30 June 2010

Round table report on market trends and public education

The Learning Partnership yesterday convened a Round Table on Labour Market Trends and Implications for Public Education. The goals was to inform public education policy. Warren Jestin, Chief Economist of ScotiaBank, chaired the event, and offered introductory remarks on the context of the opportunities and challenges facing Canada and public education. Jestin identified three trends that will inform educational and economic policy, reminding the audience that we need to focus on the unfamiliar for growth. That is, the economy will rebound, but will not go back to what it once was. Jestin pointed out that the G20 is now the official voice of the world economy, acknowledging the complexities of the global economic system as being comprised of developed and developing nations.
The three trends are:
1. We must focus on the emerging world where we are not yet plugged in - but could be.
2. Discussions on the environment and sustainability are at a very early stage. Major changes are imminent and will impact all sectors.
3. Demographic changes will mean less people working and more retired.

Productivity must drastically improve if we are to complete internationally, Jestin said, and "there is a crying need for improved education and skills training." Jobs in health care will of course be in demand, as will change in how health care is operated and funded. Urban infrastructure requires investment and renewal if we are to compete on quality worldwide. Skilled graduates with innovation literacy will be in demand: "We need people who know how to do something in a rapidly changing world," including easy facility with language and technology. Driving this should be "more fluid transfer of credits between colleges and universities." This last point is especially important; articulation of the education system will make the innovation economy more effective and responsive to social and economic productivity demands.

Rick Miner spoke about his recent study "People without jobs; Jobs without people." This report is a must-read for anyone with an interest in education and its downstream effects. It is also a wake-up call for all of us to start (re)thinking how we conceive of education, how we structure its delivery, how we measure its outputs and social impacts, and what we need to do to ensure Canada remains globally competitive.

The subsequent discussion was interesting for its common approach - across many educational sectors represented - on change needed in our education system. A report on the Round Table is forthcoming. What is clear is that there is good alignment in education: Innovation is not just a word. It is an activity and a call to action to reformat our thinking and our approach to social and economic productivity.

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