CORNER BROOK — Corner Brook Regional High School teacher Gerald Ford was the one doing lessons this summer.
For a week in July, Ford took part in the Canadian Oil Sands Education Program where he learned about the Alberta oilsands.
"It was a great opportunity to see the other side of the oil industry as opposed to the offshore industry in Newfoundland," Ford said.
Ford applied to the program because it seemed a perfect fit for his "earth systems" course.
He also has an interest in the field, having worked as a geologist for 15 years.
He came home from the program with a briefcase full of resources, including maps, DVDs, and literature, to apply to his earth systems course and other science and technology classes he teaches.
Ford took over 2,000 photos to document all that he learned throughout the week.
The group of 40 teachers from across the country spent over half of their time in Fort McMurray, Alta. learning about oilsands production and technology.
The remainder of the "field trip," as Ford calls it, was spent learning about engineering and research at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.
The teachers, including others from Newfoundland and Labrador, heard from a wide range of people who work in the field — engineers, biologists and environmentalists.
A big focus of the program, Ford said, was explaining efforts to identify and reduce environmental impact of oil development.
"(Everyone) seems genuinely concerned," he said.
Ford said the concern for the environment was apparent when the group flew over the oilsands.
"No doubt there's a huge environmental impact," Ford said. "There's no denying when you fly over, there's a huge scar over the Fort McMurray area."
The sheer size of the oilsands shocked Ford.
Perhaps the biggest eye-opener was the amount of job opportunities for young people from this province.
For students with a science focus, Ford will enlighten them about opportunities in oil physics and research work that they can pursue after graduation.
The oilsands education program was offered by Inside Education, a charitable education society providing teachers and students with experiences related to natural resources.
The program comes with an all-expenses-paid trip funded by oil companies with a presence in Alberta.
This was the first year since 1985 it has accepted teachers from outside Alberta.
The oilsands program is not without critics however.
"It's always billed as being free, but what's being sold is a positive image of an industry that's controversial," Andrew Hodgkins, a University of Alberta researcher who has published on the issue of corporate involvement in education, told the Canadian Press in a recent article.
"They're selling an ideology," he said. "These tours are very technocratic — 'If there's a problem, we've got the technology to fix that problem.'
"What it precludes is critical questioning: Should we be mining? Where are the profits going?"
Inside Education director Steve McIsaac said the group is "providing background to these teachers so they can take a balanced look back to their communities," he said. "It's kind of a train-the-trainer kind of approach."
McIsaac is aware of the suspicion likely to accrue to industry-funded educational programs. Inside Education faces it head-on.
"The very first thing we do is we let our teachers know this is where the support came from," he said. "It's right up front.