From early years to adult education, access, affordability and equality of opportunity in education are foundational for healthy, prosperous, and fully participative lives. Saskatchewan has made significant progress in the Education domain and even though it has plans in place to improve access and affordability of childcare and post-secondary education, these remain significant challenges.
While Saskatchewan’s progress in creating childcare spaces is commendable, the shortage of spaces remains critical both for children and their parents – especially mothers. For children, early childhood education contributes to later educational achievement, provides a foundation for lifelong learning, and improves overall health. The provision of more resources in support of early childhood development is especially important as parents are less able to find time for more interactions with their children. For women, reliable and affordable childcare is a significant factor in full participation in the workplace, the community, and in life-long learning and formal education.
Access to higher education is inextricably linked to affordability, not just of tuition fees, but of the cost of transportation, housing, and meals for students who have to travel to attend school. Even if the initial costs in going to school can be overcome, the resulting debt-load can be a significant burden upon graduation. Students in Saskatchewan completing a Bachelor’s degree were still facing an average debt of $22,800 three years after graduation – $3,000 higher than graduates elsewhere in Canada. In fact, fully half of graduates in Saskatchewan have debts in excess of $25,000 compared to 41% nation-wide. As tuition fees in the province continue to rise significantly, student debt will increasingly be a challenge, thereby reducing possibilities for future success.
A number of government and ministerial strategies have been initiated to tackle historic challenges in the province and to align efforts to improve results in a number of aspects of quality of life resulting from lifelong learning. These strategies include improving early childhood development; eliminating wait-lists for adult basic education programs; improving grade levels of reading, writing, and math; leading the country in Grade 12 graduation rates by 2020; and reducing the difference in graduation rates between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students by 50% by 2020. According to the province’s Auditor’s report in 2017, however, Aboriginal students continue to lag behind in graduation rate. In addition, Aboriginal students scored lower on literacy and numeracy than their non-Aboriginal counterparts so the challenges in realizing the ambitions laid out in these strategies remain.
In addition to policy and funding challenges, having access to reliable data – in Saskatchewan and nationally – on education trends is needed to monitor progress and better understand how learning over the entire life course contributes to everyone’s quality of life. Most critically, there is a significant gap in the availability of data for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit, especially for Indigenous schools and students. In addition, data on college completion and apprenticeships would point to similarly important post-secondary paths, especially in resource-based economies. Again, however, the measurement of these pathways is not uniform across provinces, thereby making reliable monitoring and comparisons impossible.
Page 33-39 of the report.