Shop class: learning skills should not involve kids risking life and limb.

If you listen to the BC government the future of employment is in skilled trades. They make announcements about training and including more industrial education in our schools. The television ads and photo ops for politicians are nice. But it’s where the rubber hits the road in the classroom that matters.

And like the rest of BC’s public education system, technical education — AKA shop class — is woefully underfunded.

Our shop classes?

  • They are under-resourced with outdated or inadequate equipment and lack supplies.
  • They are under-staffed and then stuffed with students creating safety concerns.

This means two things:

  • Our kids are not getting the quality of skills training that teachers can offer.
  • And there is a probability some of our kids will end up maimed. Or killed.

Funding for a safe class size.

Take the case of Chilliwack shop teacher Eric Munshaw. In January, this award-winning shop teacher resigned.

Here’s what the Chilliwack Progress wrote:

For five years, Munshaw, technology education teacher at Mt. Slesse middle school, has been advocating for smaller class sizes in the name of student safety. When Bill 33 was passed by the BC Ministry of Education, in 2009, the number of students in shop classes increased across the province – despite the heavy duty equipment, and the shops themselves mostly designed for a maximum of 24 students.”

(Bill 33 enabled class size in grades 4-7 to exceed 30 students with teacher consent, and in grades 8-12 with teacher consultation.)

“We just need one accident and that’s negligence,” said Munshaw.

“We’re not talking insignificant injuries, we’re talking life-altering, amputations, or worse – and that’s where we’ve been coming from since Day 1 on this.”

Watch what Munshaw had to say to Global News.

And here’s Douglas McNeill, a retiring shop teacher from Mission: “I have to be very, very strict with what they’re doing,” he told CBC News. “I’ve reduced some of the curriculum that we teach because it’s too crowded in here.”

The ministry says that class sizes are set by school districts. But school districts receive the vast majority of their funding from Victoria — they do not receive the funding needed to support smaller shop classes. In Victoria’s eye’s there is no difference in supervising a group of students wielding pencils or pens and those using an arc welder or a board planer.

Some of us here have worked in trades. Safety is all important in any trade and on any jobsite — schools should not be an exception.

Funding for the right tools.

Our shop classes are using old machinery. They’re not resourced with tools, equipment and materials. This is because districts saddled with funding tech ed are wary of expanding these programs. They are costly to run and heavy on resources.

Last spring, the Construction Association of BC launched a fundraising drive to help supply needed tools for shop classes in BC’s high schools – after receiving almost $9-million worth of requests from shop teachers who don’t have the basic tools to introduce students to a trades education.

As Nicky Byres blogs “Teach trades to children if you really want skilled labour,” “For too long, technical education has been relegated to the back of school buildings and slowly starved of funding, save for some creative PACs (parent advisory committees) who step up to buy some equipment.”

“And so the massive disconnect here is clear. The government talks up trades and minimally delivers post-secondary trades education, but does not fund the very building blocks the people filling those seats will need: well-resourced shops and shop teachers.”

To us, this doesn’t sound like a government that is making skills training a priority.

Go ask your MLA. How many injured kids is skills training worth? When is the funding for safe classes and resources going to be in the provincial budget?

Shop classes are important. They should,be funded so our kids can be safe and learn skills. It’s where the rubber hits the road in the your kid’s classroom that matters. Anything else is just more spin.