Educating Michael Ignatieff

In my last post, “Can We Rise to the Canada150 Challenge?” , I said that the Word of the Day for the opening sessions was “Education”.

It started in the morning with discussions on global reality, social policy, and fiscal and economic policy pressures. Education is at the core of all of these.

In her afternoon keynote address “The Challenge of the Century” presenter Sheryl WuDunn, co-author of the book Half The Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” said that the central moral challenge of the century is to address gender inequality, especially in the developing world, but at home too. Her presentation was peppered with stories and photos of how women and girls have overcome incredible odds to better their lives, and the lives of their families and their communities because they received an education.

“The best way to fight poverty, and end terrorism in the world is to educate girls,” she says. “It brings them into the workforce, makes them productive citizens, and gives them the tools to educate their children.” What I think she was implying is that educated kids who are part of a productive society don’t join gangs and perpetuate terrorism.

“Women and girls are not the problem,” WuDunn concluded. “They are a big part of the solution.”

The next session brought together panelists from various educational backgrounds. The consensus was that there are positive points and paradoxes within the educational system, and that we are just not rising to this challenge well enough.

In summary, these were the key points: If we expect to have the best-educated citizens in the world, then we have to look beyond the schools. We have to develop bridges between the schools and the communities, and we have to develop a better education ethic. Canada remains unstructured in this area, and the squabbling that goes on between governments, school boards, and other officials has to be put aside for any educational progress to be made. Education and income are the leading indicators of a the level of health in our society, and with some communities experiencing 50 per cent or more of their children dropping out of high school, and with one in 10 children in this country living in poverty, our society is pretty sick.

Carolyn Acker, Founder of Pathways to Education Canada has spent more than 40 years working in community health programs. She says that among the wealthiest families in our society, high school dropout rates are between six and 10 per cent, while children from lower income families drop out at rates between 50 and 60 per cent. (Her statistics may be based on her programs in Toronto, but others echoed similar stats for communities in other parts of the country.) Ms. Acker says that the challenge is to turn this around, and she has a successful model that has changed those outcomes, through the use of community advocates, and community programs.

“Better schools aren’t enough because risk factors for dropping out are not limited to school environments,” she says. “We have to look at the entire community. For every $1 invested in programs like ours, there is a $25 reduction in costs to society in terms of remedial programs, policing costs, and other costs related to the fact that many of these dropout kids wind up in jail. We all have a role to play.”

Lloyd Axworthy, who is now President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Winnipeg talked about the need for national learning strategies, rather than the hodge-podge of jurisdictions that now exist with education being governed by the provinces who fund local school boards in municipalities. Part of that strategy he said, was to have universities acting as hubs that can be better used within their communities. He also said there was a huge role for the federal government can play a huge role to develop seamless learning that overcomes the barriers between the provinces, local governments and school boards. He also said there was much more that needed to be done to address under funding of education programs for native communities. He gave some statistics showing the high drop out rates in those community schools, and the gaps between communities within his home city of Winnipeg.

“We are going to have to engage a lot of people to make learning the priority.”

None of this is new information, but maybe, finally, the right people are taking a serious look at it, and because those people (the Liberal Party) want to form the next government, they will come up with some policies to really address these problems. Perhaps this conference should have been called the Education of Michael Igatieff. He said he was here to listen. We can only hope he’s paying attention.

There will be other challenges addressed tomorrow and on Sunday, but no doubt there will be ties to education. How can there not be?

This blog is called “With Humour and Hope”, and it is with those two things that I have come to this conference. I am maintaining my sense of humour to avoid becoming too frustrated with the political jargon being thrown around, but I am hopeful that this time, maybe this time, things will be different—and better.

Remember to go to the Canada 150 website to join the online community, and add your voice to this very important discussion. The conference is being live-streamed, and there are events in many communities where you can participate.

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One thought on “Educating Michael Ignatieff

  1. Sounds like a fascinating conference with a great lineup of speakers, Christine. Thanks for giving us a look at what is being discussed. I haven’t had time to join the discussion on the 150 website as it’s been a crazy week for me (I still have more than 250 unread e-mails in my in-box screaming for attention.) But I never miss reading your blog. Looking forward to reading more.

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