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Education and Innovation

In a recent posting on Forbes’ CIO Network (read it here), Norm Augustine discusses what it will take for the United States to retain, or perhaps reclaim, its position as the global leader in research and innovation.  Mr. Augustine points out some potential causes for the American slip away from science as a lack of quality education, and a negative social image of engineers and researchers.

In comparative terms, Canada fares a little better than the United States.  The World Economic Forum’s 2010-2011 report places Canada 10th in the world in terms of math and science education, and 5th in terms of overall education quality.  While these figures are encouraging, Statistics Canada reports some more sobering data: scarcely one in ten new university enrollments are math, science, or engineering related.  Further, the World Economic Forum ranks Canada 19th in terms of capacity for innovation, and 20th for company spending on R&D.

Being able to provide a quality education is an excellent start, but encouraging young Canadians to enroll is another challenge.  Exposure to mathematics and the sciences must begin at an early age, and to be effective it must engage young students.  A number of Canadian organizations, including JUMP Math, are working hard to increase numeracy in early education.  Despite their efforts, according to Stats Can, Canada has fallen from 11th in 2002 to 12th in 2004 in terms of R&D performance, when compared to OECD countries.

When in search of innovation, and when attempting a fundamental shift in the educational layout of a generation, perhaps that innovation should begin in the education system itself.  Conrad Wolfram’s recent TED Talk may provide some food for thought: