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Auto mechanics also teaches qualities attributed to humanities

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In his Feb. 4 article Ken Osborne states "preparing the young for democratic citizenship" is a fundamental role for our schools. I agree with this statement.

I disagree, however, with his suggestion that allocation of educational resources to "boosting high school skills and career development" does not support that very same goal. "Talk of skills and career preparation" need not, indeed should not, be seen as "replacing education for democratic citizenship."

The opportunities to nurture the qualities of inquiry, collaboration, respect and self-confidence exist not only in history, geography and literature. These attributes can also be nurtured in applied areas of study such as physics, automotive mechanics, computer programming, graphic design and electronics.

Regrettably, too often knowledge and skills are presented as unrelated areas, with one being more lofty than the other; the best of talent is evident when the two are seen as complementary. A surgeon has both knowledge and skill as does the qualified tradesperson or technician.

Preparing students for opportunities in the job market is an honourable goal for education. Indeed we do a great disservice to those who are not adequately prepared to seek employment. Some will make the transition before high school graduation, many immediately upon graduation and others following some level of post-secondary study. Most will eventually be "looking for a job." Those who enter more directly deserve as much attention as those who follow an extended program of studies. Osborne acknowledges that a balance of knowledge and skills is the best preparation for citizenship.

Citizen participation requires knowledge and skills which shape personal attributes -- communication skills, ability to engage others, respect for diversity, a sense of responsibility, ability to reason and, fundamentally, a sense of personal self- worth. Many of these attributes will be shaped by experiences encountered in families, as well as in educational settings and in community.

These same qualities are essential in meaningful employment, an essential component of our citizenship role. The absence of employment leads to frustration and poverty, this marginalization in turn leads to disengagement in the democratic process.

There are countless reports than identify school-to-work transition as a major gap and a major source of frustration for students and parents. I applaud Education Minister James Allum for the attention he brought to this matter in making his funding announcement. Perhaps his announcement and Osborne's article will nurture the required discussion amongst educational leaders and parents on the role of schools in preparing students for transition to work. There is indeed "more to schools than jobs," but without meaningful engagement in the workforce, the role of a citizen in a democratic society will not reach full potential.

A joint report (2002) from United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) made the following statement: "It is our fervent hope that this publication will inspire member states to put in place technical and vocational education and training policies and programmes that will facilitate the effective preparation of people for the world of work and responsible citizenship."

I support the sentiment of this statement as a laudable goal for education in Manitoba.


Leonard Harapiak is a former school principal, NDP cabinet minister and director of the Winnipeg Technical College.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 7, 2014 A11

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