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

Building a Learning Culture


Right now there's no accepted mechanism for monitoring or evaluating the success of the education system. In this context of global change, how do we develop a short-term performance measure of how the system is doing?

Parr-Johnston: It isn't easy, but I think we're moving in that direction. In the universities, we are looking at performance measures which are system wide. We are also looking at those which are specific to different institutions, because at the Mount we focus on the education of women and we have many part- time students who wouldn't be at university if they couldn't study part-time. A measurement that says how students complete university in four years is not the correct measure for us as a single measure. We have to be careful how we approach it, but in my view we must have performance measures.

Dr. Mustard: I would only back performance measures if they are set in the broader societal context. If you're really going into performance measures, you have to accept the fact that the schools are only part of the process of learning and you must pay attention to the other things, which means you must have a social conscience in your society which is a very demanding requirement.

If we do implement a measurement system and discover there is a problem with the education system, what is one alternative model we have in place now that would best serve the people's learning needs?

Parr-Johnston: I am not in favour of creating alternative models, just to create alternative models. I would hope that the alternate models we look at can teach us something that can help us to change the system itself. Some of the feedback I'd like to see is not only what the school does, but what are students doing. Do our students go out into the world and make a difference; make a real difference; improve this world? That's the sort of thing I want to measure. That tells me, are we doing some things, do we lose students along the way, is the attrition rate high for a particular type of student, do we produce students who go out and become despondent, what happens to our students and what happens to the things they do and what are the secondary and tertiary affects. We have a lot of mental models about what's happening out there. Unless we have some hard data to look at it, we really won't understand.

Dr. Mustard, you mentioned a new form of capitalism. What is it and how does it address early childhood development?

Dr. Mustard: We are all primates; as such we're social animals. Therefore, the quality of your social environment has to be of primary concern to you. While your society covers the subject of economic growth or its prosperity – how it distributes its resources – has an effect on society. If that is the case, can a form of extreme individualism – capitalism, really allow you to build a society that has those qualities?

The price you'll pay if you stay on a highly individual form of capitalism, is social degradation at least in part of your society, which will result in poor childhood situations that lead to a fair amount of violence and crime later on. The demands on your society for security, plus the fact those handicapped people become a burden in your labour force because you may not be able to bring them into a learning society means you're moving into a two society structure and I think you can think through the nature of what that society would be like. The alternative is that you are really concerned about how you create the resources or the wealth for your society and how those are distributed, recognizing you have to have entrepreneurship because governments don't do that, it's done by people. And can you build instruments that can create that broader wealth that have that broader sense. I would take the stand if you're going to move into the new kind of learning society in which wealth creation is driven by ideas that you have to have a high quality social environment; it's inherent in the nature of what you need to do that. And, therefore, it's in your interest to adopt a form of capitalism which is very conscious of the social environment in which you live and work. Societies that stay highly individualistic will end up by so degrading parts of their population that they will suffer, indeed.

What initiative should be undertaken to use technology to foster lifelong learning among geographic communities, community service groups and most importantly families?

de Kerckhove: This has now become a possibility. Now, you can indeed connect from one part of Canada to the other, from one part the world to the other. You can connect every place and access data bases which can be placed anywhere. We already do this with data modem and data network, but it will become with the electronic highway even more possible. The issue of electronic highway is fundamental, because it is the infrastructure that enables the best use of things like multi-media, inter-active technology, video conferencing and so on. I think what's happening, though, is that we tend to put the technology forward without realizing the context. It's going to be fairly important that as we grow and develop more potential and more data bases and more access, that we put terminals in the hands of the people who are using them, rather than in the hands of the bureaucracies that control them. We will also need more training and sophistication for the people who are using them.

So, it's not just enough to make a machine that's user friendly, it's also necessary to constantly provide a context. It has to grow at a certain rate, you can't force feed a population. There's a need to find motivation, involvement – getting the people involved with the infrastructures that are being put in place – that's going to be more critical than the technologies themselves.

Dr. Mustard: I know of one situation in which the application in early school systems that suggests it may be very powerful in a very constructive way. There is some evidence that if you teach mathematics in those early years as a group and you use all kinds of devices, the group works together to solve problems and, if you're slow, the group works with you to solve the problem, to make sure you understand it, that that leads to a form of behaviour that ultimately may set teamwork capacity in adult life. It also gets young people not afraid to make a mistake, because if you make a mistake you're not put down. The rest work with you to get a solution. They're operating from a very powerful data base that gives them enormous access and that, it seems to me, has enormous scope.

Parr-Johnston: At the Mount we have an active distance education program, because we learned early on that there were many women particularly, also men, who could not come physically to the campus, who wished to have an education. This program allows people in remote parts of Prince Edward Island or people in Labrador to achieve an education. We find that technology allows two-way communication between two spots, which are virtually limitless, that we now have a very powerful form of education that allows us to take education out of the classroom. If we understand that the classroom no longer has to have four walls, we can start to say, well can we work with businesses, can we work with colleges and in partnership, even with high schools, to use resources more effectively in a better partnership mode. The technology itself allows us to educate in vast new ways that are extremely powerful and a potential to let us draw on our existing resources and use them far more effectively.

In response to a question last night, it was suggested Canadian students are over-educated. Are they?

Parr-Johnston: We're never over-educated. What you get out of the university education is the ability to think critically. We know that we will change careers, most of us, four times in our lives. The days of going to work for IBM or General Electric or General Motors and spending a lifetime there are gone. So, we have to have the critical thinking and the learning abilities that will allow us to go and get specialized education, whether it be in a classroom, whether it be through a computer facility,whether it be on the job. But if we don't have that basic foundation it won't happen. We're really into an era where we're looking at something that resembles just-in-time education. And that is mind boggling.

Dr. Mustard: We know historically that during those periods of change there's great institutional disruption. You do have unemployment, you do have social problems. On the upside is that if you can have some sense of what the future's going to be like you can construct the new framework, the new institutions. I think we are in such a change, in which you're moving from an economy which may have been more based on objects to one based on ideas. Don't look at your university education as giving you a job, but rather giving you the coping skills to meet the challenge. And to meet that challenge we're going to have to keep adapting.

What do you feel are some realistic and practical ways of encouraging community and corporate involvement in education?

Parr-Johnston: One way obviously is funding from the corporate sector for scholarships to get students into education who couldn't otherwise attend. There are many areas where no dollars are involved, such as co-operative education, co-operative research, partnerships in terms of training. There are many things that can be done which don't cost money, yet can make a difference.

Dr. Mustard: I like what Premier McKenna said. The strategy for tackling the literacy question required a lot of community involvement and participation. It doesn't have to be expensive, but it does have to require a resource commitment of people in the community making an effort to contribute to it. If you look at the situation in the core area of Montreal, they are trying to get other members of the community to come in and try to help tackle that problem. In Winnipeg, the school of social work has worked with members of the community to help them build their own sense of social support and self esteem with tremendous effect. It has not required a huge input of professional people going in to do it. In effect, you have to transfer a framework of understanding to the people, so they can see the relationships and find leaders, or encourage leaders who can help develop this and make sure that the public institutional sector of government is where it can reinforce it and help move it forward.