CHILDREN AND YOUTH
Early childhood development should be
You might not think early learning and child care is
critically important for our economic future. But they are, because a
successful Canadian economy will require highly competent workers with
good learning and coping skills � and the trajectories for learning (and
health) are set in the earliest years of life.
That is why James Heckman, a University of Chicago
professor who won the Nobel prize in economics, has argued that the
investments we make in the earliest years have the biggest payoff.
This is not just an economic challenge. It is also a
social policy challenge. According to research by Fraser Mustard and his
colleagues, youngsters attending Toronto schools in lower-income
neighbourhoods average much lower achievement scores than schools in the
more affluent neighbourhoods. So an important share of our population is
starting off with poor preparation for a knowledge economy.
This is a challenge we cannot ignore. Knowledge or
skilled workers will be in great demand as baby boomers begin to retire
in significant numbers.
The Canadian Labour and Business Centre estimates
255,000 manufacturing workers could retire over the next 10-15 years.
Some 11 per cent of the manufacturing workforce are 55 or older.
The same need for skilled or knowledge workers will
affect a wide range of service industries, from finance to construction,
as well as resource industries and public sector activities such as
health, education and government services.
Moreover, the demand, increasingly, will be for better
educated workers. For example, almost half of manufacturing employees
today have some kind of post-secondary certificate, diploma or degree.
A survey of Canada's fast-growing knowledge-based
industries by Statistics Canada � Are Knowledge Workers Found Only in
High-Technology Industries? By Desmond Beckstead and Guy Gellatly �
found 16 sectors that could be classified as high-knowledge, meaning a
high proportion of their workforce was well-educated.
These sectors included not only industries such as
computer manufacturing and software and systems, but also financial
services, business services such as accounting, management consulting,
law, the oil and gas industry, cultural industries including publishing,
broadcasting and entertainment, architecture, scientific and technical
services and pipeline companies. These industries account for about 10
per cent of business employment, but their share is growing.
If you add essential public services, such as health,
education, and the delivery of government services, then the proportion
of knowledge workers in the economy is much higher.
The Bank of Canada's recent Business Outlook Survey
found the main areas of worker shortages are the skilled trades and
specialized professions, including accounting, engineering and financial
And according to the recent Youth in Transition Survey
by Statistics Canada, among Canadians age 22 in December, 2001, 21 per
cent were post-secondary graduates and 24 per cent had no post-secondary
education. Another 11 per cent had left post-secondary education without
graduating while the remaining 44 per cent were enrolled in
post-secondary courses, though that did not mean they would graduate.
A recent survey of Fortune 500 executives by the
Conference Board of Canada found that while highly educated Canadians
were found to be as high-quality as workers found anywhere, executives
from multinationals considered many Canadian workers to be uncompetitive
in their skills. This, the Conference Board report said, was one reason
Canada was having a difficult time attracting new foreign direct
In the knowledge economy, it is not helpful if 42 per
cent of the 15-55 age group has the lowest literacy skills � the score
registered for Canada at the end of the 1990s in the international
literacy survey by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and
In this election, Prime Minister Paul Martin has
promised $5 billion over five years to establish early learning and
Conservative leader Stephen Harper does not address
this issue; instead, he is proposing a tax deduction for parents with
children that will deliver the biggest benefits to those who need it the
least, affluent parents, while doing nothing for families at the bottom
of the income ladder.
NDP leader Jack Layton is promising stable funding for
200,000 children for child care but does not point to early learning as
a key element.
The future of Canada � as a successful economy and an
equitable society � depends on people.
Our single most important challenge is to ensure
everyone has the opportunity to excel at their level of capability, and
the most important place to start is with early childhood development.
24 June 2004