A threat to both our quality of life and economic competitiveness
We live in an age when a nation’s quality of life depends on a sufficient supply of science-based professionals possessing the skills needed in our technologically advanced world.
The supply of these professionals was already tight, but a slowdown in replacing retirees during the past two COVID years exacerbated the problem. A recent CD Howe Institute report, entitled The Knowledge Gap, concludes that Canada faces a serious shortage of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) skills that threaten both our quality of life and economic competitiveness.
The report emphasizes that the situation requires urgent and substantive action, starting with a fundamental reform of secondary school science education, where many teachers lack scientific knowledge. This leads to “teaching from the book”, leaving students bored and unmotivated.
Science is a fascinating subject, but it needs teachers with the expertise and enthusiasm to bring it alive, motivating students to pursue careers as engineers, chemists, doctors and other in-demand professions. Lacking adequate science skills, students applying to university have few choices and often end up in low career potential liberal arts programs. The University of British Columbia’s 2020 undergraduate report shows the troubling statistic that arts faculty enrollment was twice the combined enrollment in engineering, pre-medicine and all other science-based professionals.
A major obstacle to ensuring qualified science teachers is the union-based system that assigns teaching positions based on seniority rather than training. An example is a passionate young science graduate I knew who had to work as a part-time substitute general course teacher for years. This needs to change.