Systemic Impacts of Scarcity in Education

I’d like to bring up the subject of scarcity and the concept of applying the impacts of limited resources in the education system. It could be physical, social, emotional, or mental scarcity.

Limited resources change how people interact and behave at the most primal survival levels. There are already many scholar reports on how scarcity affects decision making and neuropathways.  Scarcity is when there are limited resources and people are not getting what they need.  Animal and human behaviour will change in these environments. When something is scarce, people will put a higher value on it. People will use social capital, aggression, secrecy or whatever strategies they can to obtain those limited resources for their own unfulfilled need. This is evolution and not a personality deficit.

Whittling the education system to bare bones and creating an environment of such limited resources will turn Mary Poppins into Cruella Deville in just a few months. Work environments can become toxic. Communication and information among staff can be used as a source of power.  Confidentiality among staff can be used as a social manipulation tool to build a sense of belonging or exclude.  Subgroups become even more exclusive. People are being set up to fail. It’s not personal. It’s systemic design. Evolutionary instincts will kick in, and not the kind ones. Stress bubbles will burst. People will snap. Children included. Recruiting and retaining quality educators for any length of time, will be challenging. This will have more of an impact on students with disabilities and those in marginalized communities. I repeat. This will have MORE of an impact on students with disabilities and those in marginalized communities.

Understaffing is a form of scarcity. When there aren’t enough people to fill the job duties that are required for functioning, and people need to step over their own job description boundaries to fill in for other people’s work, that has multiple direction points of impact. If it’s chronic, then you’ll see the ripple effects of scarcity.  Work environments will become “unhealthy” and over time people will become very dissatisfied with their work, ultimately pushing them out of the system and creating a deeper wedge in the cycle and it just goes on and on.  Underqualified staff just filling “the body” in the role, is not the solution.  Take a look at the number of job postings for school districts and take a look at the ones that are just continuously on repeat.  The districts are all in the same basket. They are even competing with each other trying to coax staff out of each other cities with advertisements.

School districts are extremely complex human systems. The number of connections and moving parts is overwhelming to me when I try to put this system into a visual representation. It looks like a large spiderweb post wind storm. Not only do I look at all of the individual parts when I look at a system, but it’s the connections and relationships and what is generated out of those connections that also makes my head spin. Now put this very complex system in a situation of scarcity. This has disaster written all over it.

The alarming fact is that the direction the current climate of education in this province is heading, will require people to become even more competitive over the limited resources. Money won’t solve all of society’s problems; however, chronic underfunding is definitely the fuel to this education fire…amongst other things.

Brainstorming exercise:

Let’s list all of the resources that someone seeks in the education system. (I will list a few, but really, I am hoping to encourage the conversation and for people to start making their own lists)

Resources in education. (Staff and students)

  • Social relationships- support, sense of belonging, attention, power, purpose
  • Mental stimulation, communication, information, choice, adequate training, knowledge, context & meaning…blog about context and meaning for students coming in the near future!
  • Physical space, food, water, access to washroom, fresh air, safety…and yes all of this applies to staff too!!
  • Access to tools to complete tasks/goals with success
  • Time to process, time to complete work, alone time, enough sleep – proper work hours (homework or class planning)
  • Currency – (staff) to access resources in their personal life and avoid scarcity

Now take all of those resources to function. Put someone in the situation of abundance. All the time in the world, lots of attention, all the communication and information they need to understand their environment. Now take the minimal of what you need and cut it in half.  Survival mode kicks in. You will have very different people on your hands.

If people have options, they will leave the system. We all have our breaking point.

Who is controlling the resources to this system?

It’s not the school districts. They may be managing…I mean struggling, with the system, but they aren’t the Wizard of Oz at the end of the road. The Ministry of Oz is hiding amongst ambiguous unanswered questions in their huge castle.

Provincial systemic issues, are going to need a provincial intervention approach, and will require a provincial response.  Let’s start with some resources, shall we? Adequate funding please.