In most developed parts of the world, education is considered an investment — not an expense.
Dr. Pak Tee Ng recently spoke at a convention of Canadian educators, and explained that in his home city-state Singapore, education never suffers cut backs in times of economic downturn. In fact, school funding often gets increased — reinforcing commitment to a sustainable future.
Most of us would agree with the adage "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." We all see daily evidence and feedback that it's better to be proactive than reactive. In proactive behaviour, one takes responsibility for their own life and future. Reactive behaviour puts others in charge. It can bring forth feelings of helplessness and lack of control.
If we agree that preventing an ailment is easier than curing it, and that being proactive is better than being reactive, then we should insist that our governments also apply this in policy development. At some point we need to flip our thinking, and our actions, from responding reactively to social needs and challenges, to working toward a vision of what we want for our future society. We should commit resources to support that vision appropriately, and faithfully.
"Imagine how much further our health care tax dollars could go."
Education is a key factor in the health of both individuals and communities. Many researchers have studied the causal relationships between the level of our citizens' education, and their requirements for societal supports like health care, social services and justice. They've found that as the education levels of a society increases, access to those supports all decrease. These may be 'common sense' connections, but other results are more surprising.
In health care, for conditions like emphysema and cardiovascular disease, it's fairly obvious that better education and increased awareness of the impacts of smoking will lead to improved health outcomes. But evidence shows this also applies to to conditions like arthritis, anxiety and depression. Consider a future where these ailments can be reduced by even five or ten per cent. Imagine how much further our health care tax dollars could go, or be redistributed. And there's potential to reduce these rates much further.
Education can also help to decrease citizen involvement with the justice system. As people increase their education, they're less likely to be involved in crimes, including studies correlating to shoplifting, theft, assault and vandalism. Consider a future where these crimes and their resulting police investigations, judicial involvement, incarceration and parole were reduced by even a small amount. Imagine how many positive impacts we could see in our communities and society, with policies that go beyond narrow economic criteria and make real investments in the future.
"Let's plan proactively to prevent problems, instead of just reacting to new ones as they arise."
When we combine these savings in health care and justice, and consider that more educated populations are also less reliant on social supports, it seems like such an easy decision to prioritize education as an investment in the health of our citizens, communities and our economy. The funding trends we have now are simply unsustainable, and at some point we'll be forced to look to sustainable alternatives. Shouldn't we want our government to be proactive, rather than reactive, when we try to take that approach with our own lives?
Let's consider a collective vision for our future. Let's plan proactively to prevent problems, instead of just reacting to new ones as they arise. Let's challenge our leaders to develop policy that addresses root-causes of the issues we care about, instead of relying on expensive treatment options like justice, social services and health care. If we flip our thinking, priorities and actions, we'll recognize that investing in the education of our children is far more cost-effective and sustainable.
Patrick Maze is president of the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation, with 19 years' teaching experience at primary and secondary school levels. He earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in education from the University of Regina, where he currently lives and is active in the community. His four children are all attending university and public schools in Saskatchewan. Patrick believes the success of any nation lies in the success of its publicly funded education system.