Launch of the Citizen Initiative “Learning: Everybody’s Project”
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Fredericton, Wednesday, November 10, 2010
It is an honour for my wife, Sharon, and me to be part of your round table discussion. We have been looking forward to this opportunity—for the chance to talk to all of you, and to be in New Brunswick.
The Fathers of Confederation created a federal system in which distinct groups of people could prosper beside one another within a common enterprise. Dividing powers between the federal and provincial governments was how they achieved this.
Education was placed under provincial jurisdiction. This allowed each province to reflect its unique languages, cultures and religions within its own school system. Certainly, there have been challenges in protecting linguistic and religious rights in some schools over our history. Nevertheless, I think we would all agree with the words carved in the legislative chamber of PEI, “Providence being their guide, they builded better than they knew.”
New Brunswick has a proud heritage for promoting excellence in education. Your school system sustains your rich Acadian culture, and allows the French and English languages to thrive.
Your colleges and universities are renowned for their high academic standards across Canada and around the world. They have been pioneers in higher learning for many years. In fact, the University of New Brunswick is among the oldest public universities in North America.
Founded in 1785, UNB became Canada’s first English-language university. In 1875, Mount Allison became the first university in the British Empire to award a bachelor’s degree to a woman.
And yet you are not content to simply sit back and continue with the status quo. Numerous commissions and studies have been undertaken to look at how to improve education in the province. For example, in 1993, Aldéa Landry and Jim Downey co-chaired the Commission on Excellence in Education.
As some of you know, Jim Downey is a very close friend and was my predecessor as President of the University of Waterloo until 1999. Like so many people in New Brunswick, I have learned many important lessons about education from Jim Downey.
Now, you are embarking on this Initiative to develop a culture defined by life-long learning. A culture in which learning at all stages of life is highly valued by each and every person in New Brunswick.
As a lifelong student and educator, I cannot applaud your efforts enough. Putting people on a path of life-long learning will pay dividends. Life-learning opportunities give people a sense of pride in themselves: a sense of pride that will spill over into their families, their workplaces, their province, their country, and ultimately their world.
I have seen proof of this in my own life. I’ve seen it in Sharon’s life, and those of our children and grandchildren, as well. And I know you will see it within the lives of all in New Brunswick too.
Over the course of the next five years, my goal as governor general is to do my part in shaping Canada into a truly Smart and Caring Nation. By this, I mean a nation where all Canadians can grow their talents to the maximum. A nation where we use knowledge to improve the human condition of all.
To achieve this goal, I believe we have to focus on three pillars:
Supporting families and children;
Reinforcing learning and innovation; and
Encouraging philanthropy and volunteerism.
Today, I’d like to highlight some of my ideas for the second pillar—reinforcing learning and innovation.
Our public educational systems are something in which Canadians can, and must, take pride. They provide Canadians with universal access to primary and secondary schools. They provide opportunities to learn in both official languages.
Nevertheless, there is more work to be done. I believe that we must continue to innovate to reconcile universal access and bilingual programs with stellar achievement.
Let me explain. In my view, we need to innovate socially—in terms of the investments we make in people’s lives and workplaces. For example:
- We need to find better ways to integrate new, highly-skilled and highly-educated immigrants into our labour market;
- Our First Nations peoples must have the same access to quality education and training as the rest of Canadians, so they can escape the vicious cycles of poverty that plague too many of their communities;
- Our teachers must be properly recognized for the invaluable contributions they make in the lives of their students.
We also need to innovate technologically—in terms of giving people the education, skills and training they need to compete in the global marketplace.
- Canada has the highest share of post-secondary graduates in the world. However, we have one of the lowest shares of students with post-graduate degrees in science and engineering in the G-7. How, then, can we expect the Canadian businesses that employ these graduates to continue developing cutting-edge technologies to compete with the world’s best?
- On a per capita basis with the U.S., we graduate 90%, 70%, 50% of bachelors, doctoral and masters recipients respectively and our expectations for higher degree competence in business are considerably lower than our counterparts in the U.S. This, in large measure, accounts for the relatively low investment in research and development in Canadian businesses (16 out of 30 OECD countries) and our falling rate of productivity compared to the U.S. has decreased in the last two decades.
- We need to invest in more skills training to enable people to keep their jobs, or to assist them to move to new ones, in the face of ever-changing technological developments in the fragile global economy.
Roundtable discussions such as this one are excellent places to begin. They can generate the kind of ideas we need to move life-long learning forward in the 21st century.
As you seek to generate a culture of life-long learning, imagine what New Brunswick will look like in the years to come. Imagine the example New Brunswick will set for the rest of Canada.
- New Brunswick will be defined as Smart—in the sense of giving people the tools they need to pursue cutting-edge ideas in the classroom, laboratory and workforce.
- New Brunswick will be defined as Caring—because you placed a high priority on lifting people beyond their present circumstances through life-long education, skills and training.
And in this way, you will continue to inspire all Canadians to think bigger. Perform better. Innovate in the face of challenge. And then, to take what they’ve learned to give back to their families, their communities, their country, and their world.