President and CEO
Full Report (PDF, 1.9 MB)
During a recent tour across Canada, I had the privilege of sharing the findings and recommendations from CCL’s final report ‘What is the Future of Learning in Canada’ with many Canadians – from Halifax to Victoria.
I met with many different types of groups and audiences – some very large, others deliberately kept by their conveners small and informal.
This brief report is to recount some of what we heard in response, and to explore implications for the conclusions and recommendations that CCL has made to the country as it closes its door on March 31, 2012.
By far the most gratifying and deeply encouraging feature of what we heard: CCL leaves behind a substantial legacy.
Repeatedly noted during the tour by participants:
A few examples, arbitrarily chosen:
These are but a few examples drawn from information provided by participants at legacy events. There are many others that demonstrate the ongoing influence of the work of the many thousands of Canadians who have engaged with CCL since 2004.
Among many important questions put to me during the legacy tour, two related questions in particular stand out as especially pertinent and challenging:
(Paraphrased) “In the health sector, we have made only very modest progress towards pan-Canadian convergence leading to improvement of quality and national strategic planning, especially for health human resources.
The health sector has two advantages that Education appears to lack: a high profile under the gaze of an anxious public; and federal funding that may be made conditional upon a level of intergovernmental co-operation. There is, therefore, some incentive for at least minimal cohesion in the health sector…. What similar incentives exist for collaboration and consequent progress in the learning sector, given your correct analysis of the situation and the problem?”
“You refuse to declare a crisis in Canadian education. Acknowledging that Canada is slipping down the international learning curve, as CCL maintains; acknowledging that the intergovernmental mechanisms proposed by CCL in its legacy report are required; understanding the urgency facing fragmented and dysfunctional Canadian learning structures… How then do we get where we need to be?”
The answer I have been giving responds to these two related queries:
There is indeed urgency for change—and a high risk of societal failure if we do not adapt and change, given that learning so powerfully determines individual and collective futures.
It is true that CCL has not followed the British and American examples of the 1990s, declaring an educational “crisis” in order to promote change.
As we have consistently pointed out, learning in Canada possesses strengths that accompany (but do not balance) the troubling trends. As an evidence-inspired organization, we therefore could not deny these strengths in order to prepare a Blair/Bush crisis atmosphere, even while acknowledging that failure to create such a climate might support an unjustifiable Canadian complacency. Learning is a complex and complicated domain, for which panaceas do not exist. CCL’s recommendations to Canadians constitute ways by which, in the presence of these complexities, we can prepare optimal conditions for success in the future.
It is also true that the learning and education sector lacks the incentives that are present in health care. Although they regard education as an important issue, Canadians seem relatively content with their children’s schools. Their chief preoccupation with tertiary education is access and cost. There is less concern about long-term quality and productivity.
Proximity to the United States is an additional factor, tending to render Canadians complacent. Since American average outcomes tend in many facets of social policy, including education, to be mediocre, Canadians who are focussed on U.S. results, may become unjustifiably satisfied with our circumstances. It has proven difficult to encourage them to look well beyond North America, where far more challenging educational forces arise.
With respect to incentives: the federal government—of all political stripes—has traditionally been too timid to utilize its spending power in the learning sphere, as it has done (to a very limited extent) in health care. This is unlikely to change soon.
All this means is that the main incentive for acting on CCL’s recommendations to Canadians must be found in public consciousness of the significance and urgency of the issue; and on Canadian ability to mobilize in favour of the kinds of actions, as outlined by CCL, that will be necessary.
Such actions will not come primarily from “top-down”—from the political level. There is far too much federal timidity and local parochialism for this to occur. They must emerge primarily from civil society and from social partners—those very forces that created CCL in the first place.
In its legacy report, the centrepiece of CCL’s recommendations for voluntary, co-operative and integrated intergovernmental action on learning has been the establishment of a federal/provincial/territorial Council of Ministers on Learning.
While the function of such a Council should be precisely as described in our legacy report, what we heard during the tour could alter the title of this Council.
Terming this the Council of Ministers for Human Capital might have two advantages:
Taken together, CCL’s recommendations and the reflections from Canadians heard during the tour suggest that it is indeed time to take action and move forward.