Does Canada need a federal minister of education?
Conversation with Jennifer Wallner and Paul Bennett
The pandemic is exposing some deep inequalities in our system. There doesn’t seem to be any concerted action across the provinces to try and find new ways of dealing with and advancing the educational successes of our students.
We have gathering evidence of a tremendous learning crisis which is more than just academic. It involves social concerns that parents and others have.
Some sort of coordinative federal body is needed to get the provinces to submit data that is regularly available on teacher quality, on curriculum, on results, on standardized assessments that would better help policy makers to tailor needs to address the students in the local regions.
There is room for some national standards or at least stronger direction in terms of our participation in international and provincial assessments, guidelines, and targets. We had a Canadian Council on Learning that provided the best research we’ve had comparing jurisdictions. We are left now without any body that oversees the collection of data, the monitoring of standards, and holding people accountable in the school system.
I would be happy with an independent body that provides independent research so we could hold those making decisions accountable and see that resources are directed to where they will do the best with students and teachers in the schools.
Canada has managed to accomplish really remarkable levels of equity in education outcomes without federal standards and national guidelines because all provinces and territories are interested in providing high quality education for their citizens
National standards can end up distracting us from meaningful action that can be taken within the provinces and territories to secure our educational goals and aspirations.
We do need to draw our attention to the real lack of emphasis we have in this country on adult learners and trying to facilitate vocational training.
There is a lack of good solid evidence on which to draw public policy. We don’t have any data on student drop out rates. Graduation rate data is incomplete. We don’t have any idea on the rates of absenteeism before or during the pandemic. I think the first step would be a national research body which would be a research bureau.
We don’t need another level of government in education but what we do need to do is hold those Provincial Departments of Education more accountable by setting targets. Maybe we switch the dialogue from setting standards to setting targets in the areas we have identified that are in deficit.
Founding Director and Lead Researcher at Schoolhouse Consulting and the Schoolhouse Institute, known as a leading Canadian education consultant and researcher and the author of ten books, including The State of the System: A Reality Check on Canada’s Schools, McGill-Queen’s University Press, September 2020.
Schoolhouse Institute provides independent thinking and sound ideas for better schools. All our activities are aimed at engaging the public in education. Our mission is to spark independent thinking, to promote public dialogue, and to advance excellence in education. We support the pursuit of higher standards in education and the building of true partnerships to promote public accountability and bring out the best in students.
We support public education and seek core and project funding from both public and private sector sources. We work with the national and local media, education leaders, school boards, government departments, policy think-tanks, and interest groups representing key partners in education.
Jennifer Wallner is an associate professor in the School of Political Studies at the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Ottawa. Her research focuses on federalism, comparative provincial politics and intergovernmental relations. Professor Wallner was also the lead in launching the IMPACT initiative in 2019, a project that aims to develop a platform to help promote research at the Faculty of Social Sciences and work to advance a new model for policy development in Canada. As Chairholder, Jennifer Wallner will pursue an agenda that sets out to innovate and diversify the study of politics in Canada.
The IMPACT initiative is a project of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Ottawa led by a team of professors who want to advance a new model for policy development in Canada. The purpose is threefold:
- Maintain a vibrant space to promote evidence-based and policy-relevant research from the University of Ottawa;
- Contribute to the policy expertise of governments in Canada and beyond;
- Build bridges to link community members together, furthering our potential for creative thinking in response to pressing issues, today and into the future.