This appeared in The Tyee in January 2015: Imagine Canada as an Education Superpower. Excerpt:
Back in the 1990s, our school-bashers pointed to Japanese schools as better than ours. But they never sent their own kids to those great schools. Meanwhile, Japanese and other Asian parents have been sending their kids to our schools, and paying high prices for the privilege -- to the point where our underfunded schools now rely on those kids.
Asia and the rest of the world are trying to tell us something: Our timber and liquid natural gas are interesting if we want to give them away, but our teachers are worth almost any price we care to name.
Create a pro-Canada alumni network
Education is a very low-emissions export. Kids fly in, you fill their heads with words and numbers and ideas, and they fly out again. No ravaged watersheds, no oil spills, no poisoned salmon streams. What's more, if you do your job right you create lifetime customers. They will come back not only as tourists but as purchasers of any other goods and services we may want to offer.
Even the most advanced economies rely on personal connections -- what the Chinese call guanxi, relationships through which you can do real business with people you trust. So we've already created the beginning of a worldwide network of pro-Canada alumni. We need to develop that network and expand it exponentially, if only to compete with American and other networks. The way to build such a network is to make our education system even more attractive to foreigners.
We wouldn't be pioneers. Finland (with about the same population as B.C.) has simultaneously enjoyed a world reputation as an education superpower while its current high-tech economy has run into trouble. The Finns can't go back to selling raw logs and paper. So they're aggressively exporting their education.
A Finnish international school is up and running in Qatar. Finland's education minister recently signed a deal with Saudi Arabia to deliver technical and vocational education to young Saudis. Finnish teaching materials have turned Italian elementary students into eager, top-ranking math whizzes.
What's maddening about their success is that we send our educators to Helsinki to learn the Finns' secrets, only to find the Finns acquired those secrets in Alberta and B.C. They take our teaching expertise more seriously than we ourselves do.