#Manifencours ~ Day 136: Nordic Countries have Free Education

“One of the main Twitter hashtags relating the Quebec actions is #manifencours, an abbreviation of “manifestation en cours, meaning simply “demonstration in the streets.”
Salon: Dissent, à la Québécoise

When I went to college every eligible Canadian could reasonably access the education they wanted.

In Ontario, students could apply for OSAP (Ontario Student Assistance Program) and, depending on financial circumstance could get loans and/or grants to ensure they could get an education. Without the grants I received, I very much doubt I would have gone to college.

Ontario was looking to cut back the year I graduated. Because I was well aware how important government assistance was for me, I attended my first Queen’s Park protest this bad policy.

It didn’t help.

By the time my younger siblings began their post secondary education, grants were gone. Ironically, those in government deciding to decrease education funding today were themselves beneficiaries of an accessible educational system.

education for some

How many of our young people who should be attending college or university are driving cab or slinging Mcfood?  How many are unwilling to mortgage the rest of their lives in repaying their debt-fueled education?

Perhaps the ones with the capacity to solve world hunger,  develop a faster-than-light drive or cure Cancer or AIDS will never get the chance to fulfil their potential. 

That isn’t just their loss, it’s ours.

Day 136: Quebec Student Strike

When we see Government of Quebec ignoring the legitimate concerns of the students, and worse, when we see riot police abusing these young people who aren’t looking for a free ride, but a hand up, I have to wonder . . . why?

It is in Canada’s best interest to educate all of our young. They say there isn’t enough money, yet there always seems to be money for fighter jets and prisons.

Post secondary students in other Canadian Provinces assume an even greater student debt load than those in Quebec. Is this wise? Or is it even good public policy?

I think not.

a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves

Infographic by Occupy* Posters released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0) via Silhouette Man

Canada’s World of Tomorrow is Here Today

(my Digital Economy Submission)

Canadian Flag

There is no doubt in my mind that Digital Content and Technologies will play an enormous role in Canada’s future, particularly since they have already achieved incredible importance. The rapidly changing face of digital technology, and in particular the Internet, has pulled Canada, along with the rest of the world into the digital future far more rapidly than any previous technological revolution.

It must also be remembered that change within all digital technologies is ongoing. The big idea or the hot website of the day can change in the blink of an eye. Government attempts to micromanage policies or businesses will simply impede the ability of Canadian businesses to adapt to the changes quickly enough to compete effectively.

This Digital Consultation is clearly focused on business. Yet business is only one of the elements that needs consideration. The Digital Economy doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it exists in an ecosystem populated by a wide range of consumers and citizens. Further, the Canadian Digital Economy connects to the rest of the world through the Internet.

In formulating a national digital economy agenda, Canada needs to take a good long look at Net Neutrality, FLOSS, Education, DRM/TPM, Culture and Accessibility. Care needs to be taken to formulate good policies and laws that reflect the world in which we live and allow Canadians to maximize our potential.

As a democratic nation, it is vitally important to consult with all the stakeholders and reach a reasonable consensus. Rushing to implement inadequate or ill advised policies or legislation is to no one’s benefit, and certainly won’t improve Canada’s Digital Economy.

Everything is connected.

This is the Internet.

Theme: Canada’s Digital Content

Since first learning about the impending imposition of Usage Based Billing I have been learning about many of these issues and blogging about them in my public service blog ‘Stop Usage Based Billing’.

As a writer returning to the work force, I’ve taught myself to create web pages and write blogs as a warm-up for my real work writing novels. For myself I find self publishing to be a very attractive alternative to signing a traditional deal with a traditional publishing house.

Although many of the issues I am addressing here are largely technical, as a writer, my greatest personal concern is for the future of digital content in Canada.

The primary focus of any Digital Economy policy should be removal of barriers to small business. Make it simple and create an environment conducive to innovation and competition, both at home and on the global stage. That is the kind of support that will help Canadian business thrive.

NET NEUTRALITY

The single most important thing the Government can and should do is to ensure Canada has real environment of Net Neutrality.

In the early days of the Internet, Canada had state of the art technology and reasonable prices, two very good reasons why initial Canadian rates of Internet adoption were good. In recent years, though, especially in the parts of the country without Independent ISPs, dramatically spiraling costs have certainly been a factor in the slowing rate of Canadian Internet adoption.

Unfortunately the Internet carriers appear to have done little more than basic maintenance of the infrastructure although Canadian Internet rates have risen to some of the highest in the world, leaving Canada faced with both a sagging infrastructure and high costs. Hardly an ideal environment for growth.

Canadian Internet Carriers also operate as Internet Service Providers. To foster competition and benefit Canadians, the Government mandated the Internet Infrastructure be opened up to Independent Internet Service Providers. These Independent ISPs access the Internet through the carriers’ infrastructure. As a result, the Independent ISPs are in direct competition with the carriers’ own ISP branches.

The CRTC is our Internet Regulator charged with protecting Canadian consumers. Yet they have been horribly remiss. At best they appear incapable of understanding the issues.

The CRTC ruled to allow Bell to impede the Internet connections of the Independent Service Providers’ customers. This legal discrimination is accomplished with Deep Packet Inspection technology, allowing Bell access to the content of all unencrypted Internet traffic that passes across the infrastructure they control. Due to privacy issues DPI is illegal in Europe, yet the CRTC sees no harm in allowing Bell this access, and has not even bothered to provide any oversight. This is the digital equivalent of providing Bell with our house keys. Even in the days when Bell equipment was stored in Canadian homes, no government felt it necessary to grant them such access.

The CRTC has also approved Bell’s application to charge Usage Based Billing against the customers of the Independent Internet Service Providers. This mind boggling economic concept essentially removes the Independent ISP’s ability to offer the pricing packages they choose. Instead they will be forced to impose Bell pricing, dramatic price increases to at least double consumer costs without the providing the tiniest increase in value.

The worst part about this decision is that the CRTC accepted this proposal as a ‘traffic management’ strategy for Bell the carrier. Bell’s stated intent is to reduce Canadian Internet use by making it expensive enough to deter Canadian consumers from using the Internet. In this way Bell can continue to reap huge profits from consumers without having to reinvest in infrastructure.

It seems to me that reducing Canadian Internet access should be the last thing that Canada needs if the Canadian Government goal is to nurture a Canadian Digital Economy. Discouraging Canadian consumers from shopping online will result in reduced business for Canadian companies, who will have increasing difficulty doing business at all as the Canadian infrastructure falls farther and farther behind.

For both these situations, the CRTC has abused its regulatory powers by allowing Bell to interfere in, and worse dictate, the business practices of direct competitors. This is an incredibly anti-competitive way of doing business, and hardly conducive to encouraging Canadian business. And the direct opposite of the principles of Net Neutrality.

The reason the Internet has spread across the globe with such speed is because the Internet was not regulated. Instead it has provided as close to a level playing field as the world has yet seen. Because anyone can play. All it takes is a computer and a connection.

Part of the problem is that the Internet Carriers are wearing too many hats. Perhaps it is time to separate the carrier and the ISPs. And the carrier from the content provider. After all, usage caps can be used to prevent a carrier’s ISP subscribers from accessing content elsewhere. As others in the Digital Economy Consultation have suggested, public ownership of the infrastructure may very well be the way to proceed.

The CRTC should not be permitted to facilitate damage to Canada’s ability to participate in the global digital economy. Since the CRTC appears incapable of understanding the issues, serious changes must be made before worse economic damage results.

ACCESS and INNOVATION

Where does innovation come from? A lot of it starts with ‘thinking outside the box.’

If I want to plant a lawn, I wouldn’t just plant a dozen grass seeds. I’d cover the ground with seeds. Some of the seeds may be duds, and the birds or squirrels may eat some more, but if I water it a reasonable amount, I will end up with a lawn. All Canadians

Canada is known throughout the world as a country rich in natural resources. Yet our single greatest natural resource is our children. If we are looking to maximize the potential of our education system, forcing post secondary institutions to turn their research arms into businesses is the wrong way to go.

It would be far better to lower or even remove existing financial barriers to higher education. Previously Canada offered government grants to students who would not otherwise be able to afford a college or university education. Today’s students who are unable to afford the cost of post secondary education can access government backed loans instead. The problem is that when these students leave school with their degree they also carry the burden of crushing personal debt.

The unfortunate result is that bright students who might benefit from a post secondary education may well choose immediate employment over debt. I submit that all Canadian students should have access to post secondary education whether or not they can afford it. The benefits Canada will reap from the resulting talent, creativity and innovation is a skilled and educated workforce. This would be an excellent way for Government to the digital skills necessary to compete, thrive and innovate in the digital economy,

The more access Canadians have, the more innovation there will be. The more Canadians participate in the various aspects of the Internet, the more small startups we’ll have. Certainly every attempt is not going to lead to a Blackberry, but the more startups the better. Some won’t t succeed, but some will.

Particularly in trying economic times, small businesses don’t have money to burn. They can’t afford expensive research, so they are unlikely to hire consultants to guide them in digital adoption strategies to enhance their business. Small businesses tend to do things for themselves, with owners or staff being more likely to play around online to get an idea of how they might proceed. All that’s necessary is an Internet connection. Trial and error is free (at least until UBB is implemented). Should they try out an Identi.ca account or a blog? Or see if FaceBook or MySpace or Kijiji or HotFrog can best help grow the business?

Canadian Government Adoption of Digital Technology

I have been impressed with the Canadian Government’s commitment and follow through in putting an increasing amount of information online. This is an invaluable path to allow Canadians access to publicly funded information. However, it must be accessible to all Canadians.

It is certainly time to consider removal of crown copyright. This is one area where the United States provides a shining example Canada ought to emulate. The American Government releases everything from NASA space photographs to Library of Congress historical documents directly into the public domain. Because the taxpayers have already paid for this material they don’t have to again. Yet in Canada the CBC won’t give permission to even the most non-commercial of bloggers to reproduce a CBC image in a public service blog.

All levels of Canadian Government need to rethink dependency on Adobe PDF files. To the Ministry of Industry’s credit, this site offers a viable alternative to PDFs. Government information should not be locked up in a PDF file. Some people think that exporting documents into PDF makes them secure, when in fact the PDF exists to lock the document’s format for printing. PDF files require the download of a special reader, which for some is an immediate barrier to accessibility. Even with the reader installed, PDF files are not always easily to read on a computer screens, which makes sense since they were designed for printing. Without special tools citizens can’t easily make use of the information stored in government generated PDFs. It isn’t possible to simply cut and paste the information from a PDF into a calendar, newsletter, blog or mailing list. People need to retype the information in order to make use of it. This is, after all, government information that citizens are entitled to. It should be easily accessible so it can be read from the screen or used as needed.

FLOSS (Free Libre Open Source Software) or Open Data formats make it possible to avoid dependency on proprietary software, and ensure accessibility.

Placing Canadian Government Data in software formats controlled by a corporation can result in forced upgrades to accommodate the corporate timetable, or worse, being left without support in the event that the software vendor chooses to withdraw support.

Some proprietary software like Microsoft Vista or Windows 7 cannot be prevented from ‘calling home.’ I don’t know what software or hardware is actually deployed in the halls of government, but the probability that it is foreign proprietary software is certainly high. Since the Government has access to private citizen information I wonder both about Privacy ramifications and National Security issues when the Corporations controlling this proprietary software are not Canadian.

Eventually ceasing Canadian Government use of foreign proprietary software could help safeguard Canadian government data. Should our Government switch to FLOSS, additionally it would result in savings. FLOSS adoption would accrue all the same benefits to small and medium sized business as it would to the government.

Much of this same proprietary software is being forced on our children under the public education system thanks to ‘donations’ from the manufacturer. High School students take courses called ‘programming’ but instead of learning programming often they are simply trained in the use of a particular kind of proprietary software. I’ve heard that some European countries mandate equal access to non-proprietary software in public education. That would be an excellent mandate for Canada.

All Canadians need to be able to access the Internet so they can participate fully in the digital economy. But it is the children and young people of today who require the most nurturing because they will be the innovators of tomorrow.

Access is crucial. Cost should not be a barrier.

COPYRIGHT: Digital Locks

Canadian DMCA

Bill C32 cannot possibly be allowed to pass as it stands. The provision to make it illegal to circumvent ‘Digital Rights Management/Technical Protection Measures,’ sometimes known as Digital Locks, at the expense of everything else is wrong.

Environmentally it would be a nightmare. Digital locks on media and/or devices means that repair would not be an option. Canadians would be forced to throw out perfectly good media and devices if they had DRM/TPM and it wasn’t working.

Making circumvention of digital locks illegal guarantees that Canadians will be legally prevented from modifications which may well lead to innovations.

The moment that anti circumvention of digital locks becomes law, every digital manufacturer in Canada, along with every digital manufacturer outside of Canada, will be loading DRM on all of their media and devices destined for sale here.

This will become even more restrictive than proprietary software for Canadian consumers. We’ll need dozens of different devices because there will be no inter-operability as every manufacturer strives to corner the market. And in the event that one does, like, say, VHS, and all the others go out of business, consumers who bought the wrong media will again be out of luck.

Consumers are shell shocked from all of the obsolete technologies we’ve been through.

Vinyl records;
8 track tapes,
cassette tapes,
video disks,
laser disks,
Sony betamax,
VHS,
CD,
DVD,
5.25″ floppy Disk,
3.5″ floppy disk….

If it is going to be illegal for us to preserve, repair or even use the media or devices we buy, consumers may well stop buying. Hardly a recipe for a thriving digital economy.

At minimum any device or media having DRM/TPM must be clearly marked to warn consumers. It must also be made illegal for the words “buy” “sell” and “purchase” to be used in these transactions, since clearly they no longer fall under the terms of property ownership, rendering usage of those words fraudulent.

copyright symbol over a red maple leaf

As a writer, I am aware that Canada already possesses strong copyright law. To my way of thinking it is, if anything our copyright is too strong, possibly to the point of being detrimental to creators. As a creator, my first priority is disseminating my work. I very much oppose the idea that my work will be locked up by copyright for fifty years after my death. I feel strongly enough about this to the extent that I choose to make use of Creative Commons licensing.

A large part my strong opposition to legislation which cedes supremacy to digital locks is tied to this. If I release my novels under a Creative Commons License, I most emphatically do not want my licensing choice superseded by the agenda of a manufacturer of digital e-book reader. And that’s what Bill C-32 will do if it is passed as it stands: the device manufacturer’s rights would override my rights over my own work.

As a writer, I should be free to exercise my right to control of the content I have created. Isn’t that why copyright was invented in the first place?

CONTENT: Culture and the Internet

I’m in the process of self-publishing my first novel, which is my personal digital content advantage. For a creator of any kind of digital media, the Internet offers wonderful opportunities because it is the world’s greatest distribution channel. If you can find an audience on the Internet, you can make a go of your creative endeavor. Canadians are intelligent, talented, competent, innovative and responsible citizens of the world; we are beginning to take advantage of these distribution channels.

One of the ways I plan to utilize the Internet is to serialize my novel on my personal website. Yet if I am successful in attracting readership, resultant heavy site traffic will penalize me if Usage Based Billing is implemented.

Everything is changing. It used to be that musicians needed to be signed by a major recording studio who could get them radio play and concert exposure to become known. Without studio backing there was virtually no possibility of becoming a star. In the fifty years or so before the Internet, the only independent recording artist to become a truly Canadian Superstar was Stompin’ Tom Connors. And that took an extraordinary amount of work over a very long time as he played and sang his way the length and breadth of this land over and over again.

Before the Internet virtually 100% of the Canadian music industry was controlled by CRIA. Today, 30% of Canadian recording artists are Independent. By not signing with the four major record labels, these independent Canadian musicians retain control of the copyright for their original work. Thirty percent of Canadian recording artists are recording their own music, their own way and distributing it online in various ways. This has been an enormous gain for Canadian culture.

Both movies and television programs are being made by amateurs and professional filmmakers alike for distribution in a variety of Internet release methods. There are even two ‘made for torrent’ video productions that I’m aware of you (thanks p2pnet: the Tunnel and thanks Robert X: Pioneer One

Although often implied otherwise, file sharing is legal, and it is very important that it remain so. What is in question is whether uploading or downloading copyright works for non-commercial purposes is legal. Sovereign nations around the world need to make their copyright laws address this.

File sharing using BitTorrent protocol is one of the most efficient ways of distributing large files to a great many people. Both the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation and our own CBC have experimented with file sharing as a distribution method. The American Project Gutenberg distributes many of the public domain books they have digitized through file sharing. Feature films released under Creative Commons licenses are being released and distributed in this way as well. And Open Source and FLOSS software are often distributed in this way. I have attended a few Ubuntu ‘release parties’ that are held to distribute the FLOSS Operating system via BitTorrent.

And of course Canada’s newest registered political party, The Pirate Party of Canada, offers creators legal BitTorrent digital distribution to allow them to distribute their wares. Free.

The Internet makes it possible for artists to reach their audiences through these sometimes seemingly radical methods. We need to adapt to the new technology in much the same way that we adapted to the change from horse drawn buggies to automobiles.

The very worst thing the Canadian Government can do is to stifle Canadian creativity and innovation in attempting to legislate against progress.



Image Credits: Map of the Internet – photo by the Opte Project

NOTE: I don’t have time to add all the links it deserves… I’ll try to get to it later.



BONUS:

And just because you waded through that, you deserve a reward. So here for your viewing pleasure is an animated film by Nina Paley which very accessibly explains the internet issues the Electronic Frontier Foundation fights to change:
Nina Paley’s Animated Thank You to the EFF

*Warning: This film REALLY made me Laugh Out Loud

[Thanks @openuniverse]

Official Language Blues: If I ran the zoo… er country

Maple Leaf that says "Oh! Canada" It is a major failing of our education system that all school children are not offered the “other” official language in school.

Of course the federal politicians can say, “Education is a Provincial responsibility”.

This is nothing but a pure cop-out.

Canada has two Official Languages.

If federal funding was forthcoming the provinces would jump at the chance to introduce education plans to comply. It seems to me that the problem is that the Federal Government is simply not willing to put their money where their mouth is.

Vancouver Olympics 2010 logo

Personally, I am disappointed that the Bloc Quebecois have not pushed for this. In a perfect world, even if the Bloc manages Quebec succession at some point, would it not be easier for a separate Quebec to deal with a Canada where there isn’t this knee-jerk language war?

From everything I have read and heard, when children learn a second language in childhood, it makes learning additional languages later much more attainable. And breaking down barriers to communication is always a good thing.

It is inexcusable that the Olympic Games are not fully accessible in both Official Languages. We should all be ashamed of that.

BON COP BAD COP: A graphic description of the great divide between our official languages.

Canada is known to be a nation rich in resources, but our greatest resource, which is also the one that is most often overlooked is our children.

Both English and French are our official languages as Canada is officially a bilingual country. I’ve just been told that Canada is merely “institutionally” a bilingual country, and that only at the Federal level in a CAPP Facebook discussion group. That may be the way it is, but it should not be.

In a perfect Canada all kids would be bilingual. So that eventually all adults would be bilingual. It is ridiculous that that still has not happened.

Whole School Portrait - 1930's Rural Ontario
English immersion - 1930's Rural Ontario, Whole School Portrait

My father didn’t know a word of English when he started school in the 1930’s. We’ve always teased him about the trace of accent we can still hear, but in retrospect maybe it isn’t a rural Ontario accent but a rural German accent. Our parents made it a point to not teach us German so they could speak privately in front of the kids. So I grew up a monolingual English Canadian, whith parents who were bilingual German/English speakers.

I think that learning French when it suddenly appeared in Grade 7 would have been much easier had we learned German as kids. I know I worked hard at trying to learn French in school, but High School was the end for me. I was crashing and burning by grade nine French thanks to a personality conflict with my ninth grade French Teacher, and it made me give up. Out of self preservation I learned the phrase “Je ne sais pas” which got me out the other side with a bare pass. Given enough time and motive I have been able to muddle through written French. Because Alexandre Dumas is one of my favorite authors, I struggled through his novel The Black Tulip which our High School Library stocked in French.

Two Official Languages

Bon Cop Bad Cop Poster

My niece was enrolled in French Immersion when she began school, so I was thrilled that my child would be able to enter a French immersion program when he started school.

As it turned out, we were not allowed to enroll him in French Immersion because the school district we lived in only offered that option to children with a French speaking parent.

The educational options open to Canadian school children vary from board to board as well as province to province.

The best argument I had heard against French or English Immersion was the fact that the mother-tongue was disadvantaged since all of the education the children receive is in the second language. But I just learned from one of the parents in a CAPP (Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament) discussion thread that his children in Quebec get an alternating curriculum… one week French, the next week English. What an excellent idea. Problem solved.

If all Canadian school children were educated to be bilingual, I think it would help enormously in healing the language rift we have in Canada.

I’m quite sure we’d still find things to fight about, but they would be different things, quite possibly less harmful things. In addition to helping break down the language barriers which cause so much friction between anglophone and francophone Canadians, learning a second language is reputed to make music and mathematical learning easier for students as well.

And if we were all bilingual there would be a lot more great films like Bon Cop Bad Cop, which was great in either/both languages.

If I ran the Zoo er Country…

Canadian Flag

I would provide adequate funding to offer bilingual education to all our children.

Because we are ALL Canadians, whether we speak English or French or Both.
And both would be best for us all.

That’s what I would do if I ran the zoo country.



Write to your Member of Parliament and tell them what you think about premature prorogation or anything else! You can find your MP with this lovely link – it will also help you find out who your MP is if you don’t know. It’s time that Canadians started letting them know what we think about how they represent us.
Find your Member of Parliament

Write to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and tell him too!
Prime Minister/Premier Ministre Stephen Harper <pm@pm.gc.ca>

The government gives more weight to postal mail: you can mail your comments without a stamp!!:

The Right Hon. Stephen Joseph Harper, P.C., B.A., M.A.
1600 90th Avenue Southwest, suite A-203
Calgary, Alberta
T2V 5A8

Canada badly needs electoral reform. Take a peek at the Non-Partisan Fair Vote Canada site to get information some ideas of electoral reform. All Canadians need to join in these non-partisan discussions.