Starting with furs and fish, then timber, minerals and petroleum, Canada has prospered thanks to our abundant natural resources.
But in recent years, governments have recognized that change is necessary and have pledged to transform Canada into a knowledge-based economy. When that happens, our greatest resource must be human minds and how those minds pursue innovation, quality and new technologies.
Such transformation can’t happen overnight. Nor can it happen without significant government investment.
In the last half century, the development of the microchip, the Internet and wireless communication became the foundation for most other technological advances.
It started with significant government spending – in the United States, for example, in space exploration, satellite development and equipping military – to spur new technologies. That was followed by private sector innovation and investment, to ensure that personal computers, cellphones and other devices became affordable and accessible to North Americans.
Business and recreational activities have been dramatically transformed. Lives have changed for the better thanks to these new technologies. And the next wave of technology awaits, likely in advanced robotics, artificial intelligence and nano science.
To spawn a knowledge-based economy, Canadian governments must find ways to spark technological change. And Canada is already at a disadvantage – we don’t have a space program or a massive military budget to spur developing technology. And investment in research and development at universities has never been a top priority.
So how does Canada kick-start research and development?
Our governments need to invest in bringing technology into public school classrooms.
Every classroom requires personal computers, the Internet and smart phone technology to replace the blackboard and chalk that most teachers use today.
Teaching computer coding to students should be mandatory. It’s the only way we can give our students a head start in the global economy.
Through technology, homework can become more relevant to scholastic development and classroom time can be used on fundamentals. At home, students can log into a database and receive questions that either reinforce fundamentals or challenge them to go further. Online videos from the best teachers can provide refreshers or help on questions student may struggle with.
The days of a mom or dad scratching their head while trying to figure out their child’s math homework should be long gone. We have the technology to provide students with so much more homework help.
However, our public school systems are stuck in the past – and that’s holding our students back.
Change in our education system must start with politicians. So political leaders who want to form the next government should start talking now about investing in technology for every public school classroom.
Robots, artificial intelligence and nano science were once in the realm of science fiction, but these technologies are already being offered to consumers.
Will Canadian companies will be among the global leaders in the development of these technologies?
Without bringing the foundational technology of the knowledge-based economy into our public schools, any talk of transformation will be fruitless. We can’t continue to operate blackboard and chalk classrooms.
It’s time to shift Canada’s economy to keep pace with a rapidly changing world.
Maddie Di Muccio is a former town councillor in Newmarket, Ont., and former columnist with the Toronto Sun.