Friday, September 7, 2007

TORONTO STAR: Textbooks economical with words about co-ops

Jack Quarter, Daniel Schugurensky, Erica McCollum and Laurie Mook
Sep 5, 2007

A recent study conducted through the Social Economy Centre at the University of Toronto raises questions about the narrow focus of business and economics textbooks in Ontario's high schools.

The research by professor Daniel Schugurensky and MA student Erica McCollum of OISE/ University of Toronto, examined the contents of 22 business textbooks containing 11,375 pages currently used in Ontario high schools.

In general, these textbooks had very little about non-profits and co-operatives.

When all of the materials referring to co-operatives were totalled, they amounted to 35 pages, or 0.3 per cent of the 11,375 pages in the 22 books.

For non-profits, this amounted to 107 pages, or 0.9 per cent of the total pages. In other words, there is not a lot about these types of organizations within the business texts used in Ontario high schools.

A similar study in 1995 (by professor Jack Quarter and then PhD student Alison Davidson also of OISE/UT), upon which the current study was based, had strikingly similar findings.

Not much has changed in the past 12 years with regard to the treatment of co-operatives and non-profits in business textbooks in Ontario.

Do these types of organizations have a place in business textbooks and business programs?

Arguably, these organizations are not in the mainstream of the business world, but they do have a significant impact upon the economy. A survey of the non-profit sector undertaken by Statistics Canada in 2003 (the National Survey of Nonprofit and Voluntary Organizations) found that there were 161,000 incorporated non-profits in Canada, about half of which had charitable status registrations.

The same survey estimated that non-profits had revenues of $112 billion, employ 2 million people (54 per cent full-time), and have a volunteer labour force estimated to be another 1 million full-time equivalent jobs (about 2 billion hours).

The stereotype of non-profits is that their revenues are unearned (donations and grants), but the Statistics Canada survey indicates that 35 per cent is earned through the marketplace; in fact, there are a significant number of non-profits that compete successfully in the market with private sector firms (for example, the YMCAs).

Likewise, the stereotype of co-operatives as small and economically insignificant is belied by the data. For instance, the Co-operatives Secretariat, a federal government agency, reported that in 2003 approximately 9,200 co-operatives brought in $35.8 billion of revenues and employed around 155,000.

Agriculture co-operatives, although having declined in importance due to the demutualization of some of the largest ones, were still marketing and processing a large share of farmers' production, notably in poultry, dairy and hogs. Two co-operatives are among the top 12 corporations in the food and beverage-manufacturing sector in Canada.

Moreover, eight non-financial co-operatives are among the top 500 corporations in Canada; two of these are among the top 100 corporations.

Le Mouvement des caisses Desjardins, the umbrella organization for credit unions/caisses populaires in francophone Canada, is the largest employer in Quebec and, with a workforce of more than 39,000, is the sixth largest financial institution in Canada with assets of $118 billion in 2005.

These organizations, a group that we classify as part of the social economy, provide flexible, sustainable and innovative approaches to achieving social and economic objectives.

Although they are not the mainstream of the economy, they employ and train people, create economic growth, provide social support, foster community development, and have valuable assets.

Furthermore, they mobilize large numbers of volunteers who contribute to these organizations but whose contributions are typically ignored in conventional accounting.

These organizations are critical to our diverse Canadian landscape, yet the business and economics textbooks of our high-school students and future leaders are strikingly silent about them.

Our research has focused upon the approved textbooks in Ontario's high school business and economics courses.

We haven't reviewed the major business programs in universities, but we know the terrain there is also relatively barren. Something is missing!

Jack Quarter and Laurie Mook are co-directors of the Social Economy Centre at the University of Toronto; Daniel Schugurensky is director of the collaborative graduate program in community development at the University of Toronto, and Erica McCollum is completing her MA at OISE/UT.

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.

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