Canada has an “enormous vacuum” at the centre of its national education leadership and needs to set national goals for the system, Dr. Paul Cappon declared on October 10, 2011, while releasing his Final Report on behalf of the Canadian Council on Learning (CCL). That was also the key recommendation in the report entitled What is the Future of Learning in Canada? and delivered as parting advice before the CCL wraps up its operations when federal funding disappears at the end of March 2012. http://www.ccl-cca.ca/CCL/Home/index.html
“One of our problems in Canada, of course, is that we have very little information nationally about how we’re doing,” said Cappon, Canada’s leading authority on international educational standards. “For example, we don’t even know how many graduates we have in any particular year in any particular area, whether it’s fisheries or forestry or carpentry, so we can’t match labour market demand to labour market supply. Those kinds of national reporting systems of data are very important for a country to be able to decide where to put its resources and to be able to move forward.” http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/canada/breakingnews/create-new-body-to-ensure-canada-meets-learning-goals-report-urges-131495398.html
Cappon makes a compelling case that Canada needs a new federal, intergovernmental agency to oversee the Canadian educational system. He told the Canadian Press that the current Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, of which he was CEO for eight years, is ineffective as a co-ordinating body because everything is done on a consensus basis and it refuses to co-operate with the federal government on education matters.
The final report of CCL recommends that there be something else as well, namely a national Council of Ministers on Learning. The federal-provincial body could provide national leadership in learning, similar to what is done by a ministerial council in Australia, or the Directorate-General for Education and Culture of the European Union. Cappon said a Canadian version would see the provinces, territories and federal government work together to set and meet goals, and report transparently to the Canadian public. In the European model, he said member states have an open method of co-ordination to try to converge their policies and priorities in education, even though they’re all sovereign in education, like Canadian provinces.
What stands in the way of establishing a stronger national presence? “Territoriality” was the word Cappon used to describe the greatest inhibiting factor. It would, he told Canadian Press, take “tremendous public pressure to move in this direction,” although he saw some political will for such a model among small provinces and French language minorities.
Cappon and the Canadian Council on Learning also announced a final cross-Canada speaking tour to promote the report’s recommendations. “What I’m hoping,” he said in Ottawa, “is that when people realize that Canada is slipping down the international learning curve we’re not going to be able to compete in the future unless we get our act together.”
The final CCL National Report Card makes reference to the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Scores reveal that Canadian 15-year-olds have relatively strong sets of skills in reading, math and science, but they’ve been slipping relative to other countries and in some cases in absolute terms.
The bright spots for Canadian education, recognized in the CCL report, are in early elementary education, where preschoolers enjoy free play, and are introduced early to reading. The Canadian K-12 system is also still recognized as among the most inclusive and democratic in the world.At the post-secondary level, Canadians can rest assured that there is high participation, a high rate of graduation and a high proportion of immigrants are being university educated.
Having recognized the Canadian system’s strengths, the CCL report doesn’t mince any words when it comes to identifying problem areas. A number of other troubling trends are highlighted in the council’s report, which noted that about one-quarter of kids enter school without being ready, either because of behavioural or learning problems. In addition, Cappon told Canadian Press that boys are now lagging in education and slipping markedly compared with girls from kindergarten to Grade 12. He also re-stated his long-standing concerns about adult illiteracy, as well as the paltry state of private sector funding for post-secondary level research in Canada.
The impending closing of the Canadian Council on Learning will be a sad day for all who believe in raising educational standards and ensuring that the current generation is properly prepared for future success. Dr. Cappon’s final Report Card does offer a rather gloomy prognosis. And, reading between the lines, The Globe and Mail’s Education Reporter Kate Hammer shares my concerns over the CCL’s demise.
It’s time to step back and look at the big picture: What is the actual state of learning in Canada? How accurate is Dr. Cappon’s final report in diagnosing the situation, particularly in K-12 education? If the CCL is correct, what hard lessons lie ahead for Canada and Canadians?