Education is the systematic instruction, schooling, or training given to the young in preparation for the work of life, and by extension, similar instruction or training obtained in adulthood.

Societies that thrive encourage a thirst for knowledge — at every age and stage of life. Education is a process that begins before school age and is reflected in pre-school arrangements such as child care and early childhood education. It also continues beyond elementary and high school, to college, university, and professional training through apprenticeships. Education continues as lifelong learning. As the world changes, education helps Canadians adapt to new challenges.

Canada gets highest marks for education

Education is the only domain that was relatively close to matching the growth in GDP since 1994. After slight declines following 1994, the Education domain has grown every year since 1998.

Education trends line graph

Education domain raw data

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Despite significant improvements, childcare in Canada remains inadequate 

Only one in four children has access to regulated, centre-based child care. Despite more than doubling the percentage of 0- to 5-year-olds for whom there is regulated, centre-based child care since 1994 — rising from 11.5% in 1994 to 24.1% by 2014 — the number of spaces remains seriously inadequate. The shortage of spaces is critical because early childhood education contributes to later educational achievement, provides a foundation for lifelong learning, and improves overall health. Nowhere is the need greater than in Saskatchewan where only 12.6% of children have access to regulated child care spaces.

Only about 34 minutes per day on average is spent by adults in interactive, talk-based activities with children from 0 to 14 years of age. The average amount of time has edged up from 33.0 minutes in 1998 to 35.4 minutes in 2010 with much more time interacting with female adults (43.4 minutes) than male adults (26.6 minutes). After 2005, the time spent by adults talking with children began to decline.

Resources for elementary school children have improved 

We continue to invest in our youngest students. Expenditures per elementary school student rose from an average of $9.36 in 1997 to $13.38 in 2014 — an increase of more than 45%.

Student-teacher ratios are improving. The ratio of elementary school students to educators has improved from 15.9 students per educator in 1997 to 11.8 students per educator in 2013 —an overall improvement of over 35.2%.

...High school and university completion continue to increase...

Almost 90% of Canadian youth are completing high school. The percentage of the Canadian population between 20 and 24 years of age that have completed high school grew slowly, but steadily from 81.1% in 1994 to 89.3% in 2014. This represents an overall increase of 8.2% in the completion rate over the 21-year period.

University graduation rates among 25- to 64-year-olds have almost doubled. In 1994, 16.7% of Canadians had a university degree and by 2014, the percentage had grown to 28.5%. Notably, 4.4% more women (31.7%) than men (27.3%) aged 25 to 64 years had university degrees in 2014.

...But tuition fees have tripled

» Undergraduate student tuition fees have almost tripled from 1994 to 2014. From an average of $2,221 in 1994 to $5,998 by 2014, tuition fees have been steadily rising. As this financial burden increases, access to university presents an even greater challenge for many young Canadians. In addition, the significant student debt they carry after completing their studies hinders their ability to participate fully in all aspects of society.

More adults are participating in education-related activities 

More Canadians 25 years of age and older are participating in education-related activities. There has been a steady increase in the number of adults who attend lectures in the community, engage in professional development work, take special interest courses, and use the Internet for research or homework. However, despite the upward trend since 1994 — rising from 3.8% to 5.0% in 2010 — the percentage of Canadian adults participating in life-long learning activities remains very low.

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Conclusion

Education is one of the core personal resources that each of us needs to manage our personal wellbeing. As life expectancy has significantly increased over the past

century, it is equally important that we embrace a lifetime development approach to education. Access to education over the life course contributes to better health, a greater sense of belonging to community, a more tolerant and welcoming society, and an enriching and rewarding life.

The early years set the foundation for our development and predict later educational outcomes as well as overall health. In Canada, the availability of child care has increased steadily, but by 2014, there is still only about one space for every four children. Further, in the absence of a national child care program, availability of child care varies significantly from province to province. Adequate child care and early childhood education support gender equity by providing women with more opportunities to become fully engaged in the workforce. Along with these opportunities comes a wide array of individual, family, and societal benefits.

Despite regular increases in tuition fees, university completion rates have improved significantly since 1994 — something that bodes well for an economy that requires an increasingly skilled workforce. However, given the debt that many graduates will face, what will be the expense to their individual wellbeing and to our society’s ability to provide support?

Education indicators tracked 1994 to 2014

  • Percentage of children aged 0 to 5 years for whom there is a regulated centre-based child care space
  • Amount of time spent in talk-based activities with children aged 0 to 14 years
  • Average expenditure per public school student (2013$)
  • Ratio of students to educators in public schools
  • Average annual Canadian undergraduate tuition fees (2015$)
  • Percentage of Canadians 20 to 24 years of age in labour force completing high school
  • Percentage of 25 to 64-year-olds in population with a university degree
  • Percentage of population aged 25 and older participating in education-related activities

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