The following is a transcript of a presentation made by Tunya Audain to the British Columbia Select Standing Committee on Finance on Sep 20, 2021. Tunya is a founding member of the BC Libertarian Party, and served for many years as Party Secretary. She has advocated for education reform for decades in BC, in particular, expanding choice in schooling through systems like vouchers.
Audain: I find it extremely coincidental that I’m here following two people that speak for the education side — the Principals Association and the B.C. Teachers Federation. I am going to be speaking about education as a consumer.
Those people are producers, and they’re asking for money, a lot of money — $2 million for three years for leadership. I’m amazed.
Anyway, I did send in a backgrounder for you. In it, I express a strong concern about the fact that over the last 10, 15, 20 years, we’ve seen transformation experiences in the education system. Changing the curriculum. Changing assessment. Doing things behind the scenes without involving parents or the community.
My biggest concern that I mentioned in my handout, which we sent to you, was that these international people are coming in. I’ve been notified about four different incidents. They’re coming in with an agenda, and I don’t know if they are influencing the B.C. education transformation agenda, or if they’re being called in to verify and to amplify and to sort of aggrandize any kind of educational change that’s being manipulated in B.C.
What I’m asking for, from you…. not for money. I’m asking you to audit something before you consider the 2022 budget. I mentioned these experts coming in from the United Kingdom; Washington, D.C.; Harvard, etc., all helping to implement the B.C. education plan. I’m asking the committee to audit the fees, travel and hospitality costs of these visitors and gauge their value and whether this should carry over into 2022.
I’m wondering if we’re masters of our own destiny and house here. I scrutinized the plan, and I find it lacking in research, fact, evidence, and I’m dubious about their philosophy of 21st century skills.
Secondly, my concern also relates to the style in which this transformation is happening. I’ve read the book Education Transformation for B.C., and it itemizes how a certain concept is being used to change things in the system. It’s called “social licence.” I don’t know if you’ve heard of social licence, but it’s something which, I think, is very convenient and self-serving for people who have an agenda. They overwhelm whoever might be opposing them by saying: “We’ve got social licence. We’ve got international experts advising us and praising us.”
I’m saying as a consumer, people at the bottom level, we are lacking democratic involvement in things that are being changed that are going to affect people — parents and students in the schools.
I think there’s a strange and unfortunate shift away from academic excellence and knowledge and content in the schools to things which they call competencies and soft skills. Parents want, as a priority, the three R’s and the basics, and not necessarily the soft skills, which are being so heavily brought in now. Especially because of COVID, mental health is high. Look, we don’t want the three R’s do be displaced by mental health issues, but to have an equal goal there.
I want to be creative about financing. I’m suggesting that the committee and British Columbia consider more choices for education and that they not necessarily always have to be to the compulsory attendance public schools. We should consider vouchers, education savings accounts, tuition tax credits, charter schools, more distributed learning. All these choices enhance families and strengthen families and enable all families to access services, not just those who can afford high-cost tutoring.
Routledge (Chair): Tunya, you should be wrapping it up now, okay?
Audain: Just one quick wrap-up. My last suggestion.
In earnestly seeking efficiencies, we should consider abolishing school boards. New Zealand abolished regional school boards 30 years ago. Each individual school became an autonomous entity, and parents became a large part of governing the school.
Because trustees gained management skills, these were transferrable skills for the whole community and of praiseworthy benefit to New Zealand, because they caused New Zealand to be the top of the list of corruption perception. I think that’s because parents at the ground level, as consumers, are actually involved in governing their schools.
Routledge (Chair): You’re really going to have to wrap it up pretty soon.
Audain: I wish you well in your deliberations.
Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Tunya. Megan has a question.
Dykeman: Thank you for your presentation, Ms. Audain.
I’m a parent of two children and a former school trustee myself. I’m just curious if you can explain a little bit. I’ve read your report, and I’ve listened to your presentation. I’m just trying to break down exactly what your chief concern is.
You talked about wanting an audit of other countries, and organizations like Harvard that have come in and provided consulting to the B.C. ed plan. Is your concern the organizations, or is your concern the lack of parent involvement in the B.C. ed plan development? I couldn’t quite distinguish that, from your submission. Thank you in advance for your answer.
Audain: I’m not sure. Yes, I am concerned that parents have been mostly excluded from these ten, 15 years of all this planning.
What is the other part of your question?
Dykeman: What I’m trying to understand is you’re asking…. You’d like to see an audit on the fees that were charged by these foreign organizations.
Audain: Yes, okay. Audit, because this is a heavy cost, as far as I can see it, having these external people coming in all the way from the U.K., Harvard, Washington. There was a big event sponsored in 2015 in the Wosk Centre here, and there were a lot of other foreign outsiders brought in — experts, supposedly — to amplify the whole B.C. ed plan and give it a stamp of approval.
All of these things are costly — hospitality, fees. I’d like to know what the cost is. I’m not going to put in an FOI for that, but I would like to know. I think people would like to know that these outsiders really cost a lot of money.
Routledge (Chair): Any other questions from the committee?
Kyllo: Thank you for your presentation. Might I ask: do you have any previous experience as a school teacher? What was your profession before coming in and making this presentation?
I guess, also, is this your first presentation to this committee, or have you been presenting to this committee for a number of years?
Audain: Yes. You weren’t here in 1974.
Kyllo: Was that the first year you presented?
Audain: Yes. I looked it up, and I mentioned abolishing school boards then. Do you know what happened? Several weeks later I got a dinner invitation from the B.C. School Trustees Association to meet with them. They wanted to know just how close I was to fulfilling that claim. It didn’t scare them too much. Anyway, I have been presenting before.
Any other questions?
Kyllo: Were you a school teacher previously? What was your profession?
Audain: Oh, background. When I was pregnant, I took education courses to be able to teach my children if I had to. There were concerns even in the ’60s about the quality of schools. I went to an experience in Mexico with Ivan Illich, who wrote the book Deschooling Society. We were talking about how school was disabling people.
I met John Holt. We talked about home education. He didn’t know that was possible. I said: “It’s possible. I’ve looked up all the legislation in the world, and they do allow home-schooling.” Five years later he started the home-schooling movement.
That’s my experience with education, from the beginning.
Routledge (Chair): Thank you so much, Tunya. We’re pretty well out of time now, but on behalf of the committee, I want to thank you for presenting, giving us an alternative perspective on the school system.
Audain: Thank you. I’m glad you have heard me.