Report calls for drastic changes to Canadian education system

TORONTO (CUP) – Canada’s entire education system is need of restructuring, according to a new report.

Released Oct. 11 by the Canadian Council on Learning, the report says that without a national regulatory committee, Canada’s education system will decline, leading to a loss of economic productivity and innovation.

“They talk about the dysfunctionality of post-secondary education,” said Glen Jones, a professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. “There are some criticisms and some of them are valid, but I think it’s going too far to say that it’s dysfunctional.”

The report is likely to be the final paper released by the CCL, which is set to close in spring 2012 after federal funding for the national learning organization was withdrawn by the Harper government last year.

“Some of the comments are made with greater vitriol than have been made in the past,” said Jones. “But that doesn’t mean that they don’t say some important things.”

While acknowledging high participation rates in post-secondary education and praising Canada’s teaching staff and generally well-educated population, the report “What is the Future of Learning in Canada?” criticizes the lack of a federal body that sets national goals in terms in education. Currently, individual provincial and territorial governments handle education issues.
“The principal cause of the unacceptable and deeply troubling state of affairs is that our governments have failed to work together to develop the necessary policies and failed to exhibit the required collective political leadership,” stated the report.

Another criticism revolves around research and development becoming a priority of universities, which then often move away from delivering a comprehensive education in favour of aiming to gain research funding from the federal government.

“We have a higher education system where there are very strong incentives for faculty to attempt to become great researchers, but there are not as many incentives for individual faculty, or the university as a whole, to focus on the quality of undergraduate teaching,” said Ryerson politics professor David Trick, who has co-authored the book Academic Reform.

“It’s almost as though high-quality teaching has become sort of a token aspect of our universities, a token area that we need to reward rather than something that is as celebrated as research,” said Meaghan Coker, a University of Toronto public policy and governance master’s student. “That small example is one of many that indicates the imbalance between research and teaching.”

While some universities in provinces like British Columbia and Alberta operate under different models, some of which put an emphasis on teaching, provinces such as Ontario have switched entirely to a university model that concentrates on advancing research.

“We’ve often talked about finding balance between the two,” said Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance president Sean Madden. “Several of our policies are on quality of education, specifically advocating for quality of teaching, transparent teaching and teaching development to become a larger part in a professor’s professional career progression.”

According to Jones, however, the major problem with Canada’s education system is a lack of available relevant data, which is needed before changes in policy can be achieved.

“We are behind many of our peers, and by that I mean many other Western developed countries that have much better data about how their educational system is going,” said Jones, who added that the amount of data the government has regarding its education system is not enough to develop effective policy analysis at the provincial and territorial level.

“We need to know more about post-secondary education,” said Jones. “But it’s difficult to deal with because there [are] very few political advantages in investing in data.”

While the report calls for the formation of a national body to reform the country’s system, Jones states that apart from a need for the federals to collect more information about the national educational infrastructure, such a reform might not be necessary.

“Many of the problems involve issues that can be done at the provincial level or territorial level, so I agree with the problems — I guess I disagree with their solutions,” Jones said. “But I think people have to take a step back and realize that in order to get policies that work, you really do need to make that investment in data and the public infrastructure that collects this information and allows for that analysis, and then you can have an informed public policy debate.”