By Emina Gamulin
If the board of trustees votes yes at their next meeting, the deal between the Toronto District School Board and Onestop Media Inc. will see as many as 74 secondary schools receive video screens in common areas with ads running 30 per cent of the time.
Two schools in our coverage area, Central Technical (725 Bathurst St.) and Harbord Collegiate (286 Harbord St.) already have these monitors, as part of a pilot program that was implemented in four secondary schools last year.
The potential decision has received vocal criticism from anti-corporate activists and the Toronto Star editorial board, amongst others. Public schools are no place for advertising, argue the critics. This is a precedent-setting slippery slope, they say. The Gleaner, respectfully disagrees, although not without a caveat.
If these screens were going up in grade schools we would be the first to cry foul, but these are teenagers, not children. These students have at least 14 years of media experience behind them and are growing up in an age where everything from double rainbows, to graphic images of war, to hardcore pornography, are accessible with a few key phrases and a mouse click. This is not to say that we should passively accept everything that comes our way, (we believe the exact opposite actually: that if nothing else, students should leave high school with the ability to think for themselves), but teens are savvy enough to see these screens for what they are: advertising from their school, their student council, and yes, select corporations.
The school board will still retain control of which advertising it deems acceptable to broadcast in schools. There is a real opportunity to incorporate these screens into class curriculum; it needn’t be an excuse to justify the ads. While a certain innocence is lost when advertising is brought into learning environments, our public schools are not currently sacred spaces free of corporate influence (vending machines promoting junk food and the sponsored milk chugging competitions held at this editor’s high school come to mind).
And yes, in an ideal world, all schools would receive all the funding they need, but in reality many Toronto schools are rife with crumbling infrastructure and outdated technology, with some so destitute that they live day-to-day with the threat of closure always near. For some, like nearby West Toronto Collegiate, the battle has already been lost; the school is expected to shut it’s doors this year. The school board has a deficit of $42 million this year. Our schools need money, and the province won’t provide adequate resources.
However, we take huge issue with the proposed deal the TDSB is cutting with Onestop. Currently, schools will only get 10 to 15 per cent of the revenue stream from the ads. This number is completely inverted from the normal agency-client relationship, where the selling agency (Onestop) would receive 15 per cent of revenues, and the provider (TDSB) would keep the remaining 85 per cent. While TDSB representatives did not get back to the Gleaner regarding their projected revenue stream, The Toronto Star reports an estimated $100,000 a year. If we do the math, each school will receive $1,351 a year from this project. Divide that by ten school year months, with an average of 22 school days a month, and each school is set to gain $6.14 a day.
$6.14. Setting up a table selling brownies in the cafeteria during lunch hour could bring in more profit. Our trustees should reconsider their deal with Onestop, and see the value in what they are selling.