The sophomore edition of the Maclean’s Ideas Summit took place from November 20 to December 4 with a series of virtual and in-person events featuring leading practitioners and thought leaders in education, technology, and diversity and inclusion. Speakers and attendees gathered to discuss a range of issues impacting education in Canada, including newcomer access, technology integration, skills development, and how our collision with AI will change the way we learn.
Newcomers and education access
The summit kicked off on November 20 at Luma with a thought leadership panel focused on education access for newcomers to Canada, moderated by Jason Maghanoy, publisher at Maclean’s, and hosted in partnership with 369 Global.
Four dynamic practitioners—all highly active in the immigration, skills and pedagogical spaces—discussed the social and financial barriers experienced by many newcomers, the importance of cultural mentorship and the private sector’s role in enhancing access to skills training.
Muraly Srinarayanathas, 369 Global’s co-founder and executive chairman, identified systemic resistance to foreign credentials recognition and cost as the most pernicious obstacles to equitable learning access. Connecting with cultural networks that provide resources and the right mentor who can help a newcomer navigate Canada’s immigration and education systems is a critical part of the solution, but Srinarayanathas called for greater engagement on the part of employers.
“The missing piece lies with upskilling the knowledge and awareness of employers who are seeking to hire these newcomers,” said Srinarayanathas. “It’s ridiculous that highly educated people have to go through the process all over again when so many Canadian sectors are in desperate need of qualified, skilled labour and talent. Health care workers should not have to go to career colleges when they arrive in Canada, they should be going to work in hospitals.”
Pedro Barata, executive director at the Future Skills Centre, argued that Canada’s entrenched and complex certification body ecosystem is ‘gatekeeping’ and in need of systemic disruption given the rising influx of newcomeing professionals seeking work experience. He cited the Ontario government’s recent decision to ban regulated professions from requiring Canadian work experience in more than 30 occupations as a critical step forward in creating a more equitable system, and called for more reform and innovation particularly in pre-arrival assessment systems.
“Immigration is going to be Canada’s main population and economic growth driver within a decade, and we need to be doing more in terms of informing newcomers, and creating more streamlined, individually-based diagnoses and linkages using emerging digital platforms if we’re going to keep up,” said Barata. “Post-secondary institutions need to think beyond simply welcoming students, charging them lots of money then sending them off with a degree. They need to make the distinction between international students and newcomers, and engage with employers to understand what their skills needs really are.”
Ana Serrano, president of OCAD University, emphasized that the main challenge to social mobility newcomers face when they first arrive stems from a lack of investment in a public higher education system that prioritizes micro-credential stacking programs as much as four-year Bachelor’s degrees.
“What’s missing from a lot of newcomer initiatives is the notion of reciprocity, and understanding that we have something to give newcomers in the same way that they offer what we’re in need of,” said Serrano. “We need to be more intentional about fostering democratic spaces that are about meaningful and value-laden inclusion, and create a community that honours everyone’s contributions, whether products or experiences, to our country’s future prosperity.”
Dr. Chika Stacy Oriuwa, resident physician at the University of Toronto—“the only Black medical student in my class,” she added—and a Maclean’s Power List honouree, delved into her own personal and cultural experiences as a second-generation Canadian. In relating how her father dissuaded her from learning his native Igbo language because he experienced differential treatment due to his Nigerian accent, Dr. Oriuwa illustrated how implicit and unconscious biases impact how educators treat different kinds of students.
“What’s often ignored is the trauma associated with coming to a new country, the cultural shock of having to deal with different micro- and macro-aggressions, and how that can influence one’s educational success,” said Dr. Oriuwa. “It’s critical that faculties create like-minded networks and recognize not only the importance of mentorship, which can help demystify the path ahead, but also the power of sponsors, who can leverage access and privilege to equip newcomers with resources to achieve their goals.”
The panel sparked a lively Q&A session with the audience members, who had the opportunity to continue this critical dialogue during the networking session that followed.
Technology integration and new practices
On November 29, Maclean’s editor in chief Sarah Fulford joined Dr. Elka Walsh, Microsoft Canada’s Associate Vice President of Learning & Teaching, for a virtual fireside chat about how the integration of new technologies—generative AI, especially—and practices are disrupting education in Canada.
Having served in executive positions at educational institutions for over 20 years, and as founder of UDiscover Learning Inc., Dr. Walsh works with Canada’s school boards, colleges, universities and polytechnics to build capacity and empower educators and students through digital transformation to achieve the “art of the possible” for the future of teaching and learning.
“We’re at a moment in time where so much change is happening, and we have an opportunity to start exploring how we as educators can now achieve what we’ve always wanted to do, [such as] the personalization of learning and the ability to engage every single learner,” said Dr. Walsh. “Technology is now in a place where we can start doing that, but in some respects we’re still in the early days of adoption in certain locations, while in other areas we’re seeing beautiful pockets of innovation starting to emerge.”
Colliding with AI and the future of skill development
The Maclean’s Ideas Summit concluded on December 4 at OCAD’s Waterfront campus with a keynote address and panel discussion on the intersection of AI and learning, skills development, and diversity and inclusion, moderated by Maclean’s managing editor Katie Underwood and presented by Global University Systems (GUS).
Cyndi McLeod, CEO of GUS Canada, began with a keynote talk on what the “university of tomorrow” might look like if built from scratch today, noting that Ontario has built more than a dozen universities based on the Oxford model, drawing inspiration from history instead of the future.
“Universities are no longer the dominant incubators of knowledge and technological advancement, and many graduates don’t have the skills employers need because their schools didn’t cover them,” said McLeod, in showcasing GUS’ new University of Niagara Falls. “We need to balance timelessness with new tools—and digital fluency with a growth mindset—to be laser-focused and lead on the future of education in Canada.”
A panel discussion followed featuring McLeod; Satish Kanwar, former Shopify VP, founder and investor; Sara Diamond, OCAD’s president emirata; Paulette Senior, CEO of the Canadian Women’s Foundation; and, Amy ter Haar, GSU Canada’s senior legal counsel.
“This new generation of students and educators can’t afford to skip out on the pace of progress,” said Kanwar. “With AI, there’s so much opportunity to make education universally accessible and the net benefit is critical to the future relevancy of these institutions, so we need to expand that access to provide the right inputs.”
“While some European educational institutions are banning AI outright, Ontario is running towards it in a way that is thoughtful, careful and looks at how critical skills are provided,” said Diamond. “You can build a post-secondary learning culture where those skills are fundamental, but students need to see themselves in their role models, so there’s a huge responsibility to hire diverse faculty and leaders. At OCAD, we have a community of practice where we train each other on tools and roll out capacity through every faculty to provide engaged, embodied learning.”
SIGN UP TO READ THE BEST OF MACLEAN’S:
Get our top stories sent directly to your inbox twice a week
“AI can be great for augmenting education, but over-relying on it can exacerbate existing inequalities, especially for students already facing accessibility challenges,” said ter Haar. “It’s essential that thought leaders advocate for inclusive, diverse and affordable practices, and work jointly with policy makers to develop technology and education policies that bridge the digital divide.”
“There’s an opportunity for AI to address socioeconomic gaps, so it’s important to be a part of conversation and identify opportunities, persistent gaps around education for under-represented groups,” said Senior. “As we’ve been holding on to what’s always been done, those at the margins haven’t been successful in getting into the core. AI could prevent that through greater enablement, but we want to be sure that people in remote or racialized communities have equipment and access to learning to be full participants.”