If we want to discuss whether or not our k to 12 education system is successful, we must first examine its possible purposes.

Suppose the purpose of our education system is to produce kids who are ready for college. Given that only 61.9% of students (in Canada) even attend college, and that not all of those people complete college, then our system is failing at least 40% of its youth by this measure of its success.

What if instead the purpose of our education system is to produce kids who participate actively in democracy? At the very least, voting in an election should demonstrate an active participation in democracy. Given that in the year 2000 only 22.4% of youth aged 18 to 20 voted, and that this number has been decreasing steadily since the 1970s, it should be obvious that in this possible purpose of education, we are failing dismally. 

Another possible purpose of our education system could be to produce students who are literate and numerate. According to government statistics, 46% of Canadians are not literate enough and 55% of Canadians lack sufficient numeracy to be successful in society. Clearly we are failing many people in this respect.

Perhaps our education system is designed to produce people who are critical thinkers, or alternatively, life-long learners. Without literacy and numeracy skills (see previous paragraph), one could easily argue that it is extremely difficult to be a critical thinker, or a life-long learner, so we are likely failing many people with these other two possible purposes of education as well.

Other possible purposes for our education system could be to indoctrinate our youth with our societal values, create compliant citizens for a factory model of work, or to act as child-care for families where both parents work. Finding statistics to verify that the first two of these purposes are being met is difficult, given that it is rare that anyone admits that they could even be purposes of education. As for the successfulness of our system in acting as child-care, it seems that it is an awfully expensive way to provide child-care, but it is true that our education system does provide many hours of supervision each day.

Personally, I don’t think that the last three purposes of education, which might be the only ones in which we are being successful, are sufficient purposes of education. We must do more than merely train our youth to be compliant, teach them how to be nice people, and provide child-care for parents.

I’m a strong supporter of our current system, and I wouldn’t recommend that we tear it down. However, I don’t think we can pretend that it is working as it should, under any definition of success. Something needs to change.