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Margin Notes

Council calls for a ‘coherent approach’ to lifelong learning

The Canadian Council of Learning delivers some hard truths in a new report – likely one of its last.


It was a bit of a last hurrah as Paul Cappon and his staff at the Canadian Council on Learning presented a report on lifelong learning to a group of MPs and senators yesterday in Ottawa. The council was told in early January that the federal government would be ending its support of the agency as of today, March 31.

The CCL has always had a complicated existence since it was created in 2004 by the former Liberal government. The current government never seemed to really embrace the organization and many provinces were wary of a national agency reporting on an area of provincial jurisdiction.

But the agency has provided much food for thought, including this current report, Taking Stock: Lifelong Learning in Canada 2005–2010. Dr. Cappon said of the report:

We will give [MPs and senators] some good news, but we will also be frank about the bad news, including the fact that while Canada has no coherent national approach to lifelong learning, our international competitors either do – or they are working seriously to create one. And that means that as we stand still, we are losing ground.

The report notes that Canada has much going for it in terms of learning, but equally much to be concerned about. The key point is that Canada needs a “coherent approach” to lifelong learning, what the council calls a “learning architecture.” Says Dr. Cappon: “It is not too late to get things right. But time presses. If we in Canada are not prompt and effective, better organised and determined international competitors will eat our lunch.”

Looking at the postsecondary education sector in particular, the report lists some hard truths. Among them:

  • Canada is unique in the developed world for having no national strategy for PSE, no acknowledged and accepted goals, no benchmarks, and no public reporting of results based on widely accepted indicators.
  • Canada is also unusual for having no national quality assurance system, no qualifications framework and no system of accreditation. This makes it difficult for both Canadian and international students to navigate the sector to their advantage.
  • Canada has the greatest deficiencies in acquisition and use of data on learning after high school of any OECD country. This renders the country incapable of matching labour-market demand to supply, providing adequate information on which students can base study and career decisions, establishing accountability for resources expended and determining how much and what progress is being made.

In terms of how to proceed, specifically in postsecondary education, the report gives these recommendations:

  • A national postsecondary strategy should possess three essential characteristics: clearly stated objectives, both general and for specific periods of time; measures to assess achievement of objectives; and a systematic goal of cohesion and coherence among all the facets – as is the case in the European Union (EU) and other developed countries.
  • Emulate the EU in converging all forms of education and training across jurisdictions, thereby promoting mobility and quality. This implies harmonization across jurisdictions – not standardization.
  • Create systems of accountability through agreement on national indicators for success in PSE, learning from EU, Australia and other political entities.
  • Create a pan-Canadian PSE data and information strategy which acts as the basis for indicator development and policy decisions.
  • Establish goals and measurable objectives for Canadian PSE for both the short and the long term.
  • Create and maintain a national forum on PSE, including both governments and NGOs, that would: establish national goals, indicators, and data and would agree on mechanisms to monitor and report annually to Canadians on progress with respect to agreed goals.
  • Construct a pan-Canadian framework for quality assurance.
  • Establish a Canadian qualifications framework.

As I say, much indeed to chew on. Who else will produce this sort of work once the CCL is shuttered?

Léo Charbonneau
Léo Charbonneau is a former editor of University Affairs.
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