We can do better

Posted 07.26.13

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | In a quiet ceremony on July 11, 2013, twenty-two of Pontiac's brightest young people took home $22,000. The annual Pontiac Scholarships / Bourses Pontiac awards gave each student a cheque for $1000 to be applied to their post-secondary studies. This money was donated by Pontiac individuals, companies (including the Pontiac Journal), and associations. Of only two direct government contributions, both were local, from the MRC-Pontiac and the CLD.

These awards aren't much, considering the two to six years of studies most of these kids have undertaken. Given the huge student debt many will end up carrying, Bourse Pontiac helps, but not a lot.

In fact, in making these awards Bourse Pontiac is pointing out the contradiction we are living here in Canada: One of the richest countries in the world, so short of trained workers and professionals, forces its young people who want to improve their lot, want to contribute more to their communities, to go heavily into debt to gain their education.

We ask our youths to work very hard at school, to put in the long days and long weeks of college and university study, take part-time jobs -- and to also assume $20,000 to $45,000 in debt, in their twenties.

Could we make it any more difficult for our kids to get a higher education?

There are those who argue that the students will benefit from an education and so they should bear the costs of getting one. Sounds simple. But considering that Quebec, and Canada as a whole, are trying to sell our natural resources to foreign nations -- as our only national economic strategy, as far as I can see –and these nations are complaining that they can't staff their facilities here because of a lack of trained Canadians, this question isn't simple at all.

It's not simple because education benefits all of us, maybe even more than it benefits the individual student. It is crucial for our nation, our economy and for our communities. Ask yourself, would you prefer living in a well-educated community or being surrounded by uneducated, and even unmotivated, neighbours?

This raises the question of the student demonstrations last year: Why isn't higher education a right of all, free like high school education? If the Plan Nord, Ring of Fire, tar sands, and other resource projects are stymied by our lack of trained personnel, how can we afford not to make higher education free?

It would not cost us. Those trained students will be earning more and thus paying higher taxes back to our governments. They will be supporting our pensions. They will be spending more money, which adds tax revenues and increases jobs across the country. It is ridiculous to think we can't afford public-financed higher education -- Denmark and Scotland can.

If a province cannot afford its jurisdiction in education, should it keep that jurisdiction?

And, finally, interesting to note that there were two young women for every young man winning an award: 15 females, 7 males. Pretty absurd, isn't it, for anyone to think women have no place in education, corporate, and government upper circles.

Until we are ready to toss aside old fixations, and to encourage higher education in every way possible, we will rely on the ambition and good up-bringing of our youth, plus the generosity of their families. We will continue to rely upon our doctors and others, our companies and organizations, to make these small but significant gestures. In fact, why aren't there more donors? Where are the Ministries of Natural Resources, Agriculture, and even Education? And why only twenty businesses in Pontiac contributing?


Copyright © 2013 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/07.13