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Address By The Right Honourable Brian Mulroney, P.C, M.P.,
Prime Minister Of Canada

1990 Inaugural Canada-Wide Marshall McLuhan Distinguished Teachers Awards, Toronto April 26, 1990

I am very happy to be with you this evening for the first Canada-wide Marshall McLuhan Distinguished Teachers Awards Ceremony. We are here to celebrate the memory of Marshall McLuhan and to honour the accomplishments of some of Canada's best teachers.

Marshall McLuhan was a prophet in his own time. He saw powerful impact of technological on the world and showed us a new way to explain our world and society. As well as being a great thinker, Marshall McLuhan showed in his tenure at the University of Toronto, that he was a great educator. This Canadian Awards Program of the Marshall McLuhan Center on Global Communications is a most fitting tribute to him. It is also a very timely and far-sighted initiative, which we fully endorse.

Tonight, for the first time, we are honouring twelve Canadian winners of the Marshall McLuhan Distinguished Teachers Awards. All the teachers honoured here have shown leadership and creativity in imparting knowledge and skills to their students. The enthusiasm and dedication and achievements of these teachers warrants Canadian recognition.

By extension we are also recognizing the accomplishments of the many thousands of elementary and secondary school teachers across Canada who are committed to educating and inspiring our children. These children are Canada's greatest resource. Their intellectual development, their values and their commitment to Canada will enrich our society in the 21st century and determine the success of our economy in an increasingly competitive world.

A critical determinant of our future competitiveness as an economic power and of our social and cultural well-being as a civilized nation will be the quality of our educational system. All Canadians want Canada to be in the vanguard of education both in the terms of accessibility and excellence. As important as this has been in the past it will be even more important in the future.

Last November, I proposed to my provincial and territorial colleagues that we work together to establish a national task force on human resource development for the year 2000 and beyond. Since then, the Council of Ministers of Education and my own representative, Dr. Doug Wright, the President of the University of Waterloo, have made excellent progress on this idea and I am looking forward to working with the other first ministers to strengthen Canadian education for the future.

There is much about our education systems of which we can be proud, but we also have our problems. In a country as advanced as Canada it is very disturbing that we continue to have a serious illiteracy problem. One recent survey found that 17 percent of Canadian high school graduates were functionally illiterate. Not only does this affect their ability to find employment at the outset of their working lives but it affects their ability to adapt to new demands in the market place and to seize new employment opportunities later in their lives.

The drop out situation is also worrying. Nearly 100,000 Canadian teenagers a year are dropping out of high school. Also disturbing is the fact that in this new "information age" we continue to produce a low rate of engineers and scientists for our work force.

And women account for only 13 percent of people receiving engineering degrees and 30 percent of math and physical science degrees. This is an affordable waste of talent in areas that are critical to our national well-being. These statistics on illiteracy, drop-outs, scientists and engineers and the participation of women are not, obviously, conclusive and they tell only a fraction of the story of Canadian education, as we see here tonight - but nevertheless they are worrying.

For our part, at the federal level, we have taken a number of steps to meet these problems. We have initiated the $80 million Canada Scholarship Program to encourage our brightest young people to enter the science and engineering fields. When fully operational, this program will provide full scholarships valued at $2,000 each academic year to 10,000 young Canadians; half of the scholarships will go to women.

I cooperation with provincial and territorial governments and with elementary schools, our public awareness campaign is changing negative attitudes towards science and technology among the young. To help young people make the transition from school to work successfully, we have launched a national Stay-in School initiative.

And we recently announced support for a private sector initiative, involving four national organizations (The Canadian Council of Professional Engineers, the AUCC, the CMA and the Association of Consulting Engineers) to improve the environment for women in engineering studies and to increase their participation.

Learning does not begin when you enter the classroom, nor does it end when you leave it. Learning is a life-long process. And promoting quality learning opportunities for all our citizens requires the collective will and energies of not only educators and government but also of industry.

We recently launched the labour force development strategy to help unemployed persons acquire new skills they will need to change the changing world. This major new initiative will help Canada develop a much needed training culture. From pre-school to adult education, our ability to develop human resources will be vital to our future prosperity and international competitiveness.

This afternoon at the Peel Regional, I met with women who were successfully completing skills enhancement courses, enabling them to re-enter the workforce in a productive fashion, many of them after a 15-year absence. Yet as vital as competitiveness is, our future depends on more than our economy. Education is also critical to the evolution of society and the building of national consciousness. After nearly 125 years, Canadians are still grappling with the fundamental issues of our confederation. The challenge is to know ourselves and the greatness of which we are capable. If understanding Canada is the key to our future, education is the key to that understanding.

We have created a tolerant caring and united country, a civilized and educated nation and we have much to be proud of. But we risk losing this heritage if we fail to appreciate our past and carry these values into our future. It is appropriate for me, not only as the Prime Minister but as a father of four young children to tell you of my deep conviction that we need to resolve our constitutional challenges in a constructive and generous way. A vital challenge for educators is to enable Canadians to understand their country so that the can build a better future.

Teachers are the repository of our national consciousness, the interpreters of our national culture and the communicators of our national ethos. We owe it to ourselves and to our children - and to their teachers - to recognize and celebrate the achievements of these educators as we are doing here tonight. Their good influence on us last a lifetime. We are here, tonight, to demonstrate that their excellence matters and that they as educators matter greatly in the building of a civilized and tolerant society.

I commend the McLuhan Center for this National Awards Program. It has been a partnership of both public and private support that has contributed to the realization of a national awards program to honour the memory of a husband, a father, an educator and a great Canadian.

Over twenty years ago, Marshall McLuhan wrote: " The future is here now. The teacher of the future is always the present." The present and the future converge here tonight, especially as we honour teachers who are preparing our young people for the century ahead. I believe that Marshall McLuhan would approve.


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Last updated December 2008