Dr. Paul Cappon was named President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Council on Learning in October 2004. A prominent educator, doctor and administrator, Dr. Cappon has been a lifelong education advocate, community supporter and author of numerous publications on learning and community medicine. He has earned degrees in several fields including a PhD in sociology from the Université de Paris, a medical degree (MD) from McMaster University and a family medicine specialization from Dalhousie University.

Canada is slipping down the international learning curve. The needs in this area are stark. The potential rewards are enormous. The principle cause of this deeply troubling state of affairs is that our governments have failed to work together to develop the necessary policies and the required collective political leadership.

The necessary approach involves the development of a clear trans-Canadian education strategy. The starting point is the establishment of a federal/provincial/territorial Council of Ministers on Learning. In addition there must be clear, permanent, independent monitors to compare Canadian learning results to our stated goals: standing advisory groups, including educators and civil society, to consult on requisite national objectives and the means to reach these goals. Without a sustained trans-Canadian approach, many students will not achieve their full potential.

The country requires a national learning framework in order for its regions, provinces and territories to succeed. Without a national framework, we will miss the east-west learning railroad that should connect Canadians of all regions, generations and languages.

The Canada Council on Learning put forward a vision to link Canadians in sharing learning experiences and promote the enhancement of learning as a core value of a distinctive Canadian society.

The Paradox of Learning in Canada

Early Childhood Education and Learning (ECEL) illustrates a paradox that runs through each phase of learning in this country; huge discrepancies exist between what Canadians purport to believe and practices to which they have access. Canadians are acutely aware of the crucial significance of learning throughout the lifetime of their children; yet Canadian public expenditures for ECEL are among the lowest in the developed countries.

Canadian learning performance is now slipping in both absolute terms and in relation to other economies. In the absence of a trans-Canadian plan for K-12 education — including joint interprovincial learning goals based on international standards — Canadian results in K-12 international testing will continue to decline.

Post-Secondary Education

Canada possesses no national system of post-secondary education (PSE). "System" connotes cohesion, strategic and coordinated planning across regional jurisdictions and a set of agreed purposes and objectives, with policies required to achieve these goals. All these criteria are absent from the Canadian context.

The discrepancy between Canada's performance and that of competitor countries acts as a significant drag on our productivity, innovation and access to proven quality. It is doubtful that Canada can maintain high standards of living without a national strategy for this sector.

The first step in revitalizing post-secondary education is the establishment of a national permanent organization for analysis and goal setting. This organization would work in partnership with the federal/provincial territorial Council of Ministers of Learning.

The treat to Canadian innovation and productivity as a consequence of incoherence in PSE is exacerbated by our poor performance in adult and workplace learning. The OEDC pointed out that Canadian adults were foregoing learning opportunities because of a lack of cohesion in planning between federal and provincial governments and between the public and private sector.

That Canada has not acted on any of the OEDC's pertinent and still valid recommendations is unsurprising: there is no locus of policy and implementation in Canada mandated and empowered to do so.

Is Canada slipping down the international learning curve?

The answer is yes. Yet it is not too late, and even possible to take the necessary actions despite our radically decentralized education sector. Canadians believe learning to be the single most-influential factor promoting individual and collective success. We urge Canadians to take up the challenge.