Today’s Globe has a piece by Ken Coates and Douglas Auld that outlines the theory that a focus on access has led to a natural decline in retention at Canada's post-secondary schools - this is in conjunction with a stated need to better measure educational outcomes. Besides measuring the effectiveness of education across the country, there is a need to better understand how our publicly funded inputs lead to outputs and outcomes: "The government of Canada and its provincial and territorial partners should identify a small number of crucial elements: graduation rates, career outcomes, personal learning activities, and the commercial and social impact of Canadian research funding and scholarly output."
A Star story on how students want a mix of university and college adds further to this mix. These can be read in conjunction with the hand wringing that accompanies the discourse on skills gaps, real or imagined. And let's not forget this item that came up recently: "Overqualified workers often lacking in basic reading, writing skills: study".
These are interesting to read at the start of a new academic year, as they collectively raise the issue of the utility of education. Is education transactional (simply for skills acquisition) or is it transformative (fostering citizenship, contribution to society)? I contend it is both.
The antimetabole of this post's title should cause us to pause and think about what it is we want out of our education system. If "the goal of education is to make people privately happy and publicly useful," then there is no reason why we cannot state some desired outcomes (productive and innovative society, excellent research output; superior learning experience; engaged citizens) of post-secondary systems. This is about understanding the audience(s) we have - the students and graduates, but also employers and parents. There is a need to articulate the links we want made, rather than leaving these to chance.
Really this points to the need for Canada to have a national minister of education. Yes, I know this is provincially regulated and run, but so is health, and we have a national minister of health. We are the only OECD country without a national minister of education.
And as a post script I was pleased to read today that StatsCan is reinstating the University and College Academic Staff System (UCASS) survey.