The best way to address Canada’s growing need for an educated and skilled labour force and ensure a sustained economic recovery is to expand education opportunities and improve learning outcomes in early childhood learning and development, elementary and secondary education, postsecondary education, adult learning and skills development. This, according to provincial and territorial ministers of education who have just concluded the 101st meeting of the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada  (CMEC), in Iqaluit, Nunavut.
Ministers confirmed that Canada is in a strong position to meet the challenges stemming from long-term trends such as the aging population, the intensification of the knowledge economy, and the acceleration of technological change, but also underscored that education systems must be sustainable, more innovative, and that more needs to be done to reach those Canadians who have so far benefited least from the learning opportunities provided by provincial and territorial systems of education and training.
“Tough economic times, a more demanding workplace, and the need for Canada to keep pace in a more competitive global environment are prompting greater public interest in how well our education systems are preparing Canadians for the future,” said the Honourable Marilyn More, Minister Responsible for the Advisory Council on the Status of Women for Nova Scotia, who was speaking on behalf of the Honourable Ramona Jennex, Chair of CMEC and Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development for Nova Scotia. “It is not enough to know we have traditionally done well by international standards.” said Minister More. “We need to ensure that our provincial and territorial education systems are leading the way to where we want to be five, 10, even 20 years from now.”
Taking action to promote reconciliation and understanding
At the meeting, ministers resolved to address the painful legacy of residential schools by ensuring that curriculum in all provincial and territorial school systems will allow students to gain an understanding of how residential schools affected Aboriginal children, families, and communities and, ultimately, the country as a whole. Ministers focused on how education can promote reconciliation and mutual understanding, and in that spirit took note of the new school curriculum on the history of residential schools in Canada announced jointly by Northwest Territories and Nunavut in 2012, as well as similar developments in other jurisdictions. “It is no longer acceptable for Canadians to complete their formal education unaware of this dark chapter in our country’s history,” said the Honourable Eva Aariak, Premier and Minister of Education for Nunavut. “Learning about the history of residential schools can contribute to the collective healing process and strengthen the fabric of communities across the country.”
Ministers agreed that the council will continue to focus its attention on the need to improve Aboriginal student success and asked the Honourable Jackson Lafferty, Minister of Education, Culture and Employment, Northwest Territories, to help lead CMEC’s work in this area. Ministers also emphasized the importance of greater collaboration in this area among all partners, including the federal government, and reiterated the need for the federal government to fulfill its own responsibilities in funding and supporting Aboriginal education.
In discussing Aboriginal education, ministers also noted how early learning opportunities for all children are integral to improving education outcomes. “We have a diverse student population,” said Saskatchewan Education Minister Russ Marchuk. “Ensuring that our approach to the early years is inclusive by utilizing a holistic approach rooted in First Nation, Metis, and Inuit perspectives is key to achieving student success.”
Improving education outcomes
Ministers of education shared a common vision for high-quality, sustainable, integrated learning systems from the early years to adult education and skills, and discussed how best to achieve it in terms of both student outcomes and student well-being.
They agreed that numeracy was a key priority and that provinces and territories would work together to identify and share best practices on innovative teaching and learning strategies to raise student achievement in this area. “One advantage of our approach to education is that each jurisdiction can learn from the experiences of the others,” said Mr. Sylvain Pagé, Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Education, Leisure and Sport of Quebec. “CMEC’s meetings are important for ensuring that every part of the country benefits from the advances that each province and territory is making in education.”
Ministers then took note of particular challenges faced by children and youth in the care of social services and agreed to work to enhance learning opportunities and education outcomes for these children, with a particular focus on Aboriginal children, who represent a significant proportion of this group.
Ministers also considered the ways in which new communication technologies and the principles underlying open educational resources can be used to enhance teaching and learning and make education more accessible to an even greater number of learners.
Finally, ministers recommitted to work through CMEC to ensure that both governments and citizens have the information they need to evaluate the performance of their education and skills-training systems and make informed choices.
Early childhood learning and development
Ministers discussed work on a common pan-Canadian early-learning-and-development framework. The framework would provide guidance for the development of policies and programs that could have far-reaching benefits for children, parents, and families. This development is part of an ongoing discussion on the transformation of education taking place across provinces and territories aimed at providing children with the best possible start in life.
While in Iqaluit, ministers reviewed evidence pointing to the growing importance of a post-secondary degree, diploma, or certificate in the context of an ever more demanding labour market. “Workers with a post-secondary education were affected least by the economic downturn, and most of the new jobs created since the recession are ones that require a post-secondary education,” said the Honourable Brad Duguid, Ontario’s Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities. “Our message to Canadians is clear: the value of a post-secondary education in Canada is growing and will continue to grow in the years to come.”
Ministers acknowledged the necessity of transformational change in post-secondary systems to respond to fast changing economic and labour market needs, and to address the fiscal challenges faced by all governments. Specific areas for consideration included sustainability, differentiation, improved credit transfer within and among provinces and territories, the role of technology for engaged learning, and collaboration with industry on curriculum, program development and applied research.
Ministers discussed the need to move forward in partnership with post-secondary institutions with the identification of post-secondary indicators at a pan-Canadian level to measure student outcomes in a comparative way and to encourage collaboration between post-secondary institutions.
Ministers renewed their commitment to play a leadership role in international education through CMEC. They also approved plans for the Third High-Level Consultation on Education Collaboration between the Provinces and Territories of Canada and the People’s Republic of China, which will be held in Alberta in the coming months. “Opportunities to be immersed in a different culture add immensely to a student’s educational journey,” said the Honourable Jeff Johnson, Minister of Education for Alberta. “Whether it’s Canadians going abroad, or international students coming to Canada, these exchanges strengthen our personal ties and relationships with partners around the world and bolster our communities and economy.”
During their discussions on international education, ministers again asked the federal government to work within a framework based on a true partnership with CMEC to deepen collaboration among the education, trade, and immigration sectors, all of which have an important role to play in promoting Canada’s education systems abroad to ensure that Canada’s attractiveness as a destination for students and immigrants continues to grow.
First CMEC meeting in Nunavut
Ministers concluded by thanking Nunavut’s Premier and Minister of Education, the Honourable Eva Aariak, for hosting CMEC’s first-ever meeting in Canada’s newest territory. “I am pleased that my colleagues had an opportunity to visit Nunavut and to experience its people and culture,” said Premier Aariak. “Many of the education issues we face in the North, and in Inuit communities in particular, are unique, and yet I believe that all the members of the council benefit enormously from the time we spend together exchanging ideas and experiences. As ministers of education, it is only appropriate that we set an example for learners everywhere by learning from one another.”