Monday, March 17, 2008
These are gloomy days for dodgeball, hopscotch and other staples of the traditional school recess in British Columbia. Over the past decade, playgrounds and sports fields across the province have gone quiet as a result of school closings; the sounds of children at play during their breaks from math and grammar giving way to a vacuum of silence.
And that’s a shame for all of us.
B.C. may be home to a robust economy, but the business of public schools is one in decline.
Over the past decade, the public system has lost almost 70,000 students.
Since 2002, according to the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, 150 elementary and secondary schools have closed their doors.
The B.C. heartland has been hardest hit. Canadian census data released recently showed once again the troubling trend of jobs — and, inevitably, people — moving out of rural areas in favour of big cities. Declining school enrolments — and shuttered schools — are the devastating result.
But it’s not only small-town B.C. that’s bearing the brunt of the closures.
Metro Vancouver is witnessing the demise of longstanding institutions of learning as well.
In Coquitlam, nine schools closed their doors between 2003 and 2007. During the same time, six were shut down in Richmond and four folded in North Vancouver. Closures have also been widespread in Greater Victoria and the Fraser Valley.
So who, or what, is to blame? According to a 2006 report by the Canadian Council on Learning, the ongoing decline in enrolments is the result of dramatic demographic changes.
Simply put, there are fewer school-aged children in our province — Metro Vancouver included. Between 1996 and 2006, the population of children under nine in the region declined by three per cent.
During the same period, the 25-34 age group, representing the main child-bearing years, declined by 10 per cent.
So the big squeeze on urban schools shows no signs of letting up. The number of children living in the region is projected to decrease further in coming years.
Last year, Lower Mainlanders learned that more than 10,000 desks at elementary and secondary schools in the City of Vancouver were sitting empty.
But the news shouldn’t come as a surprise to working and middle-class families struggling to stay afloat financially — and watching the average price of a single family home in Vancouver approaching the magic $1-million mark.
Even the working-class neighbourhood of North Mount Pleasant — home to many immigrant and refugee families — is being overtaken by an influx of professionals.
The displaced newcomers are discovering what the locals already know — Greater Vancouver’s future belongs not to children, but to well-heeled folk with their designer dogs.