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History Table of Contents
1991 Summer Conference
Summer Conference 1991
Growing up on the Edge: The Emerging Generation and Canada's Future

Youth: Canada's Future

Minister of State for Youth, Fitness and Amateur Sport

For the last 3 days you have discussed the future of youth in Canadian Society. But the central question is how do they see their own future and how do they see the future of the country itself.

Based on the Decima research results that you have heard about, there is every reason for confidence in your future as a generation and in ours as a country.

As Decima Chairman Alan Gregg has observed, nearly 4 out of 5, or 78 percent, believe that doing well in school and by extension, staying in school is the key to their success.

And they have got that right.

Staying in school is the key to the individual prosperity of our youth. And the quality of Canadian education and learning is the key to Canada's prosperity as a whole. This is simple common sense. It is also quantifiable.

Over the 50-year working span of a 15-year-old drop out, he or she can expect to earn $150,000 less than a high school graduate. And that is in today's dollars, unadjusted for normal inflation rates of between 3 and 5%.

Not only will high school drop outs earn less, they will work less. There is a direct correlation between education attainment and employment opportunities.

In 1990, the unemployment rate for youth with only elementary eduction was nearly 25%, nearly double the 12% rate of high school graduates and 3 times the 8.4% rate for those with some form of post secondary education.

This is not to say that dropouts can't make their way in the world. There have been some remarkable people, who have succeeded despite the decision to leave high school.

The Prime Minister of Great Britain, John Major, left school at 16 to join the bank as a trainee, so for that matter did Allan Taylor, Chairman of the Royal Bank. Yet, such stories and opportunities for advancement are increasingly rare today.

The fact is between now and the year 2000, the proportion of new jobs requiring 16 or more years of schooling will rise to 40% compared to only 23% today. And 63% or nearly two-thirds of all new jobs will require at least 12 years of education.

And yet Canada's dropout rate can only be described as a national crisis.

The national dropout rate is at least 30 percent. We have one of the highest dropout rates in the industrialized world; at least double that of Sweden. Japan, by some estimates, has an enviable two percent.

High school dropouts are clearly the major challenge facing us. We must do everything we can to encourage them to be drop ins. But there are also problems with the quality and focus of higher education.

The problem isn't always with enrolment. Canada has the second highest University enrolment rate in the world.

It isn't with funding, Canada spends more per capita on education that any country in the world except Sweden.

Money isn't a problem, results are a problem.

We are not, for example, turning out enough scientists and engineers. And according to one estimate, Canada will be at least 25,000 engineers short of its needs by the year 2000. Clearly we can not maintain and expand our own infrastructure, much less participate in major international projects unless we have the people to do the job.

It was precisely to encourage young people to enter these disciplines that the federal Government in 1988 created the Canada Scholarships in Science and Technology, which fund the undergraduate studies of 2,500 young Canadians in each year of University.

At least half the scholarships must be awarded to women to encourage their entry into fields in which they are still under represented. In the coming academic year the fourth year of the program, a full complement of 10,000 Canada scholars will be in University. The cost of the entire program is $80 Million over the first 5 years.

It is arguably the single best investment we could make in the future of our country.

You may well ask, what else is the Federal Government doing about education? You may also ask what is the Federal Government doing in education anyway?

Let me try to answer those questions one at a time.

As for what we are doing in education? The Federal Government already spends $11 Billion in educational transfers to the provinces each year. That gives us a responsibility as well as a role in education.

There are those in the provinces, and not only my own province of Quebec, who point out that education is an exclusive provincial jurisdiction. But the issue is not one of authority, it is equally one of how we measure up as a country.

It is of no interest to the Europeans or Japanese whether education in Canada is a federal or provincial jurisdiction. They are interested in the quality of our goods and services, and education has everything to do with that.

Education relates to the quality of Canadian products and services, and the competitiveness of the Canadian trademark relates directly to our prosperity.

So we are not disinterested bystanders where the quality of Canadian education is concerned. Nor do we wish to intrude on the prerogatives of the provinces.

It is not a question of what government, or the education system, or communities, or parents and students are doing, but what all of together are doing. We are all in this together.

Partnership is the very essence of the education challenge in the 90s.

In the Throne Speech, we have set the following objectives for the year 2000:

  • We have set a goal of 90% high school graduation, or the equivalent adult diploma. This would mean reducing the dropout rate by two-thirds over the decade.
  • We seek to reduce the adult illiteracy rate by half. Nearly one Canadian in four has some difficulty reading either a bedtime story at home or a job manual at work. May cannot read a bus schedule, or the directions on a medical prescription. At the United Nations Children's Summit Co-chaired by Canada last September, the heads of some 70 governments agreed to the goal of reducing adult illiteracy by 50% over this decade.
  • We need to double the number of post- secondary graduates in science and engineering, and ensure fuller representation of women in mathematics, science and technology. The Canada Scholarships are a step, but only one step, in that direction.

The challenge is very simple. In order to compete abroad, we must cooperate at home. Education holds the key to both.