Blog | October 20, 2011

Op-Ed printed in Edmonton Journal, by Dr. Paul CapponThe time-honoured aphorism "think globally, act locally" resonates for education and learning with a Canadian twist.Six years of research and comparisons by the Canadian Council on Learning (CCL) between this country and other developed economies have shown that "think nationally, act provincially and locally" will give us the best outcomes.What does this mean for Alberta? Of course, this is Canada's wealthiest province, one of the most vigorous, and an innovator in education. Moreover, Edmonton is usually near the top in CCL's annual Composite Learning Index, which measures learning conditions in communities across the country. Yet learners and educational institutions in even the largest and richest communities will succeed better within a national framework. This is the reason CCL has proposed a series of trans-Canadian ways of facilitating a national learning architecture.Over the next five years, at a national level, there are three key things that must be accomplished. First, the country needs to establish measurable goals for each stage of learning. For example: by what percentage must we increase the unacceptably low literacy levels of adult Canadians over the next five years? Or, by what percentage can we expand the habit of parents reading to their preschool age children?In the European Union, which consists of 27 member states, there is deliberate harmonization and integration of education across the continent. One means of achieving this is by the setting of shared goals. There are no penalties for underperformance, but the public announcing of such shared objectives throughout member countries acts as a powerful inducement for each member to attain the agreed targets.Public reporting of results for each member state and for each target is crucial to the success of the European method. Not only are outcomes made public for the EU as a whole; each country is also graded on the extent of its achievement of each shared goal. Setting national, measurable goals for the shortand-medium term would benefit all Canadian learners, including in Alberta. We could finally emerge from a directionless Canada, currently like a school that never issues report cards.The second factor that will help Alberta is a national information platform, a pan-Canadian database. In this country, learning opportunities are reduced by a lack of reliable and timely information. Students cannot make optimal decisions when they lack requisite information about quality, transferability of credits, employment prospects and remuneration for their field Canada-wide.In Canada, information is collected in different ways, using different definitions and diverse schedules in various parts of the country. It is therefore often not comparable from one province to another, and sometimes not even within a province. In such a vacuum, how can learners and skilled people be as mobile and effective as they would wish?Educational institutions and employers also lack the basic information that would allow them to be responsive, better serve their students and match their labour market needs to supply.When this country lacks even a reliable calculation of the number of graduates in a particular field in a given year, how can we claim to have a national post-secondary education system? The dearth of national information and pan-Canadian goals impacts all Canadians negatively, including in Alberta. When we train too few doctors and nurses, too few engineers or skilled tradespeople, Albertans feel the brunt as much as other Canadians.The third key to a trans-Canadian learning architecture is the intergovernmental mechanism required to support it. This can be accomplished in Canada without creating a federal ministry of education and without constitutional change. In our legacy report, CCL describes the federal provincial/territorial Council of Ministers for Learning that we need.This council would concern itself with all aspects of learning, from early childhood through retirement - and not just with the classroom. It would give us the co-operative collaborativeness and cohesion that, now absent, is pushing Canada down the international learning curve.Resources for the council, like its counterpart in the EU, would come from all participating governments, including the federal level.Working with the council would be two important partners. An independent organization, like the one now operational in Switzerland, would monitor and report regularly to the council and to Canadians on the achievement of national goals.Standing advisory committees comprising experts, social partners and civil society would advise the council on reasonable goals and expectations, determine priorities among competing learning issues and decide which benchmarks should be chosen to evaluate progress. There should be advisory groups for each stage of learning.Advisory groups would regularly convene broader participation, organizing opportunities for other partners to be involved. A culture of learning can be created. Learning is no government's "jurisdiction;" it is everyone's responsibility.Is such a model in Alberta's interest? Why should any province surrender the slightest crumb of hardwon educational sovereignty to a national process? Europe is far away and its currencies are not doing well. Why should we pay attention to their way of doing things?The alternatives are only two: we can collaborate fully across provincial borders and with the federal government, and create a learning society, learning communities. Or we can cling to our fiefdoms and local power, sacrificing thereby the future opportunities, prospects and prosperity of Albertans and Canadians.Paul Cappon is the president of the Canadian Council on Learning. He will give a free public talk Oct. 20, 2011, at 7p.m. in the Education Building South (87th Avenue and 113th Street ), Room 129, at the University of Alberta.

This op-ed was published in the Edmonton Journal on October 20, 2011. Read the full piece on the Edmonton Journal website.