P3 opens doors to ads in schools
backer Province, board taking look at TV proposal

The Halifax Herald - Feb 27, 1999

By JoAnn Sherwood / Education Reporter

The Youth News Network has a better chance of getting off the ground in Nova Scotia because of P3 schools, says the man behind a controversial proposal to show television commercials in the classroom.

Rod MacDonald said he thinks attitudes toward the network have changed since governments began building schools through public-private partnerships.

"The education system is changing. Schools are no longer the hallowed halls of sacred public trust they used to be," he said in an interview earlier this week from Toronto.

Athena Educational Partners, the network's Montreal-based parent company, wants high schools across Canada to subscribe to its programming. Schools receive an average of $120,000 in free audio-visual equipment, including computers, classroom television monitors and a satellite dish, for five years. In return, students are expected to watch the network's daily newscast during class - including commercials.

The network has a pilot program this year at a 1,700-student high school in Mississauga, Ont. Company officials, who plan to launch the national network in September, sent promotional videos to 2,300 high schools across Canada earlier this month.

This isn't the first time Nova Scotia schools have heard about the Youth News Network. The Education Department and local school boards rejected Athena Educational Partners' plan in 1993, amid widespread public opposition.

Mr. MacDonald, who met last week with the deputy education minister, Lloyd Gillis, said the past six years have shown school boards can't keep up with demands for technology.

"Private and public-sector partnerships in education are absolutely crucial going into the 21st century. We are responding to the needs that educators have indicated to us for more computers, training for teachers and distance education initiatives."

NDP education critic Eileen O'Connell said she hopes the issue helps people realize private-sectoring partnering has gone too far.

"It's such a crystal-clear example of the direction the government has been going with education that maybe people will see how important it is to save the classroom from that kind of commercialism."

Other critics aren't buying into the idea either.

"We thought the whole issue of consumerism and using students as a captive audience for advertising had been rejected," said Donnie MacIntyre, president of the 10,000-member Nova Scotia Teachers Union.

"We don't want somebody else telling the schools what students and teachers should be watching," said Sandra Himmelman, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Home and School Associations.

Education Department spokeswoman Donna MacDonald said staff is reviewing the latest proposal from the network. Company officials say they're now offering schools more technology, better content monitoring and revenue-sharing opportunities.

"We won't be taking a position until we talk to our partners about it. We want teachers and parents to be comfortable about what's shown in the classroom," Ms.MacDonald said.

Don Trider, superintendent of the Halifax regional school board, said that while some metro schools have already expressed an interest, administrators have to take a closer look at the proposal.

"I'm not prejudging it," Mr. Trider said. "With limited funds, you do want to look at these kinds of proposals very closely."