10/30/2012 11:31 EDT | Updated 12/30/2012 05:12 EST

Corporations In Calgary Classrooms: Calgary Board Of Education Entertains Corporate Sponsorships


Allowing sponsorship dollars to enter Calgary Board of Education schools may open the door to schools doing what's needed to secure funding and not what's necessarily best for the students, says a Calgary advertising professional. It's a slippery slope that could result in our schools with names like "Red Bull High" or "Pengrowth High School."

This is a government funded public education system, not a corporation who can choose who it does business with says Larry Leach, chair of Calgary-based education group ARTICS.

The CBE's recent decision to introduce corporate sponsors into the classroom has been met with criticism. From exposing children to advertisements to not fueling a true democracy and potentially leading to discriminatory school practices, many concerns have been raised.

So far, an entire school cannot be named after a donor, the Calgary Herald reports. Other checks in place would include the vetting of organizations looking to place their name within a school, trustees having the final say and a corporation's place in a school could be revoked at any time.

Disparity in education funding encourages a society where children with greater resources would get a better education than poorer ones and therefore more opportunity, says Kelly Ernst, senior program director at the Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership.

"If we turn classrooms into just another market for ads, is there any reason not to expect that donor and advertising dollars are most likely to flow to the schools and parents who already have the greatest resources?" he asks.

Ernst argues that children are already overexposed to advertising and need a school environment free of external distractions in order to concentrate on learning.

Cathy Faber, Calgary Board of Education superintendent of learning innovation, told Metro Calgary that a balance must me met between the school board and corporations, if the CBE wants to continue to offer and address some of the "significant program requirements that the programs of studies provides."

"What the corporate community has said to us is 'We'd like to help, we like to participate, following the Alberta program of study, but we'd also like some recognition," she said.

But Frank Breseker, Calgary Public Teachers Local 38 President, echoes the concerns of Leach and Ernst that further disparity could be an issue if Calgary allows corporate sponsorship in the classroom.

"Our firm belief is public education, emphasizing public," Bruseker said to Metro Calgary. "I have taught in all four quadrants around the city -- there's different socio-economic backgrounds. (If) Coca-Cola says we're going to sponsor the gymnasium, they are going to want to have successful school, as opposed to, perhaps, a less successful school."

"The concern there is the potential creation of haves and have-nots," he told The Calgary Herald.

Susan Linn, a psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School, has looked at the toll public-private funding can have on a child's well-being. It is her belief that overexposure to advertising and marketing ingrains materialistic values in children.

"What children are learning is that everything is for sale," she told The Tyee. "They're immersed in a culture of materialism and adopt the value that things can make them happy. And what researchers are finding is that that's not true."

However, Alberta Education Minister Jeff Johnson told the the Calgary Herald ealier this month that be believes corporations in the classroom could have some merit, as long as they bring with them legitimate opportunities for learning.

"Any time we're reaching out to industry to bring them into the school, it's a positive thing, as long as it's about making the educational experience better and not just selling a billboard," Johnson said.

Without a doubt, the public should be part of the broader discussion on the implications of bringing sponsorship to schools, says CBE trustee Sheila Taylor. Many parents make take issue with their children being advertised to in a learning environment, while a school could benefit from a new theatre or cafeteria.

"This is not a small policy change," she said to the Herald. "This is a very large philosophical change and we need to hear directly from the community on it."

What do you think? Should the Calgary Board of Education accept corporate sponsors? Let us know what you think in the comments below.