Globe and Mail Op-ed by Prof. Greg Evans: Flying blind: The future of work in Canada depends on better research

Another week brings another public call for education reform – the latest comes from Dave McKay, president and CEO of the Royal Bank of Canada, with the bank’s report Humans Wanted that urges Canadian educators to “find new ways to support and unleash the skills of Canada’s youth.”

In many ways, we agree with Mr. McKay’s findings on the importance of evolving postsecondary education dramatically and quickly and it’s wonderful to see RBC speaking out. However, as we make major changes to how we deliver education in Canada, especially in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines, we need to tackle a related foundational issue: research.

Any major shift in postsecondary education must be underpinned by research evidence. Fortunately, research is something that Canadian universities are very good at. However, in Canada, there is a conspicuous absence of funding for research into STEM education across the wide range of federal research funding programs. No funding is available for professors in science and engineering, such as ourselves, to study the effectiveness of changes to both what and how we teach. This evidence can’t be borrowed or bought, as the research must be discipline-specific and conducted in a Canadian context to address uniquely Canadian needs.

In this field, Canada is way behind. STEM education research should be a prerequisite and key enabler of change, yet very little is underway. The United States, for example, has traditionally allocated approximately US$100-million annually through its National Science Foundation for research to improve undergraduate STEM education. At a time when the nature and role of postsecondary education is undergoing substantial transformation, no equivalent funding exists in Canada. Because this research is situated between traditional research domains, such as physical sciences and education, and thus outside the eligibility criteria of the federal tri-council granting agencies, it has fallen between the cracks.

Fortunately, a change is in the air. The 2018 Federal budget emphasized the need for interdisciplinary research while, in 2017, the government created the Canada Research Coordinating Committee to develop new interdisciplinary initiatives and programming. This may open a door to supporting the type of foundational research that is needed to enable and guide postsecondary STEM education reform.

Full Op-ed HERE