Reports & Data
State of Learning in Canada
Learning, with its limitless dimensions, lies at the very core of all human potential. It fosters our ability to create, think and solve problems and allows us to envision the kind of lives we want for ourselves and our children.
Beginning in early childhood and continuing throughout the adult years, learning occurs in all aspects of human endeavour—in the home, at the workplace and in the community.
State of Learning in Canada: Toward a Learning Future, released July 2008, provides an overview of how well Canadians are equipped to meet the demands of our collective future.
Research clearly demonstrates that learning and training are more critical than ever. Shifting workforce demographics, rapid advancements in technology and increased global competitive pressures are transforming not only our society, but our understanding of the nature and purpose of learning.
In an increasingly globalized world, advances in the production of new knowledge occur at an unprecedented rate. While most Canadians receive a solid foundation of formal education, many lack sufficient competencies to succeed in an increasingly complex and uncertain future. Employers seek employees with a more sophisticated array of capabilities, beyond the basic job requirements. These skills include: decision-making, teamwork, problem solving, entrepreneurship, leadership, information and communication technology skills, the ability to communicate effectively and a desire to learn.
Though Canada leads OECD member countries with the highest proportion of adults aged 25 to 64 with university, college or trades attainment, one-quarter of Canadian adults have only a high-school education (or less). Nine million adult Canadians aged 16 to 65 lack the kind of literacy skills considered essential in today’s economy and society, and recent projections suggest that over the next decade the situation will not improve. With the prospect of workforce and skills shortages caused by the pending retirement of the Baby Boom generation, combined with continuing low fertility levels and fewer youth entering the labour market, learning across the life course is now more critical than ever.
As the State of Learning report emphasizes, we can no longer afford to view the purpose of education and learning primarily as the preparation of young people for the labour market. Nor can we compartmentalize learning in each stage of life without recognizing critical intersections that connect the ages and stages. Learning is not a commodity with a fixed end-point, but rather a continuous, individualized process.
Learning trajectories across the life course are as complex, unpredictable and nonlinear as individuals’ lives. Success or failure at any given stage can have repercussions over the long term.
The Canadian Council on Learning recognizes the need to build a learning society in which individuals can develop their potential and contribute more fully to their communities. This report takes a life-course approach by following, or mapping, the diverse connections and learning trajectories that can occur within and between each stage of life’s learning journey.
Divided into four chapters, each one provides an overview of the state of learning for Canadians at key stages in the life cycle. The chapters are preceded by a section dedicated to explaining the updates made to the indicators used in the 2007 State of Learning report.
CCL’s inaugural State of Learning report released in January 2007, brought Canada’s learning landscape into focus by taking a life-course approach to measuring the learning progress of Canadians.
Using a series of detailed indicators, State of Learning in Canada: No Time for Complacency examined many of the factors that contribute to successful lifelong learning within five key learning domains: early childhood learning, learning in school, post-secondary education, adult learning, and Aboriginal learning.
As a follow-up, the 2008 What We’ve Learned section offers an update of the indicators provides further insight into Canada’s progress in learning through newly released or recently analyzed data. Timely and relevant information allows us to continue monitoring Canada’s progress in learning, and advances our efforts to establish clear learning objectives and identify possible areas for societal action.
Learning in the first five years of life has critical implications for well-being and later success in school, work and in the community—more so than learning in any other stage of life.
It is a time when young learners develop attitudes about the value and purpose of learning, setting the stage for lifelong learning in all aspects of their lives. Not surprisingly, investments in early childhood learning produce the highest social and economic returns. Despite the well-known importance of early learning, research indicates that 25% of Canadian children entering school lack the foundation needed for successful acquisition of literacy and numeracy skills. Research also suggests that one child in four enters Grade 1 in Canada with learning or behavioural difficulties that could affect future success in school.
This lack of school readiness can set in motion a lifelong chain reaction, in which the children who are at greater risk of social and academic difficulties are also more likely to drop out of high school, to have more difficulty finding employment, to earn less and to be in worse health. This trajectory represents an enormous loss of human potential.
Although family and parental characteristics play key roles in shaping children’s abilities and their attitudes toward learning, all learning environments experienced in the early years—whether in the home or in the community—can profoundly affect learning abilities over the longer term. Research shows that a stimulating and nurturing environment will result in better physical, social, emotional, cognitive and language development.
Most Canadian families depend on some type of formal or informal child-care arrangement. In 2004–2005, 51% of children under six were in non-parental child care. However, there were fewer children in non-parental care in 2004–2005 than in 2002–2003 (51% versus 54%). The quality of child care can influence children’s physical/motor, social/emotional and language/cognitive development, all of which set the stage for learning in the school years. Higher quality child care, regardless of
type, has been associated with children scoring higher on language and achievement tests, having better social skills, and displaying fewer behavioural problems. Yet all too often, the importance of child care as a vital precursor to formal learning is undervalued or unrecognized.
Regardless of the type of child care, parents and home form the centre of children’s lives. Numerous studies suggest that family and parental characteristics are strong predictors of learning success. The combination of strong, supportive family relationships, a high level of parental involvement and high-quality child care can compensate for adverse risks associated with low income, lack of family resources and low parental education. A cohesive, supportive, well-resourced neighbourhood can also act as a protective factor.
Situated between early childhood and adulthood—dependence and independence—the elementary and secondary school years are a critical stage of life.
Learning during early childhood sets the stage for success in the school years, which in turn affects learning in the years when young adults make the transition to PSE and the workplace. The cumulative effect will determine the extent to which these young individuals will become full-fledged, adult citizens capable of contributing to the well-being of their families, communities and society.
How young learners perform in mathematics, problem solving, reading comprehension and other competencies is a strong predictor of later performance. Students who perform well in these areas are also more likely to participate in PSE and in the knowledge economy. As in the earliest years, the family and the home environment play an important role in successful learning. Children of parents who read, who have positive attitudes toward education, who pursue new skills and knowledge throughout life, and who are engaged in their communities are more likely to perform better in school, pursue further education and be active community members.
Children and youth who start without the foundation of a strong home environment and formal education are more likely to experience difficulty in accessing PSE or the labour market, and may be less prepared to participate and succeed in learning opportunities later in life. Students with limited skills to be effective lifelong learners risk economic and social marginalization. Rapid technological change, global competitive pressures and new patterns of work are demanding a more sophisticated set of transferable skills, such as problem solving, communications, decision-making, teamwork, leadership, entrepreneurship and adaptability. The development of these skills requires embracing a view of learning that goes beyond the provision of formal education.
Research suggests that informal learning makes an important contribution to later success. The home environment, the workplace and community organizations (including religious and cultural institutions) are key sites for fostering new competencies and reinforcing the strong foundation acquired through formal education. Preparing children and youth for adult life requires an effective learning strategy that will target informal learning in these sites, in tandem with formal learning in school.
Between 18 and 27 years of age, young adults gain greater independence from family and make the first major decisions of their adult lives, including decisions about further education, participation in the labour market, and personal lifestyle choices.
Those experiences and choices are built on a foundation of learning that will shape the direction of their adult lives. Research shows that young adults participate in postsecondary learning because of a number of factors, including experience and success in compulsory education, parental economic status, knowledge of PSE, literacy skills, gender, ethnicity, employment experience and community involvement. The transition from school to work has become longer and more complex, as PSE options, career choices and skill requirements expand. Although Canada recognizes the importance of smooth transitions, we lack an overall school-to-work strategy that identifies the range of learning options and that links PSE effectively to the workplace.
The economic and social benefits of pursuing further education have been widely documented. A skilled workforce is linked to higher productivity, innovation, economic growth, as well as to stronger communities with higher civic engagement and social cohesion. Individual benefits include better wages and job satisfaction, fewer periods of unemployment and improved health and quality of life.
Between 18 and 27 years of age, young adults gain greater independence from family and make the first major decisions of their adult lives, including decisions about further education, participation in the labour market, and personal lifestyle choices. Those experiences and choices are built on a foundation of learning that will shape the direction of their adult lives.
Research shows that young adults participate in postsecondary learning because of a number of factors, including experience and success in compulsory education, parental economic status, knowledge of PSE, literacy skills, gender, ethnicity, employment experience and community involvement. The transition from school to work has become longer and more complex, as PSE options, career choices and skill requirements expand. Although Canada recognizes the importance of smooth transitions, we lack an overall school-to-work strategy that identifies the range of learning options and that links PSE effectively to the workplace.
As this report demonstrates, the value and contribution of learning is evident in all stages of life—and learning in the adult years is no exception.
Ongoing learning can influence income, job satisfaction, political participation, and health and well-being. It also enhances Canada’s economic productivity and competitiveness. Research on each life stage shows that learning begets further learning. Beyond the crucial economic and personal rewards are important social contributions. Adults are influential role models—as learners and as active citizens—for their children, co-workers, and their communities. Thus, adult learning contributes to social capital and social cohesion.
The sites and modes of learning in the adult years are diverse and complex. Research shows that although formal learning is vital, informal learning—in the workplace, at home and in the community—is also important and can improve technical skills, impart specific knowledge and develop the softer skills increasingly demanded by today’s workplace. Yet informal learning and the significance of its contribution are largely unrecognized by governments and employers.
Similarly, recognition of adults’ prior learning and experience needs to be broadened. In Canada, however, as in many other countries worldwide, formal prior learning assessment and recognition (PLAR) policies and supports are much more widespread at the community college level than at the university or secondary level. The implementation of PLAR and its uptake by learners appears to be concentrated in certain disciplinary areas, notably health sciences (dietetics, nursing, pharmacy, optometry), human services (early childhood education, social work), and business education.