When an organization dedicated to fluffing the pillows of the country’s most pampered calls for a trans-Canada strategy for improving public education and skills training for the comparably disadvantaged, then, gentle reader, you know the worm has turned.
The barbarian one-percenters have crashed the gates that keep the remaining 99 per cent effectively penned and let slipped the dogs of democracy.
The Canadian Council of Chief Executives is not normally prone to outbreaks of egalitarianism, but it is doing a fair job of public scolding on behalf of the working stiff these days, as its president and CEO John Manley (he of former federal, Liberal government fame) ably demonstrated in a statement earlier this week.
“As Canada’s economy evolves and grows, employers face an increasing need for highly skilled and qualified workers,” he wrote. “What is required is a broad national effort to strengthen our country’s education and training systems. Canada’s business leaders encourage the federal, provincial and territorial governments to find creative solutions to the labour market challenges that confront employers, employees, students and future generations.”
Indeed, in places, Mr. Manley sounded almost quaintly optimistic: “We urge all levels of government to work together to expand and align our country’s labour-market information systems in ways that will help more people find rewarding and fulfilling careers. Equally important is the need to harmonize apprenticeship programs, a key step in building a more balanced, highly qualified Canadian workforce.
“To ensure a high quality of life for all citizens, it’s time for a new approach and an honest conversation about what’s working and what isn’t working in Canadian education and skills training.”
He’s not wrong, of course. But neither is he original. For such a putatively great country, Canada’s various education systems and skills development programs (which are, incidentally, almost accidentally coincidental) are a national disgrace. Everybody knows it; nobody does anything about it.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has even made a institutional project of clucking its tongue over this country’s incomprehensible approach to education. “In 2010, only one per cent of three year-olds and 48 per cent of four year-olds were enrolled in early childhood education programmes (OECD average in 2011: 67 per cent and 82 per cent, respectively),” it recently reported.
That’s only one finding of many that leads to the inescapable conclusion that almost everybody else in the developed world does a better job educating its young people. Certainly, Sweden does.
“The system of pre-school education is outstanding: (a) in its fidelity to societal values and in its attendant commitment to and respect for children; (b) in its systemic approach while respecting programmatic integrity and diversity; and (c) in its respect for teachers, parents, and the public,” the OECD declares in one of its frequent country reports.
Then, there’s Finland, about which the OECD observes: “The early childhood education workforce has several strengths, such as a high qualification level of staff with teaching responsibilities, advanced professional development opportunities and favourable working environments.
“Staff with teaching responsibilities are well educated and trained with high initial qualification requirements. There is broad provision of initial education, with full-time and parttime programmes provided publicly and privately. Professional development is mandatory for all staff; and training costs are shared between individual staff members, the government and employers. Working conditions in terms of staff-child ratio are among the best of OECD countries.”
Note the emphasis on “early childhood education” as opposed to primary, secondary or post-secondary schooling. That’s because almost everywhere in the OECD, except Canada, a national strategy exists to inform public policy on pre-school. Take care of that, in a structured and play-based fashion, and all the research says the rest takes care of itself.
Some programs are are better than others, of course, but few countries limp along utterly devoid of a plan, let alone a system, for their children.
Mr. Manley and his privileged ilk are right to sound the alarm.
But if they want real results, they ought to marshall whatever influence they possess and entreat this country’s political class to establish a trans-Canada network of early childhood education centers that integrate seamlessly into existing public school systems.
That’s how you begin to build a truly skilled, job-ready workforce.