Canada’s educational paradox

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Pontiac Perspectives by Peter Gauthier

The COVID pandemic has left a permanent mark on our educational system and we need to carefully review what is taught, to whom and what results are obtained.
As a start, a comparison with other nations is helpful in showing the strengths and weaknesses of our
educational system.

Pontiac Perspectives by Peter Gauthier

The COVID pandemic has left a permanent mark on our educational system and we need to carefully review what is taught, to whom and what results are obtained.
As a start, a comparison with other nations is helpful in showing the strengths and weaknesses of our
educational system.
We can begin by looking at some studies done by the OECD and other reputable organizations. The first
is the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment). This study tabulates educational scores of some 70 countries for students at age fifteen. Three areas of study are evaluated: language, science, and math. The evaluation was started in the year 2000 and is conducted every three years. Canada has
consistently placed high (in the top 10).
The second educational evaluation is the level of the working population that has tertiary education (beyond high school). Here Canada comes out on top; we are the most educated among the countries measured. This is especially significant when the tabulations are done by gender. The education level of Canada’s female population is significantly higher than most other countries.
The third evaluation involves literacy skills of the adult population. This includes more than basic reading, writing, and numeracy skills. Literacy in the modern world must also include communication,
critical thinking, document handling, computer (digital) use, and financial knowledge. Literacy skills are measured on a scale of 1 to 5. Level 1 is essentially very limited skills. Level 2 indicates some skill, approximately equal to grade school level. Level 3 is considered adequate for most of a person’s needs; roughly equivalent to high school competency. Level 4 indicates a more advanced skill level, usually associated with professional work. Level 5 indicated advanced specialized knowledge.
Canada does very poorly on adult literacy skills. A skill level of 3 is the minimum acceptable level in our
rapid changing, information driven, digital society. Yet, despite all of Canada’s educational attainments, 48% of its adults have a literary skill level below 3.
This paradox between certified educational levels and actual literacy abilities is more than an interesting philosophical discussion. Literacy skills are essential to all other skills and skill enhancements. But, in our changing digital world where AI applications will redefine much of what’s required of human capital, strong literacy skills are essential. We live in a world of fake news, false conspiracy theories, devious sales claims, and difficult social choices. Low literacy rates will only enlarge the problems of our information age, making us less capable of addressing the real issues of our society.
How does this situation come about? Part of the issue may lie with our education system.  With large class sizes, too much emphasis is placed on passing exams, rather than individual understanding. However, an even more significant factor may be our cultural milieu. Literacy skills need to be used as an essential component of our society, and here we fail. It’s easier to play computer games and watch Netflix than to engage in thoughtful literary activities. In short, we must, as individuals and as community, engage in life-long learning. As our education system is reviewed, let us remember that education is for life and is continuous throughout that life.