BTA holds essay contest on public education

A Burnaby Teachers' Association essay contest asks students to write about the benefits of the public education system.

The essay contest, the first for the BTA, is open to Burnaby students and asks them to consider the "personal and/or societal benefits of a secular, universally accessible public education.”

BTA vice-president Patrick Parkes said the contest was started "because we noticed that other organizations that don't share our vision for education have essay contests."

Indeed, the right-leaning Fraser Institute's 2012 essay contest was on the topic, "Are the rich getting richer and poor getting poorer?"

The first-prize winning essay was titled "The rise of 'good' inequalities" and second prize went to an essay entitled "Economic inequality and the myth of widening income disparity."

Parkes also cited an essay contest by the Association for Reformed Political Action which, according to its website, wants to "bring a biblical perspective to our civil authorities." In that case, its essay contest topic supports a pro-life position.

"Secularism is mandated in the public school system," Parkes noted. It's mandated in the School Act and is part of B.C. Teachers Federation policy.

"It's something we think needs to be celebrated," he said. "We know, for example, that students who go to schools that have diverse populations and schools that are secular are more likely to be more accepting of people with other viewpoints and to accept their rights and responsibilities in a multicultural society. We think that's a good thing."

Of course, the nature of essay contests means participants will sometimes simply write what they think the judges want to see.

Parkes said it's no secret that the BTA wants students to think of the merits of universally-acceptable secular education.

The hope is that in writing the essays, students will think more about what those merits are, and the winning entries will be publicized and used to raise awareness of those ideas, he said, "to get the public thinking about why it's important to have a public education system that all can access regardless of their income or their affiliations in civil society."

The deadline for entries is Jan. 21. There will be up to two winning entries in each category with prizes of $200 for senior secondary, and $50 gift certificates for books for those in junior secondary and intermediate grades.

For entry forms and more details:

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