In Ottawa on March 30, 2010, the Canadian Council on Learning (CCL) presented a stock taking to
parliamentarians from all political parties.
Why a stock taking? As in any field of human endeavour, serious intent to improve in learning demands rigorous, regular and honest assessment of advances made and not made over a defined period of time. That is why schools employ report cards.
During its first iteration, corresponding to the federal funding that supported CCL from its inception in 2004 until March, 2010, CCL performed a unique function. As Canada’s only national organization reporting to residents in every corner of the land on progress in all phases of learning across the lifecycle (from early childhood through K-12 education, post-secondary education, workplace training and adult literacy and learning) CCL served as a catalyst towards a national discussion on the social and economic importance of learning. Taking Stock of Canada’s Progress in Lifelong Learning: Progress or Complaceny? builds on our report to parliamentarians. It brings to Canadians in richer detail and context the information and analysis that we shared with the parliamentary bodies which allocated the funding to CCL that the Government of Canada terminated in March. It is universally acknowledged that learning, as defined broadly to encompass much more than school based education, is a main driver of many attributes that societies value: individual opportunity and development, productivity, innovation, prosperity, and social cohesion. That was the reasoning behind the articulation in 2006 by the Government of Canada of a “Knowledge Advantage” that would provide a “leg up” in a fiercely competitive global environment.
But have we made the progress anticipated by government in building a “knowledge advantage?” Are there domains in which we are surpassing other member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)? Where are we falling behind?
CCL emphasizes that past results do not guarantee future success. The fundamental issue is whether Canada is establishing conditions for future international competitiveness in knowledge and learning. Is Canada making the progress in lifelong learning that will differentiate societies that flourish from those that flounder; or have we—at our peril—become complacent?
It appears common in Canadian discourse on issues of education and learning to begin with an assertion to the effect that Canada is doing well; followed by the usual admission that improvement is, of course, desirable and necessary. This report does not dabble in polite niceties because such misleading pleasantries merely mask the current reality that is CCL’s task to set before Canadians. When we stood before parliamentarians in March, 2010, to elucidate our findings, conclusions, and
recommendations, our goal was to provide decision-makers with the information and analysis they need to develop effective approaches to learning. These approaches are the only means of keeping Canada competitive in the global, knowledge-based economy. We gave them some good news, but we were also frank about the bad news. This included the fact that Canada, unlike many OECD countries, possesses no coherent, cohesive or coordinated national approach to education and lifelong learning. Yet, our international competitors either already have one, or they are working diligently to create one.
That means that as we stand still, we are losing ground. We insisted bluntly that Canada put its house in order. We described the consequences of failing to recognize the urgency to act, as well as some attractive alternatives leading to improvement in learning outcomes, that are open to this country.
This Taking Stock report is intended to provide more than a summation of CCL’s research and analysis. It offers an opportunity to translate the rhetoric of lifelong learning into action that can make a difference.
There still remains time for Canada to establish the conditions required for success in the future. Will we
seize that opportunity?