Couchiching Online
nav button nav button nav button nav button nav button nav button
History Table of Contents
1993 Summer Conference
 
Summer Conference 1993
The Challenge of Lifelong Learning in an Era of Global Change

Keynote Address
Lifelong Learning at Work: The New Brunswick Model

PREMIER FRANK McKENNA

We've tried to do some things in New Brunswick. But it is very premature and presumptuous to suggest it is a model or even that it's entirely successful.

The reforms we've introduced are a totally collaborative team effort; an effort we couldn't have undertaken if we didn't have the support of teachers, parents school trustees and all of the other participants in the educational system.

Before I talk about what we're doing in New Brunswick, let's look at why there is this focus on lifelong learning.

As we near the end of this century, we should ask ourselves whether Wilfred Laurier's prediction that, "the 20th century will belong to Canada," has come true. And if not, why not?

I think the answer is yes. But it's important to recognize that as we near the end of this century that there are other countries seriously challenging us. Places like Japan, Germany and Hong Kong are high achievers; the United States and many other countries are starting to challenge us on a number of fronts.

We have to react to that challenge.

To do so, we need a new mindset. Why? I think that the problem we have now in reforming our education system is the direct result of the richness and the wealth of Canada.

For 125 years, this nation has been able to rest on its laurels. It has been able to coast. It has been able to live off the richness of this great land; off the fertile soil, off the teaming seas, off the abundant forests. We can no longer generate the same quality of living from our traditional resources. In an information-based society, the resources beneath our feet are becoming less and less important than those between our ears.

The world truly is increasingly being divided, not into the "haves" and the "have-nots" – but, rather, into the "knows" and the "know-nots." In this new world, Canada's most important natural tool will be education and commitment to lifelong learning.

Are we ready to compete? We have a good strong foundation, but the answer is "no."

Despite spending more than most other developed countries on primary and secondary education, the OECD ranks Canada 11th in education performance – after Belgium. And, earlier this week, in an international youth skills competition in Taiwan, Canada came 15th out of 25 countries.

We also face other related challenges: an illiteracy rate of 20 per cent; a school drop-out rate of 20, 25 or 30 percent – it depends on which statistics you believe; a lack of training in industry; high unemployment, particularly among our young people, and taxpayers' bills of literally billions of dollars in welfare costs. And – what is worse – the unfulfilled dreams of thousands and thousands of Canadians.

We need to undergo a real attitudinal change.

Canadians have to move from a comfort culture to a working-learning culture. We need to set some national standards and measure our performance; think strategically and, rather than wallowing in traditional, Canadian self-pity, approach this task with the confidence that this great nation should have.

New Brunswick is meeting the challenge by a drive toward self-sufficiency. Why, you ask, are we doing that? Because we looked at the balance sheet back in 1987, and we said: "Good God, the country's broke. Ontario is $11 billion in the hole each year; Quebec $ 5 billion in debt; the government of Canada $35 billion in debt. We aren't going to have anybody around to bail us out. We're going to have to stand on our own two feet. What a challenge! What a problem!"

When we began thinking that way, life became very exciting for us. We suddenly realized that one of the reasons we've traditionally been a have-not province is because we think like a have-not province. So, we set to try and change our mindset, our whole way of thinking. This goal demanded fundamental changes to our education and training systems, social welfare programs and our economic agenda.

Our drive to develop a lifelong learning culture is divided into three main parts.

First, is education reform. We're taking a back-to-the-basics approach and we're complementing that with some new approaches. We're creating schools in which learners want to learn – and teachers want to teach; a system that embraces a strong curriculum that is more rigorous and accountable; one that fosters a culture of lifelong learning and that is based on partnership.

The system on its own, cannot completely foster a learning culture. It has to be started – and nurtured – in the home. Excellence in education can be achieved with more emphasis on parental responsibility and work in the home.

I believe we have fundamentally good teachers, good classrooms, good schools and good technology. Where we're being beaten by others is not in the classroom, not at the school tables, but at the tables in the kitchen.

As parents, we have to ensure that homework is done; we have to read to our children, we have to learn to turn off the TV, to make sure they get enough rest; to support teachers in their effort; to let our children know that we have high expectations for them and we expect them to achieve to those expectations.

But above all, parents must demonstrate respect for education and instill that respect in their children. School should be the focal point of every child's life – not just something to be fitted in, on a day-to-day basis.

A recent "Scientific American" study found that Asian refugee children in the United States excel, despite having little or no English on arrival, having suffered serious deprivations at home, and perhaps even having missed a year or two of school. Earlier studies showed that the children of Jewish immigrants and low- income, African-American children have excelled – against all the odds.

If we're going to succeed in reform, and create a real learning culture, we need much more support from parents.

In New Brunswick, we're encouraging the wider community to become involved in our schools. We're opening the doors to our schools as never before: we've got seniors reading to kids; engineers working with teachers to develop curriculum; parents acting as mentors for kids with learning difficulties; businesses "adopting" schools; shopping malls offering store-front space for students at risk; community groups coming in to provide breakfast and lunch programs for needy students. And hospital staff using gymnasia for fitness classes.

In 1991, we cut school districts from 42 to 18 and added the missing link – kindergarten.

We started at the most basic level and said that a child cannot learn in school, unless they have the most basic needs in life. We started providing nutrition programs for expectant mothers in need; for babies in need; school milk programs, school lunch programs; early intervention programs for everyone that was at risk, so that we bring to the classroom door a child who is in a position to learn. We do pre-school screening at three and half, so we can resolve problems before children enter the classroom.

We are now demanding two degrees for teachers over five years. Nobody is going to be able to teach science, or math or whatever it is in the province of New Brunswick in the future unless they have a degree in science or math.

We have a new policy of discipline. The policy is very simple: we back up the classroom teacher. We have classroom management training for teachers, so they can better cope with discipline problems, and summer institutes for teachers, which strengthen the curriculum in both languages.

We've introduced millions of dollars of new technology, not only computer systems but also teaching aids, books, etc., so that people in the classroom never have reason to complain they don't have the most modern technology.

We have decided we must use the summer, as well as other parts of the year, for learning. We have summer camps taking place and workshops all summer long for gifted students, for math skills, science skills, for young women we want to interest in the sciences, for music – all areas to challenge our young people.

We have peer tutoring. We have homework hotlines. Anybody needing remedial help is provided with remedial help. A young person who may not be able to get help at home can get a tutor provided for by the province to help them with their educational problems. We've increased the interest among female students in science and maths and are working hard at peer programs and affirmative action programs to have more women as role models at every level of supervision in the educational system.

Grade 10 students are now required to add another science and math, so they double the amount of sciences and maths required before graduation.

We have a new youth apprenticeship program, so that starting in Grade 10 you can go to school and work in industry, or work in a factory or service industry at the same time, so that by the time you graduate you'll be well on your way to getting your journeyman's papers. It follows the student right into the community college system and starts preparing them for the new skill requirements of tomorrow.

We've introduced testing at every level in the education system. We had the debate and at the end of it we made a decision we were going to introduce testing at every level of the system and participate in every national and international testing program.

We've introduced programs worth over $100 million designed to work on our dropout rate. We have youth centres set up in every major community, so that anybody from age 15 to 25 can go in and get special counselling and special help either to get them back in their school system or into adult education, or to send them in some direction that will allow them to meet the challenges in their life.

We've got programs for every student who has reason or wants to drop out. If they're particularly challenged, we'll provide special programs for them outside the normal classroom setting in order to keep them in the school system. We have gone from one of the highest dropout rates in all of Canada to the lowest rate.

What does that mean to us? It means in the long term billions of dollars in savings: we don't have to re- teach these people through adult education, we don't have to face the welfare costs or potential incarceration costs, or whatever else. These students become meaningful and contributing members of our mainstream society.

Keeping students in school is so important, we now measure every student in the province by school, by school district and by the province. Not only do we measure and track them in the system, we publish the results twice a year so that every school and every school district knows how they perform. And when those figures come out, people start asking questions.

We got into this because we did a survey of school dropouts. The reason given by the majority of students as to why they dropped out was because nobody had asked them to stay...or spent a little special time with them in order to give them some sense of self-worth.

Our high school students – believe it or not – are going to have to demonstrate that they can read and write, before they graduate. We're doing a full portfolio on each student, so that when they reach high school – even before that – we're in a position to remedy any deficiencies in their reading and writing skills.

The second part of our whole education reform is in post-secondary and tertiary education. We see the face of work changing. Everybody now is going to have to be educated, whether they are receptionists, bank tellers, check-out clerks, secretaries. We want a level of education for all those people.

Despite staggering levels of unemployment, jobs are going begging in Canada, because there's not a skills match between those looking for work and those seeking workers. In order to meet the requirement for higher education, we've increased community college places 13 per cent this year and we will probably have to do the same thing next year.

We have set up a network of distant education centres linking all parts of the province and are giving non- traditional learners credit for prior learning. We recognize portfolios showing a person's level of acquired learning, so we can give credit for it and they don't have to use educational resource and waste their time learning something they know.

We're looking at new approaches for delivering apprenticeship training. We're working with other Atlantic provinces at improving portability of skills and we're encouraging business and industry to provide more training, especially literacy.

Literacy training takes place at all levels, at university and high school and in community colleges. But our most successful programs are taking place in church basements, Scout halls and workplaces all over the province. We set out to try and open 100 new classrooms and we've now hit 165.

The other thing we're doing – with the active collaboration of the government of Canada – is re-engineering our social program.

For me, the most important criteria in reforming social programs is to allow people the dignity that every human being should have – even when they're down and out and accepting the charity or generosity of fellow Canadians – of finding a way of repaying society or getting back on their own two feet.

Welfare was never meant to be a way of life. But it has become so for thousands of Canadians. And we do them a disservice by allowing it to spread from one unsuspecting generation to the next. Maintaining a culture of cradle to grave dependency is no longer viable. So, we set out with the government of Canada to change that, not in a way that was Draconian or punitive, but in a way that we could respect the needs of those genuinely requiring those support programs while respecting the need of those who wanted to exit those support programs.

Our program is called N.B. Works. It's a very generous program funded by Ottawa and the province, using money we're currently spending on welfare. The program is designed to take welfare recipients and to give them work, job training, high school education, skills training and an opportunity to join the workforce. It's a three-year program in which people go through a cycle of work training – job skills, life skills – and exit three years later job ready.

If all else fails, and they are at that age in their life when they cannot acquire new skills and there's no hope for them, we'd be prepared to provide them with guaranteed annual employment, instead of giving them welfare or unemployment insurance.

We're currently negotiating with Ottawa another program called N.B. Opportunities. We want to have a one- stop shopping centre of all provincial and federal government services directed towards our human resource, so that when anyone is out of work, they can walk into an office where they can obtain counselling.

If we can negotiate a final agreement with the government of Canada on that, it represents the final step in New Brunswick having a guaranteed annual employment policy and also a lifelong learning policy coming together.

Questions

What is the percentage of the New Brunswick budget devoted to education and to health? What changes do you see in the future in these ratios?

Health ranges from 20 to 31 per cent and education is in the 17 to 18 per cent range. I'd like to say the percentage going to education will increase steadily as a percentage, but I can't do that for two reasons. First, health care is an out-of-control, explosive expenditure and is growing in New Brunswick at a faster rate than any other province. Second, debt is now 15 per cent of our budget and unless we balance it, debt service would overtake education as being the second largest expenditure.

Have you addressed the idea of a reward system for excellence in the teaching ranks, based on performance?

We have a system that consists of a teaching award based on peer review and we will have an annual awards dinner. This was a compromise. We had proposed to the teachers that we identify a number of teachers each year – 500 or 1,000 – and we would be prepared to give them a salary increase of $1,000 or $2,000, or a monetary award of that amount. The teachers' union turned that down. I don't agree with their reasoning, but I understand and respect it. From my perspective, we should have a system in which we can reward excellence in education.

You spoke of the importance of national standards in education and the goal of portability. How do you envision the sharing of educational goals between the federal and provincial levels of government and who would choose the national standards?

We have to make it a national agenda item, work at it and grind it out. I think it's in everybody's best interests that training take place at the provincial level, but I believe no money should be transferred without strings. I think Ottawa should sit down with the provinces and say: we're prepared to let you do the training, but these are the national standards, these are the portability requirements and these are the priorities we mutually identify.

What are you doing to get the private sector to put its resources behind what is happening in New Brunswick?

In two areas they are totally committed. In literacy training, all of our businesses are partners. And there are education-business partnerships all over the province, where businesses are adopting schools, adopting teachers or having exchanges. Where we are failing, not just in New Brunswick but all across Canada, is in-service training within industry. Corporate Canada probably has the worst and cheapest commitment of the entire industrialized world in training. They're not putting their money where their mouth is. They're criticizing the teachers and the politicians – that's fair criticism – but they are not training within their own industry. It's nothing short of a national disgrace that a major Canadian corporation could layoff 1,500 workers and send them out on the streets with 750 of them not having a high school degree. That's not right. You have a responsibility to your work force, whether you keep them in that industry or whether at some point you'll be laying them off, to provide them with skills training. What's happening in Canada is that everything is laid off on the government. Employers are saying, "we've got 1,500 people, we're laying them off – government train them." We should hold a sword over the head of corporate Canada and tell them we want to see results or we're going to do what Australia's done, which is introduce a one per cent payroll tax to pay for training. I'd like to see it done voluntarily, but if they don't do it voluntarily, I think the governments should force training on them.