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Friday, 31 January 2014

What do occupational therapists really do?

In its goal to provide children with the best possible start, Alberta Education provides access to early intervention programs in an inclusive school setting to children in a variety of age groups. This forward-thinking approach allows students in programs across the province to receive the services of speech and language pathologists and occupational therapists, as well as a variety of other professionals. Specifically, Occupational Therapy (OT) can be useful in assisting children with a wide range of abilities in improving their motor, cognitive, and independence skills.

Three Things OTs do in Schools:

1.  Occupational Therapists work on a wide variety of skills in a classroom.
Many members of the public aren’t familiar with the day to day tasks an occupational therapist can work on in a classroom. While the focus of some therapies can be on foundational skills like fine and gross motor skills, a therapist can also focus on other areas of concern like dressing, toileting, and sensory processing concerns.

2.  Occupational Therapists work collaboratively with a team of other professionals.
In the multidisciplinary model employed by many school districts, an array of professionals provide services in the classroom. With assistance from speech and language pathologists, behaviour specialists, psychologists and more, occupational therapists help provide a comprehensive view of the child’s skills. The team also assists the children as well as their parents and teachers in understanding the child’s strengths and areas of future growth.

3.  Occupational Therapy focuses on the child’s needs and interests first.
When working with children within the classroom, an occupational therapist will direct therapy goals and interventions to suit the individual. Whether it’s building an activity around a particular skill the child can improve or designing an engaging task that draws on his or her interests, the therapist ensures the child is engaged and having fun throughout the process.

Three Myths about OT in Schools:

Myth #1: Occupational Therapists solely work with children with disabilities.

Reality: Children with a variety of physical and cognitive abilities can benefit from occupational therapy services in the classroom. While the therapist may focus a greater number of individualized supports for children diagnosed with a particular physical, cognitive, or developmental condition, OT’s are also able to work with the class as a whole by focusing on a particular skill area.

Myth #2:  Children will grow out of these issues and learn them anyhow.

Reality: Although children will continue to develop in many skill areas as they mature, a good foundation for future school success begins early. Poor motor skills or sensory dysregulation can impede a child’s learning, leading to decreased success in current and future academics. Early intervention in these areas and more is key in promoting proper development and increasing a child’s skill level across many areas.

Myth #3:  Occupational therapists only provide 1:1 therapy with kids in isolation from the classroom.

Reality: Using an inclusive model, occupational therapists work within the classroom setting, often with multiple children at once. The therapist is able to pull in children of all skill levels to help provide positive peer models, increasing confidence in adept students. This approach also allows those who are improving to view their classmates as leaders and build positive relationships. Including the teacher in the process is vital, as a collaborative approach will ensure all children’s needs are met throughout the school year.

RĂ©al Chenard works as an Occupational Therapist for Edmonton Catholic School District, working mainly with pre-kinder and kindergarten students. He holds a BSc Spec. (Psychology) and an MSc (Occupational Therapy) from the University of Alberta and has been working in his field for almost 2 years. While in graduate school, he was the President of the Rehabilitation Medicine Students Association.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Is a degree in Political Science worthwhile?

by Megan Semaniuk

Political science is the study of governance and related institutions. The Department of Political Science at the University of Alberta boasts approximately 1200 undergraduate students and over 100 graduate students.  Through their studies, these individuals aim to answer a variety of questions related to politics and governance. From elections to war, taxation to health care, political scientists are able to apply their knowledge – both academically and practically - across a variety of different fields. Perhaps you even know someone who is taking a political science degree!

Three things you should know about a degree in Political Science:

  1.  Political Science graduates focus on different areas of study. Universities across Canada generally divide the discipline into Canadian Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, and Political Theory. Each of these perspectives has a slightly different approach to the study of political life.

  2.  A degree in Political Science is applicable to academics and practitioners alike. Understanding how politics work involves a thorough investigation into both theory and “the trenches.” In an attempt to improve and engage citizens in the process, political scientists aim to use this knowledge to motivate and educate those around them to connect with current events, elections, public policy, and much, much more.

  3. Political Science is a highly applicable degree which benefits society as a whole. The study of politics, institutions, and social life is all around us. Learning how and why these mechanisms work ensures efficiency and productivity for all those involved.  

Three myths about a degree in political science:

Myth #1: What in the world does one do with a Political Science degree? There are many opportunities available to political science graduates. These include (but are not limited to) local, provincial, territorial and federal governmental positions, largely in the public sector. In addition, there are many programs and forums in place to help Arts graduates (and thus, political science graduates) find employment and further the study of politics and political structures, as well as opportunities in the private sector. 

Myth #2:  Political science graduates all want to become politicians or go into law school. While it is true that many students do pursue a political science degree as the foundation for studies in other fields, many individuals go on to become involved in public administration, private industry, or not-for-profit endeavours. Some jobs available for graduates include policy analysts, educators, research, humanitarian development, human resources, and more!

Myth #3: Political science graduates exist in “Ivory Towers” and know little about how to apply their knowledge in practice.  On the contrary, there is a current movement to increase the relevancy of a political science degree in the real world. While it is important for these academics to keep on top of the most recent research in their respective fields, it is equally important that they be able to engage with this material in the context of a globalized and ever-changing world. Breaking down the “ivory tower” myth is crucial to this project, as is forging pathways into the public service and non-University community. 

Megan Semaniuk is in the process of completing her undergraduate degree at the University of Alberta with a major in Political Science. She hopes to further her enthusiasm for the study of Canadian Politics and Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs through a Masters Degree in Political Science. Upon graduation, she hopes to become a full-fledged “pracademic” applying her theoretical knowledge to the public sector in an effort to improve citizen responsiveness and engagement.  

Friday, 17 January 2014

Is Alberta ready for a sales tax?

by Jack Mintz

In September 2013, Philip Bazel and Jack Mintz wrote a School of Public Policy research paper looking at the adoption of an 8 percent Alberta HST (Harmonized Sales Tax) that would change Alberta's tax structure by sharply reducing personal and corporate income taxes.

Three things to know about taxation in Alberta:

  1. Economic studies have shown that consumption-based taxation is better than income taxes since the latter impedes investment and savings.  The HST in Alberta would bump up personal tax exemption to $57,250 per individual, lower the personal income tax rate to 9 percent, and lower the general corporate income tax rate to about 8.4 percent.  It would encourage saving and investment, and improve Alberta's competitiveness (see studies by Professor Bev Dahlby, for example, on the marginal cost of raising revenue).

  2. A province like Alberta attracts tourists to well-known sites like Banff, Jasper, Calgary Stampede, and the West Edmonton Mall.  It also attracts short-term workers who do not pay income taxes in the province.  Almost 10 percent of Alberta HST revenues would be paid by non-Albertans who benefit from government spending on roads, highways and other public services.

  3. Alberta relies on volatile revenues that complicate fiscal planning.  HST revenues are less volatile than current own-source revenues in Alberta: about two-thirds less volatile than personal and corporate income taxes and almost 75 percent less volatile than natural resource revenues.

Three myths about the adoption of a sales tax in Alberta:

Myth #1:  The HST would act as a gateway, leading to more taxes and a larger government.

The Reality: There is no clear evidence that the adoption of the HST (known elsewhere as Value-Added Tax) leads to larger government.  While many remark on the size of European governments with VATs, countries like Japan, Australia and New Zealand with VATs are not high-tax economies.  Even Canada, which has had a sales tax since 1991, has had a declining tax-GDP ratio in the past two decades.  Taxes can be introduced at any time, but most have greater economic impact than the proposed HST.

Myth #2:  Bringing in an HST will hurt the poor since it is a regressive tax. 

The Reality: The Bazel-Mintz proposal is distributionally neutral.   The increased sales tax paid by households is fully offset by personal tax reductions and the low-income refundable sales tax credit for all household income levels.  Some HST on business inputs is offset by corporate tax reductions.

Myth #3:  Introducing an Alberta HST would complicate the tax structure.

The Reality: The HST is just a matter of increasing the existing 5% sales tax rate in Alberta. Under the Bazel-Mintz proposal, only 30 percent of Albertans would pay personal income taxes.

Jack Mintz is the Director and Palmer Chair in Public Policy at the University of Calgary School of Public Policy.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Can you build a successful pracademic conference?

by Michele Kirchner and Kelly Santarossa

Three things to know about pracademic conferences, like IPAC 2014:

  1. The richness of blending the practitioner and academic perspective in a conference matches solid best-practice with substantive academic research.

  2. A conference that is built on a pracademic foundation builds on thought-provoking ideas and engages participants in co-creating “real world” solutions in “real-time”.

  3. There is a greater opportunity to move the learning from the meeting room to the “street”, sparking innovation and bringing the discussion into the community. 

Three myths about pracademic conferences:

Myth #1: A conference focusing on practitioner best practice will not be substantive enough to hold the interests of the academic community.

Reality: There is a continuous cycle between theory informing practice and practice informing theory. Academics often enjoy enough distance from the policy process to develop a breadth of knowledge and produce generalisable conclusions across government, while practitioners generally develop a unique level of in-depth expertise when developing policy for a number of years. Both may learn from each other about how to understand, and seek to influence, the policymaking world. The fruitful exchange of ideas, and the ability to learn from each other, is promoted in an informal conference setting.

Myth #2: Presenting the academic perspective at a conference will bring the energy level down with esoteric research.

Reality: Although academic theory can be self-contained, the impact of research and teaching is often most compelling when it addresses the concerns of practitioners. Jessica Daniels, blogging for Tufts University, talks about her experiences attending conferences and workshops in her field of study. She writes: “One can, even for a few days, be in the presence of, or in conversation with, the individuals who shape the direction of their field of work, study, and interest.  What was previously a remote and theoretical study can become an interaction and a present conversation, in ways that humanize intellectual pursuits and spar curiosity.”

Myth #3: There will be difficulty in bridging the practitioner and academic perspectives in one coherent session.

Reality: Although practitioner and academic perspectives can vary, both groups are under pressure to demonstrate impacts and convince those holding the purse strings that their work represents a good investment. In a blog for the London School of Economics and Political Science, Rachel Hayman notes that in an increasingly results-driven environment, researchers and practitioners have much to gain from engaging each other.

To experience a pracademic culture in action, come to IPAC 2014 National Conference in Edmonton from June 1 to 4, 2014.  In less than a year, IPAC 2014 will be the place where practitioners from the public and private sectors and the academic community come together to create innovative solutions to real life issues. You can register for the conference at