What is the point of education?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


By Marie-Pier Béland, sociology student

While it is still impossible to evaluate the scope of the impact the increase in tuition fees will have caused this year, the government has already announced its objective to continue raising fees even more violently. In order to convince us this measure is necessary, the government is recurring to the same terms as those who oppose the tuition raise: social justice, quality of education, accessibility. Under the appearance of similarity, these terms are used to portray two clashing visions and purposes of post-secondary education. As students, it is time to choose our side/camp.

The roots of higher education

According to the Parent Report, post secondary education was supposed to meet two objectives: on the one hand, it had to insure Quebec’s economical and social development by forming/training a skilled labor force with competencies adjusted to the demands of an economy more and more oriented towards science and technology, and on the other hand, it had to take it upon itself to educate individuals towards becoming citizens. This second objective implied the passing on of cultural, philosophical, political, historical and moral heritage. It was also concerned with the development of individuals’ critical thinking skills, an essential aspect empowering them to participate in Quebec’s political and social scenes. The Parent Report’s authors revealed important economical and social disparities amongst Quebec’s population: declaring that everyone was equal before the law was not sufficient for the traditional outcasts that had always been excluded from the political and educational spheres ( the working class and women) to feel able to actually fulfill their roles as informed citizens. Post-secondary education was therefore supposed to be on the forefront in transforming social inequities. It is in this sense that the report’s authors believed that incentives (free education, financial assistance for education) would allow everyone to participate by ensuring that financial matters would not keep anyone, especially the less wealthy, from pursuing higher studies.


The tipping point

Considering this, the fact that the argument is now being reversed is significant : the Montreal Economic Institute stated in a note dated June 2010 that, since many other factors discouraged young people from disadvantaged backgrounds from pursuing higher studies, freezing education fees or making it free did not guarantee a greater accessibility. The belief that the State can and should be the engine of social transformation does no longer exist. The example is interesting because it illustrates well what so strongly characterizes the discourse adopted by the authors of the manifesto entitled For a Clear Sighted Vision of Québec and other economists of the sort: their entire project is versed on the negative, or on “what Québec is not”. Their discourse is not based on what could be sought or wished for and the means to achieving it, but rather, is based on constraints and economical laws framing any future projects. As a consequence, education is solemnly viewed in light of its economical outcomes: the formation of a skilled labor force, the production of marketable knowledge, and the accumulation of patents. For the individual, education is reduced to a mere investment, having lost any connection to its fundamental objectives: to provide individuals with points of reference, and a knowledge of the world, so that they will be, in turn, able to participate in its future orientation.


[1] Les informations portant sur le contenu du Rapport Parent sont issues de : Julien Vadeboncoeur, LeRapport Parent – pourquoi l’école accessible?, Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ), Mémoire sur l’Aide Financière aux études, septembre 2009, p. 9 à 13.

[2] Publié au milieu des années 1960, dans la foulée des grands projets de modernisation du Québec, le Rapport Parent proposait la mise sur pied d’un système d’éducation public à l’échelle de la province. Ce document est à l’origine notamment de la création du Ministère de l’Éducation, du réseau des cégeps gratuits et du réseau des Universités du Québec.

[3] Germain Belzile, « La hausse des droits de scolarité réduirait-elle l’accessibilité aux études? », 16 juin 2010, http://www.iedm.org/fr/660-la-hausse-des-droits-de-scolarite-reduirait-e... laccessibilite-aux-etudes-universitaires-, consulté le 21 juillet 2011

[4] Nous référons ici aux auteur-e-s du manifeste Pour un Québec lucide, sorti en 2005, qui soutenait la nécessité pour le Québec de prendre dès à présent un virage à droite afin d’éviter une collision fatale avec les défis économiques des prochaines années; notamment la dette, le déclin démographique et la concurrence asiatique


For a clear sighted vision of Quebec is a manifesto signed by 12 prominent Quebecers, including former premier Lucien Bouchard. Published on October 19, 2005, the manifesto tackled issues facing modern Quebec, highlighting Quebec's fiscal problems and promoting unpopular solutions including raising university tuition and electricity rates. [1] The manifesto was met by a counter-manifesto, Pour un Québec Solidaire, whose authors went on to found the Québec solidairepolitical party.[2]