||By Daniel Stoffman
population is growing older. That has important
implications for the public education system.
Canadas projections for the next 10 years show
a decline in the number of children nine and younger
and only a small increase in those aged 10 to 14.
This is the inevitable result of the aging of the
baby boom, the one-third of the Canadian population
born between 1947 and 1966.
The front end
of the boom is moving out of its child-bearing years,
and is being replaced in that category by the
20-to-30-year-olds, also known as the baby busters.
There are fewer busters than boomers and that means
slow times at Canadas maternity wards for the
rest of the decade.
fewer young children means reduced demand for
kinder-garten and elementary teachers.
This drop in
the size of the youngest population cohort is being
accom-panied by a rapid increase in the over-50
population, a demographic development that is also
significant for the future of public education.
of increasing life expectancy and continuing low
fertility means that an ever-smaller percentage of
Canadians will have members of their immediate
families using the public schools. This phenomenon
creates a problem for public education because people
who are not using the system may become less
supportive of it.
other trends - a brutal job market, especially at the
entry level, and decreasing confidence in certain
instruction methods favoured by the education
bureaucracy - intensify the erosion of support for
situation for young people is the worst since the
Great Depression of the 1930s. Youth unemployment is
twice that of the general population. One in five
people in the 15 to 24 age group have never even had
a summer job, much less a full-time one.
university graduates who would be snapped up in
normal times are either unemployed or drifting from
one temporary position to another. Prospects for
young people without higher education are poorer
still because more and more tasks that used to be
available to unskilled workers are being reassigned
creates anxiety among parents who are no longer
confident that a high school diploma certifies
literacy and numeracy. One result is rapid growth in
the private education sector, including commercial
tutoring operations and private schools.
Institute, a Japan-based franchise operation that
offers after-school help in math and language, has
increased its Canadian enrollment from 2,000 in 1988
to 27,000 in 1997. Meanwhile, the popularity of
private schools owes as much to demographic change as
to parents anxiety over their childrens
fertility rate is about 1.7 children per woman, which
is typical for a modern industrialized country. The
result is that most Canadian families today have only
one or two children and this means that private
education is now within the financial reach of more
Canadian families than ever before.
parents who could never afford tuition fees of
$10,000 if they had four kids to educate, can turn to
private education when they have only one offspring.
Moreover, many boomer parents delayed having children
until they were in their 30s and many are in
two-income households. This increases the
affordability of private education still more.
system is thus faced with the prospect of increasing
competition from the private sector. This parallels
the growth of the private health care sector caused
by cutbacks in medicare and the unwillingness of
aging boomers to tolerate delays or perceived lower
quality of service.
In the same
way, an erosion of confidence in the public pension
system is helping to fuel the rapid growth in assets
held individually in registered retirement savings
So what should
the public education system do to protect its
position as a crucial part of Canadas social
adherence to educational philosophies that have lost
the confidence of the public, such as whole language
reading instruction, is self-defeating. It will swell
the exodus from the public system and that will cost
teachers jobs as well as adding to the erosion of
schools must bolster the core curriculum of basic
subjects and skills. And because demographic change
means fewer people will be using the system, public
schools must become more efficient.
mean, for example, that a school board decides to
make do with a portable to accommodate a short-term
bulge in enrolment rather than building a new school
that will be under-utilized a few years hence.
The good news
is that most Canadians understand the benefits that a
strong public education system confers on society as
a whole, including individuals who may not have
family members in school. They will support public
education but only if it provides results that meet
international standards, both in terms of academic
achievement and per capita cost.
most profound impact of demographic change on
education is to expand the market for it and this has
positive implications for educators, including the
30,000 teachers expected to retire from jobs in
Ontario public schools over the next five years.
The day is long
past when entry into the work force marked the end of
an individuals education. Rapid economic and
technological change means a much greater need for
continuing education. That is why universities such
as York have established branches in the downtown
financial district. The growth of the Elderhostel
program and the presence of academic lecturers on
cruise ships testifies to the thirst for knowledge by
retired and near-retired people.
boomers have just begun turning 50. This means that
the golden age of adult education has also just
begun. Professional teachers have the ability to
absorb knowledge and impart it to others, a talent
that will be in increasing demand in the years ahead.
The inevitable growth in demand for adult education
gives teachers an opportunity to exploit demographic
change rather than falling victim to it.
Stoffman is the co-author of the non-fiction best
seller Boom, Bust & Echo. He is a graduate of the
University of British Columbia and the London School
of Economics, and an award-winning journalist. His
research into Canadian immigration policy as an
Atkinson Fellow produced the widely-publicized study
Toward a More Realistic Immigration Policy for Canada