Home Month and Year August 2023 How Can Public Education Better Fuel the Future of Alberta?

How Can Public Education Better Fuel the Future of Alberta?

Catherine Brownlee

In March 2023, the Department of Education released the Career Education in Alberta report, the result of broad-based consultation with K-12 educators, post-secondary institutions, students in grades 7-12 and key industry leaders.

There was clear agreement on the need for change, noting “all students need to be made aware of a breadth of career opportunities and pathways that are available to them, beyond the careers that are highly visible to the public. Educators and parents also need to be made aware of a variety of career options given the key roles they have in sharing knowledge and advice with students.”

The question is how to do it?

We already have some early examples of new organizations that are leading a new model for education. STEM Collegiate was the first Collegiate approved in the province and will be opening its doors this fall for students in grades 7-9, with grades 10-12 being added starting in the fall of 2024. Working together with post-secondary educators and researchers, they are delivering a robust program of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) topics, including enhanced science and unique technology options. Their collaboration with industry and post-secondary partners ensures the program is leading-edge, highly engaging and future focussed. A key goal is that by the end of grade 12, all students have a strong and expanded base of knowledge to decide what comes next after grade 12, the skills to be successful in post-secondary and the confidence to follow their passions.

We know that we have a labour crisis in the trades right now – not only in the traditional trades but in the technology applications that surround the trades. The construction industry is a great example of where the need for traditional skills exist but in addition, a high degree of technical proficiency is necessary for new construction methods, design and assessment. Today drones are being used to survey construction progress, building supplies are being 3D printed and there is a widespread digital transformation of nearly all processes.

Unfortunately, we are not seeing the trades, including the digital trades, attracting new, young talent that is needed to secure Alberta’s future. First and foremost is the lack of awareness of the breadth of opportunities and outdated perceptions of what the industry is like.

We have the ability to change this. The unique Alberta charter school model is a proven practice of focussed education, like the STEM example above. Due to recent regulatory changes made by the Provincial government, there is support for the opening of more focussed charter schools. Charter schools are public schools, tuition-free and open to all students.

A new charter school focussed on developing the knowledge and skills necessary for future skilled trades talent could be a game changer. Trade schools are an innovative answer to an age-old but growing problem. Providing students with a high-quality education, connected to current and future opportunities, while experiencing and learning through innovative, real-world programming is a recipe for success for our youth.