Environment, Concordia University