Learning curve flat for Canadian cities

TheGlobeandMail.com – Education – Urban smarts on the upswing in Atlantic Canada, Victoria and Saskatoon
Published on Thursday, May. 20, 2010 .  Last updated on Thursday, May. 20, 2010.  By Elizabeth Church

What makes a city smart? The Canadian Council on Learning has measured the know-how of communities for the past five years, ranking them based on a basket of measures. Some, such as high-school dropout rates and reading and math scores, are straightforward. Others, such as spending on museums and reading material and average travel time to religious institutions, try to capture difficult-to-measure factors like exposure to media and access to community institutions.

The Ottawa-based group packages up its findings and comes up with a score for 4,500 places across the country. Their findings: Learning in Canada hasn’t shown a noticeable improvement during the half decade that the study has been running. The score for the country hasn’t budged. But that’s not the case for individual communities. Atlantic Canada is home to sizable improvements, led by St. John’s and Fredericton. “This confirms what happens at the local level is really important,” says the council’s head Paul Cappon. Although the federal government cut support for the group last year, he says they will continue to produce the annual index with money from provinces and private foundations.

Leading communities

Victoria continues to shine – the brightest city in Canada just keeps getting better. The B.C. capital, along with the Paris of the Prairies – Saskatoon – were the only two cities in the country to show improvements in their already above-average score. It’s a positive trend that spans three years.

High achievers, with some trouble

The nation’s capital and Calgary continue to outshine most Canadian cities, but their scores have slipped over the five-year life of the study. The Canadian Council on Learning says these are two communities that can’t afford to be complacent about their long-term strength when it comes to learning.

Communities rising

Standout cities in this category include St. John’s, a city that is undergoing a major transformation thanks to the riches of the old industry, and Fredericton, a provincial capital and university town. The learning scores of both these centres has jumped during the five years of the study.

Slipping scores

Several communities in this category have experienced a decline in their learning scores over the past five years. Even so, they are still in line with the national average. This is a trend that is shared by several small towns in Saskatchewan and Alberta. A look at some of the factors in the index where scores are low, could allow these communities to gain their lost ground, the CCL report says.

Making strides

Communities in this group have scores below the national average, but their prospects are rising. The cities of Laval and Sherbrooke, Que., are in this category. The index scores indicate that these communities have strengths that can be built on to bring rankings more in line with the national average.

Communities at risk

A number of communities are below the national average and have results that continue to drop. With five years of results to build on, the CCL identifies these as communities at risk. In 2010, the major cities and town in this category included Saguenay, Que., Cape Breton, Trois-Rivières, communities in rural Newfoundland and Labrador and small towns in Nova Scotia.

See also Full report: Canadian Council on Learning website  < http://www.cli-ica.ca/en.aspx >

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