President and CEO

What is the Future of Learning in Canada? report and speaking tour

CCL's final report reveals to Canadians that Canada is slipping down the international learning curve. Canada is falling behind competitor countries and economies. This troubling state of affairs is caused by the fact that provincial, territorial and federal governments have failed to work together to develop the necessary policies and failed to exhibit the required collective political leadership.

A new approach

The necessary approach is voluntary and co-operative, respectful of provincial and territorial responsibility, but involves the development of clear trans-Canadian policies and actions.

The starting point for the proposed directions is the establishment of a federal/provincial/territorial Council of Ministers on Learning. In addition, there must be: clear and measureable national goals for each stage of learning, as described in this report; permanent, independent monitors to compare Canadian learning results to our stated goals; standing advisory groups, including educators and civil society, to consult on requisite national objectives and the means to reach these goals.

A final perspective

Through CCL, Canadians were offered an opportunity to set in place a vision, a mission, and a model for continuous learning which could unite Canadians in a common purpose. It was a much-needed national initiative. Although CCL will close in spring 2012, that need continues.

Without a sustained trans-Canadian approach, many learners will not reach their objectives. The country requires a national learning framework in order for its regions, provinces and territories to succeed. Without a national framework, we will miss the east–west learning railroad that should connect Canadians of all regions, generations and languages.

The vision of CCL was to link Canadians in sharing learning experiences and promoting the enhancement of learning as a core value of a distinctive Canadian society. Hence the transformative image of a trans-Canadian learning architecture which would entrench and maintain our economic stability and social cohesion. CCL closes; the vision endures.

This final report summarizes the state of learning for each stage of the life cycle.

Early childhood learning

Our analysis of Early Childhood Education and Learning (ECEL) illustrates a paradox that runs through each phase of learning in this country: huge discrepancies between what Canadians purport to believe and the actual programs and practices to which they have access. The discrepancies are due to the dysfunctional relationships among governments and the consequent absence of national goals.

With respect to ECEL, Canadians are acutely aware of its crucial significance throughout the lifetime of their children; yet Canadian public expenditures for ECEL are among the lowest in developed countries.

Kindergarten to grade 12

Canada has shown many strengths and achievements in K–12 education. Particularly striking is the inclusive and egalitarian character of our systems in comparison with those of OECD counterparts.

As a result of these advantages, Canadian students have consistently performed above the OECD average in standardized international tests.

However, Canadian performance is now slipping in both absolute terms and in relation to other economies. In the absence of a trans-Canadian plan for K–12 education—including joint interprovincial learning goals based on international standards—Canadian results in K–12 international testing will continue to decline.

Post-secondary education

Canada possesses no national system of post-secondary education (PSE). “System” connotes cohesion, strategic and coordinated planning across regional jurisdictions, and a set of agreed purposes and objectives, with policies required to achieve these goals. All these criteria are absent from the Canadian context.

As a result, although the demand for PSE is strong, expenditures and participation rates are currently high, and Canada has fine educators at every level, Canada is falling behind other countries in PSE.

The discrepancy between Canada’s performance and that of competitor countries acts as a significant drag on our productivity, innovation and access to proven quality. It is doubtful that Canada can maintain high standards of living without revitalization of this sector.

The first step in revitalizing PSE is the establishment of a national permanent organization for analysis and goal-setting for PSE, as a key initiative in developing a broad trans-Canadian strategy on PSE. This organization would work in partnership with the federal/provincial/territorial Council of Ministers on Learning.

The threat to Canadian innovation and productivity as a consequence of incoherence in PSE is enormously exacerbated by our poor performance in adult and workplace learning. Among other grave defects, we observe that the offer and take-up of opportunities to enhance skills is lower in Canada than in other developed countries. As well, rates of adult literacy compatible with productivity and active participation in a knowledge society are poor, and the numbers of Canadians below the requisite standard will rise over the coming 20 years.

Adult and workplace learning

Canada has lost a decade through inaction on adult learning since, in 2002, at Canada’s request, the OECD submitted its Thematic Review on Adult Learning for Canada.

The criticisms levelled then by the OECD are equally valid a decade later. OECD pointed out that Canadian adults were foregoing learning opportunities because of lack of cohesion and planning between federal and provincial governments and between the public and the private sector.

That Canada has not acted on any of the OECD’s still pertinent and valid recommendations is unsurprising: there is no locus of policy and implementation in Canada mandated and empowered to do so.

Aboriginal learning

Aboriginal people in Canada have long understood the role that learning plays in building healthy, thriving communities. Despite significant cultural and historical differences, Canada’s First Nations, Inuit and Métis people share a vision of learning as a holistic, lifelong process.

In partnership with Aboriginal organizations, CCL developed a new comprehensive framework which incorporates elements common to learning models preferred in First nations, Métis, and Inuit societies, while ensuring consistency with indicators used elsewhere by CCL to evaluate educational progress.

CCL’s methodology prioritized the transparent quantitative assessment of results, whilst recognizing and supporting measurement in Aboriginal contexts of a broader or different array of learning indicators. We have believed that this approach optimizes accountability and transparency while acknowledging the unique characteristics of Aboriginal learning.

The last word

Canada is slipping down the international learning curve.

Yet it is not too late, and it is possible even in the absence of CCL, to take the necessary actions, despite our radically decentralized education sector. Canadians have indicated through CCL surveys of attitudes toward learning that they believe learning to be the single most-influential factor promoting individual and collective success.

As CCL closes its doors, we urge Canadians to take up the challenge.

CCL Speaking Tour

A tour in the Eastern provinces will be announced in the next few months.


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