Private sector partnerships are a great way to bring in some much-needed fresh ideas

Michael ZwaagstraThe Manitoba government recently announced it is partnering with a B.C.-based company to deliver virtual financial literacy programming in Manitoba classrooms. Starting next school year, Enriched Academy will provide lessons to about 1,500 Manitoba students on topics such as inflation, mortgages, and interest rates.

Enriched Academy has an impressive track record. Not only does this Canadian company work with major organizations such as the National Police Federation, but it also has active contracts with the governments of Alberta and P.E.I., along with several large school boards across the country. By all accounts, this partnership will be good for Manitoba students.

However, that didn’t stop the usual detractors from criticizing this announcement. For example, People for Public Education, a lobby group made up primarily of education professors and left-leaning teachers and trustees, posted on social media that the government should have “kept more curriculum consultants in the department of education” since these consultants could have developed “cheaper and long-term options.” In other words, People for Public Education thinks that government workers could have done a better job designing financial literacy lessons than a private company that specializes in providing these lessons to students and organizations across Canada. Their suggestion would be laughable if it weren’t for the fact that this group meant it to be taken seriously.

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Photo by Kübra Arslaner

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As for concerns about cost, the province will pay Enriched Academy $100,000 during the 2023-24 school year – approximately the salary of one government curriculum consultant. Does anyone seriously believe that one government employee could develop and deliver a financial literacy program to 1,500 students more efficiently than Enriched Academy? If you do, then I’ve got some oceanfront property in Saskatchewan to sell you.

Lobby groups such as People for Public Education are concerned about creeping privatization. In their view, preserving public education means keeping the private sector at bay. As a result, they express knee-jerk opposition to any partnership between public schools and private companies.

However, while public schools obviously need to be funded by the government, they do not need to be exclusively run by the government. No one objects when private bookstores such as McNally Robinson partner with teachers by providing them with generous discounts when purchasing books for classroom use. Nor is it considered problematic when schools sell pizza from Domino’s or Pizza Hotline during lunch hour.

These are examples of for-profit companies leveraging their connections with schools to increase their profits by providing a service that schools need. And yet organizations such as People for Public Education do not utter a peep of opposition to these types of partnerships. That’s because even the most hardened opponents of privatization cannot ignore the fact that schools would be dull places if everything in them had to be government-sourced and government-run.

Of course, there is no guarantee that the partnership between the province and Enhanced Academy will work out. However, if things do fizzle out, the province doesn’t have to renew the partnership. In contrast, had the province decided to expand the ranks of its employees, it would be much more difficult to change course if things didn’t work out.

Public education is in urgent need of out-of-the-box thinking. Partnerships with the private sector are a great way to bring in some fresh ideas.

Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher and a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

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