Opinion: Quebec’s focus on education shouldn’t overlook CEGEPs

In terms of schooling, Quebec was still cutting a rather sorry figure in the mid-1960s, but it turned this situation around in a spectacular manner. These advances were recalled again when Paul Gérin-Lajoie passed away this summer. All the tributes to his memory reflected the determination and vision that mobilized Quebec to earn its place alongside the most developed societies.

Today, we possess all the assets we need to rank with the best and to meet future challenges head-on and with flying colours. Unfortunately, we are thinking small. Far be it from me to downplay the vital role of the instruction offered by our elementary and secondary schools, or the contributions made by the competent, passionate and devoted people who work in them.

Nevertheless, we have to admit that our public debates and political discourse relate solely to the education we provide to our younger students. It would seem that we have collectively dismissed higher education from our concerns and decided to limit our efforts to ensuring that as many young people as possible obtain their Secondary 5 diploma. In other words, we have failed to look beyond the legal requirement of keeping students in school until age 16. It is as if our ambition does not extend beyond the high school diploma.

Assuming that the purpose of an election campaign is to appeal to voters by engaging in dialogue on hot-button issues, we can only conclude that Quebecers are, at best, indifferent to higher education or, at worst, wary when it comes to knowledge and going the extra intellectual mile, because the parties’ platforms and public appearances scarcely, if at all, broach the mission of the CEGEPS and universities. It is as if these issues could find absolutely no possible resonance with voters.

However, over the years, the labour market has been constantly making demands — particularly of the CEGEPS — to ensure that more skilled workers are trained, because the employment situation is deemed to be at a critical juncture in a number of economic sectors. There is an increasing demand for higher-education qualifications. According to Emploi-Québec, 81 per cent of the 90,200 jobs created in 2017 were highly skilled; in other words, these were jobs that required college-level training at a minimum.

We are living in the 21st century and are at the start of a fourth industrial revolution. We are in the midst of a shift to digital technology, and our metropolis is quickly becoming a hub for artificial intelligence. Economically, socially and culturally, our societies are growing increasingly complex. Boundaries are being shattered as we operate in a global economy.

Quebecers were full of great ambitions when they emerged from the Great Darkness; and indeed, they fulfilled some of these ambitions. Do we really want a return to the days when Quebecers were drawers of water, as Félix Leclerc used to say? Are we willing to let ourselves become vulnerable at a time when other societies are excelling in the field of higher education and catching up with us?

Clearly the answer to these questions is “no.” When, then, can we expect to see a higher education strategy based on a collective commitment?

The development of higher education is vital to a changing Quebec.