Year Ahead

The Year Ahead: Education in 2024

Pronoun arguments and French-English language tensions will ensnare school boards. International students will get extra government protection, but find housing harder to come by—and fewer will come from India. For the rest of us: AI lessons. 
Caitlin Walsh Miller
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1. Canadians will become more AI-literate

A 2023 report by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, or CIFAR, found Canadians to be “incautiously optimistic” when it comes to AI. Fortunately, institutions nationwide are launching a wave of new courses designed to up our understanding of how AI works, no coding required. CIFAR recently launched its own module, Destination AI. And this month, a new course called “Artificial Intelligence Everywhere,” offered to all University of Alberta undergrads, will explain the ins and outs of data collection, the history of machine learning and—this is key—the importance of human input.

2. Ontario students will get tech-savvier, too

As of this fall, all Ontario high school students will have to complete a Grade 9 or 10 technology credit to graduate. The provincial curriculum was recently overhauled to include innovations that have arisen since its last update—in 2009. The shiny new version has 10 extra timely-for-2024 disciplines, like computer technology and construction. With 700,000 skilled Canadian tradespeople retiring by 2028, and a housing crisis that just won’t quit, Ontario alone must recruit roughly 120,000 construction pros by 2032 to meet demand. The province is betting that hands-on exposure will entice future workers.

3. Language tensions will boil over in Quebec schools

Starting this fall, tuition at Quebec’s universities may nearly double to $17,000 for out-of-province students (who mostly attend English schools), with the extra cash going toward French-language institutions. McGill University projects $94 million in lost revenue and as many as 700 job cuts, and Bishop’s, where a third of the student body hails from other provinces, has said it might not survive the jump. Meanwhile, at English CEGEPs, Law 14 will continue to roll out across the province, prioritizing students who have certificates of eligibility to receive instruction in English for admission. There will also be more French courses, plus French-language exit exams. All the while, teachers and administrators will be scrambling to design revamped courses—so far, with limited guidance from the Legault government.

4. The pronoun wars will spread to even more schools

When mega-controversial pronoun-centric policies were enacted in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan last year, many trans and non-binary students under 16 were left to choose between outing themselves at home and being misgendered at school. Teachers, meanwhile, were caught between upholding policies condemned by researchers and LGBTQ+ advocates and risking sanctions from their employers. Last fall, dozens of Saskatchewan teachers signed an online petition that encouraged schools to flout the law, citing harm to their pupils. (The provincial government invoked the notwithstanding clause when tabling the law to override a previous injunction.) Other provinces, like Ontario and Alberta, are expected to consider the policies despite the dust-ups elsewhere.

5. EV-centric programs will rev up

By 2035, every new car (and passenger truck) sold in Canada must be a zero-emissions model, and colleges are readying students for the shift. Nova Scotia Community College and Toronto’s George Brown College both recently created courses to upskill qualified technicians, teaching them how to specifically service EVs (which are highly computerized and much heavier than standard vehicles). Late in 2023, St. Clair College in Windsor, Ontario, rolled out a two-year EV technician program with apprenticeships that school students on EV powertrains and storage systems. This fall, Fanshawe College in London, Ontario, will launch its own green-vehicle program, training students in battery and hydrogen technologies and manufacturing—jobs all over the EV economy, basically.

6. International students will get government protection…

After scores of post-secondary students from India were issued fraudulent admission letters last year—and faced possible deportation as a result—new protective measures are on the way. As of June, Ontario’s public colleges will be subject to guidelines issued by the advocacy association Colleges Ontario that dictate how they market their programs. The schools, and any recruiters working on their behalf, will be monitored to ensure they’re not making promises they can’t deliver on (e.g. a guaranteed job after graduation). Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada also introduced a package of reforms that’ll be fully in place by fall, like a new authentication system for acceptance letters. Schools with proven track records for vetting applicants and supporting foreign students can also apply for “recognized institution” status, the perks of which include government fast-tracking of their applicants’ study permits.

7. … But fewer Indian students will choose Canada

Of the 900,000 international students Canada hosted last year, roughly 40 per cent hailed from India. But in light of allegations that Indian government operatives assassinated Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar on Canadian soil last June, diplomatic tensions have been tense—and could put a sizable dent in Canada’s $22-billion international-student economy. Some India-based education consultants have paused applications to Canadian schools as a precaution. An estimated third of those prospective students are now entertaining other destinations, like the U.K. and France.

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8. More schools will waive tuition for First Nations students

According to a 2023 Deloitte report, 11 per cent of Indigenous people had obtained a post-secondary degree, compared to 35 per cent of non-Indigenous Canadians, due to external barriers like financial accessibility. Plenty of schools offer targeted scholarships and bursaries, but many require full-time enrolment or a minimum GPA. Now, Canadian universities are taking their support a step further: last fall, the University of Waterloo became the first to waive tuition for students from local First Nations communities, and Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, B.C., and the University of Toronto quickly followed suit. Upward of 30 students have already had their fees waived, and more are expected to.

9. Students will struggle to find housing

Housing minister Sean Fraser once admitted that many of Canada’s post-secondary schools let in way more students than they can possibly house, especially private colleges. (Ottawa doesn’t specifically track student-housing needs, but 2021 census data shows that more than 30 per cent of non-permanent residents with study permits lived in homes with an insufficient number of bedrooms.) Still, schools are doing what they can: Humber, Loyalist and Georgian (all Ontario colleges) have introduced databases that connect students with home-owning adults with extra rooms, and Cégep de la Gaspésie et des Îles in Gaspé, Quebec, recently went so far as to secure rooms in a local hotel. Colleges and Institutes Canada has requested $2.6 billion in the 2024 federal budget to create 40,000 student beds Canada-wide.

10. Modular classrooms will be the new portables

Funding cuts and sky-high immigration targets have pushed the country’s classroom-overcrowding issue from bad to worse. One fix is modular classrooms, prefab additions that can be modified with additional hallways, washrooms and common spaces. So far, they’re planned for districts in B.C., in Halifax, in Cape Breton and in Calgary, where roughly 39 public schools are over 90 per cent capacity. Modular models have a few legs up on old-school portables: they’re permanent and manufactured in factories, cutting construction time in half and avoiding littering playgrounds with tractors (as much as kids get a kick out of those).

This article is part of the Year Ahead 2024, which is Maclean’s annual look at everything that’s coming your way next year. You can buy the print version right here.