Words of Wisdom

  • We may with advantage at times forget what we know.
  • – Publius Syrus

The Connexions Annual:
Introduction to Education, Children

Although we like to think of ourselves as a society that cares deeply for children and protects them from harm, children are by no means immune to society’s problems. Sometimes, in fact, they face problems that are worse than those faced by most adults.

In Canada, children make up the largest group of poor people. More than one million children — about one in six — are growing up in poverty. In the poorest countries, they die in shocking numbers from malnutrition and disease. Children suffer from family breakdown and family violence; some are victims of sexual abuse. Certain environmental hazards, such as lead pollution, are especially harmful to children. Good day care for the children of working parents is in critically short supply.

Native children, especially, have often been treated appallingly: removed from their communities, separated from their families, forbidden to speak their own language. While the worst of these abuses have now ended, the effects will be felt for many years.

The school system often fails children. Children from working class and non-white backgrounds are disproportionately streamed into dead-end courses, and are much less likely to make it into university. (As governments cut university funding and tuition fees rise, this problem will worsen.) Many students leave school — even as high school graduates — unable, or barely able, to read. Few are really challenged by their schools, few receive encouragement for, or training in, thinking and reading critically.

Yet work is being done to improve the situation of children. There are groups pressing for more and better day care, organizations protecting the interests of children in the justice system, alternative schools trying to improve on the education system’s offerings. One positive trend has been the development of school textbooks which avoid the old stereotypes of race and sex, to provide students with a more authentic picture of Canadian society.

Education is by no means confined to the school system, nor to children and youth. Indeed, adult education is one of the ‘growth industries’ of our time (and one that is far more environmentally benign than many other ‘growth industries’).

Especially vital are the literacy and English As A Second Language movements. They are tackling crucial problems which are responsible for keeping many Canadians, especially immigrants and the poor, out of the social mainstream. They have been leaders, too, in developing reading materials that actually deal with the lives an problems of the learners, and in involving the learners themselves in helping to create those materials. As a result, such programs have become catalysts for awakening a wider social awareness among people often not reached by other institutions and organizations.

Indeed, education is being seen as an essential element of grassroots development both in Canada and abroad. The guiding idea is that education is not merely concerned with imparting knowledge, but with helping people develop the skills and the confidence to analyse and solve problems and thus to act, both individually and collectively.

Because education is about how people see and respond to the world, education has also been identified as a priority by a wide range of organizations concerned with many different issues. Many groups concerned with peace, anti-racism, the workplace, or gender equality see education as a key to moving forward.

Ulli Diemer

Contact information for Ulli Diemer:

Aussi disponible en français: L’Annuel Connexions: Introduction sur l’Éducation et les Enfants
También disponible en español: El Anuario de Conexiones: Introducción a la Educación, Niños

Other Overview Articles from the Connexions Annual:
Introduction to the Connexions Annual
Introduction to the Arts, Media, Culture section of the Connexions Annual
Introduction to the Community, Urban, Housing section of the Connexions Annual
Introduction to the Development, International section of the Connexions Annual
Introduction to the Economy, Poverty, Work section of the Connexions Annual
Introduction to the Environment, Land Use, Rural section of the Connexions Annual
Introduction to the Health section of the Connexions Annual
Introduction to the Human Rights, Civil Liberties section of the Connexions Annual
Introduction to the Lesbians, Gays section of the Connexions Annual
Introduction to the Native Peoples section of the Connexions Annual
Introduction to the Peace section of the Connexions Annual
Introduction to the Women section of the Connexions Annual