Canada consistently ranks as one of the best countries in the world. Three of the top five most liveable cities are Canadian. Canadian students just won the 2016 Enactus World Cup. Canada recently won the World Cup of Hockey, solidifying our hockey supremacy. However, outside of Canada, no one really cares about hockey. What's worse is that we are far from dominant on many important international metrics.
Mediocrity in Global Rankings
The best business school in Canada is ranked 60th internationally. Further to our educational woes, a recent article shows that Canada's OECD ranking in math is falling precipitously leading to a numeracy gap.
Students from top-ranked nations, such as Hong Kong, China, and Taiwan are actively engaged in schoolwork for longer hours per day, often doing 3 hours of homework. In comparison to Canada, our students have five hours of instructional time per day and do about an hour of homework.
To avoid harming their self-esteem, Canadian students rarely have to repeat classes or even receive failing grades. Many provinces have even implemented a 'no-zero' policy where students cannot receive a grade of zero even if they don't submit work.
This rewards students for expending no effort - there is no incentive to produce any work as a passing grade will be provided regardless. This system rewards laziness and it robs our children of a very important skill - learning from failure - that actually contributes to success. Without learning how to cope with failure, our children won't know how to address it when they encounter it in the workforce. This simply isn't good enough. We can't compete internationally like this, which, in turn, will affect the competitiveness of Canadian businesses.
The Cycle of Mediocrity
Domestically, our numeracy gap is fueling an unsustainable financial illiteracy problem. Canadians owe 165% of their income with total household debt approaching $2 trillion. With this soaring debt, Canadians are struggling to pay their mortgages, save for retirement, and pay university tuition for their kids. As a result, Canadians are becoming more dependent on their jobs and this vulnerability can lead companies to take advantage of them. Causing them to work longer hours and expecting them to meet unrealistic expectations.
This pressure contributes to stress and studies show that stress can lead to poor decisions at work. When people, who see themselves as smart, make poor decisions or mistakes, they become dissatisfied, unhappy, and depressed. This coupled with their stress, leads people to feel the overwhelming urge to repress their negative emotions.
To do this, they sometimes consume emotionally. Studies show that emotional consumption is used to distract and conceal people from their unhappiness. Like a drug to an addict, consumers become obsessed with the 'high' that they get from consuming. When they consume, people often try to emulate celebrities by purchasing luxury goods.
This allows them to live an artificial fantasy where they pretend to be rich and famous. They compete often with others, through social media, demonstrating how luxurious their lives are. As Edward Norton said: "we buy things we don't need with money we don't have to impress people we don't like". We drive ourselves into further debt that causes us to become more dependent on our jobs leading to more pressures at work. All perpetuating the cycle of mediocrity.
Where does this Lead?
The slaves of ancient times were provided with rationed food and shelter that allowed them to continue their toiling. Beyond the physical abuse, the main difference between the modern employee and the ancient slave lies in consumption. Through consumption, our predicament becomes palatable and our servitude goes largely unnoticed.
Sure we have two-week paid vacations, a nice place to live, and the ability to consume, but our limited financial flexibility leads to immobility and dependence. We have the illusion of freedom, but we aren't free. We still have to go about our boring jobs and follow orders. After all, we need to pay our bills, somehow.
Breaking the Cycle
To break the cycle of mediocrity, we need to improve our financial literacy. Some Canadian banks are supporting financial literacy programs and other companies, such as The Jr. Economic Club of Canada, are focused on developing financial literacy among our youth.
Perhaps most importantly, we desperately need educational reform to purge our harmful policies. We need to bridge our numeracy gap and improve our performance on important metrics. To do this, we should be testing our students against a global standard. If we want Canada to be a global leader, we need to benchmark the top performers and make the necessary changes. As Liam Gallagher of Oasis said when he was asked why he admires The Beatles: "If you're going to be as good. You've got to learn from the best and they're the best."
Some of the ideas expressed in this article are based on: Overall, Jeffrey (2016) All around the mulberry bush: A theory of cyclical unethical behaviour. Under consideration at the International Journal of Business and Globalisation.
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