Michael Van Pelt, CEO of Cardus – a national think tank that researches public policy issues, such as education – is travelling Alberta to conduct ‘future of the workforce’ meetings with business leaders.
“We are a bit different in that we come out of a faith tradition,” said Van Pelt. “But you are still dealing with the trends on work, gambling issues, labour shortages, the role of government. Our biggest project has been investing in research, we are probably the leading organization researching non-governmental educational options in Canada.”
Close to 15% of children in B.C., about 8% in Ontario and more than 10% in Alberta are being educated through non-government options, such as charter, independent and elite schools or in learning pods, online or micro schools. However, there are numerous other iterations available for educating children, particularly since COVID.
Currently, this is the largest research area for Cardus.
“Alberta is interesting,” explained Van Pelt, “because it has always been the innovator on the education front. In the academic literature, oftentimes Alberta would be referred to internationally as a creative educator and educational choice option.”
While that is less true today, post-pandemic has seen a renewed interest in non-governmental schools.
“What you are seeing now is businesses are having dramatic issues around both labour supply and skills,” said Van Pelt. “On the obvious side they are concerned about technical skills, employment transition (moving from one job to another), all of those areas. Governments are deeply involved in subsidy and support on those fronts. However, when you actually talk to businesspeople, they have concerns about a whole other set of skills. Literacy, numeracy, soft skills, emotional intelligence, trust, character building, showing up on time for work, all of these types of issues.”
All these are issues oriented around K-12 discussions and Cardus believes businesses need to pay more attention to what is happening in K-12 education.
“I am advancing an argument that if you want to see significant improvement in a K-12 system on all of these fronts, you are going to need to see a renewed period of time of educational choice. The reason is for innovation, curricular options that are available, and structure reasons. I saw this in COVID, when you are in crisis, big systems have difficulty manouevring. Smaller systems are much nimbler. It isn’t the typical individualistic or freedom issue, it is a pragmatic argument about how to manouevre around a dramatically fast-changing world.”
Difficult discussions are being had in Canada about educational choice, and in the U.S. school of choice debates are ongoing. However, in many other places around the world these discussions are unnecessary. This promoted Van Pelt to write an open letter to all Alberta business leaders (www.cardus.ca/research/education/policy-brief/the-business-stake-in-k-12-education/).
“Albertans are creative, they are more entrepreneurial than most of the country. They have more resources, but it’s not just resources, there are lots of people with resources who don’t have an imagination. Albertans have this ability to imagine something differently, it’s in the culture. I’m of the opinion that Alberta can be on the forefront as an educational leader on this matter,” stated Van Pelt.
By SAMANTHA JOHNSON, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Jun 19, 2023