The Community Foundation’s "Vital Signs" report section on learning provides sobering reading. Based on data gathered in 2010, less than half of the population of the Lethbridge/Medicine Hat economic region had completed post-secondary education.
The report continues saying the number of post-secondary completers in our region lags the rest of the province by 17.5 percent. We fall behind the national rate by 18.3 percent.
I believe these numbers deserve close attention and discussion.
Personally, I think that fewer people choose to attend college or university in southern Alberta because we’re blessed with a strong economy. There are jobs available. Some of those jobs require little formal learning, and many of them offer strong compensation.
On first consideration, this seems reasonable. Who would argue the logic of taking advantage of employment possibilities that pay off today, rather than two to four years in the future?
Well, I would. And I hope community leaders add their voice to mine. Our collective thinking is, perhaps, short term. We seem more focused on the issue of today than the opportunities of tomorrow.
That’s easy to understand on the personal level. When a young person looks around and sees a clear path to the benefits of a pay check, helping them understand the realities they may face in a few years is a challenge.
When I think back, I knew many young men who opted for the job market because it offered the immediate ability to buy a new vehicle, pay the rent and have some fun. It wasn’t until a few years had passed before they realized that the career they had entered became less rewarding as family commitments grew and, simultaneously, the time to acquire formal education shrank.
It is on the broad community level that we need to be most concerned, however.
We need to ask ourselves about the future of our families and our communities. Do we envision a future with growing economic diversity, or dependence on the same jobs that exist today? Do we think the nature of our communities will remain static despite the clear data that indicates demographic and social change on the horizon?
I believe that advanced learning is a tool that helps people grapple with problems today, as well as prepare for the future. If fewer people in Medicine Hat choose to attend college or university, our ability to adapt to future realities is diminished and we could find our quality of life lagging behind other parts of Canada.
The Vital Signs report is worth reading, but it is even more important that we take collective action to create change in our community. Review the section on learning, and ask yourself if you’re comfortable with the numbers you see.
If not, join me as an advocate for education. If we reach out together to show young people how they can take control of the future, we might just make a difference in the lives of our grandchildren.
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