Verify Population Projection Numbers
Interviews with Yvonne From CTV
by William Warren Munroe, December 5, 2013

Population Projections are important when considering opening or closing public, or private, facilities; therefore, be sure to understand how the numbers were created. Since incorrect methods may accompany unfounded numbers1 be sure to reproduce the numbers. If you do not know how to verify the numbers, advocate population studies courses be made available in your schools. If incorrect methods accompany unfounded numbers then do not use those numbers to justify closing public schools.

Last Friday, November 29, 2013, and again on December 4, 2013, I received phone calls from Yvonne on behalf of CTV regarding school closures in mid Vancouver Island. She had been directed to speak with me by the Qualicum School District Board of Trustees Chairperson because of my demographics and statistics work.

I told Yvonne that I had also served as a Population Analyst for BC Statistics (January 14, 2002 to February 15, 2006) and that I continue to advocate that people be sure to verify population projections used to justify opening and closing of public (and private) facilities, including closing public schools.

Yvonne was particularly interested in two issues:

    • 1) The importance of caution when using statistics and ...
    • 2) What is happening with the enrolment in Central Vancouver Island areas.

The main points I made were:

    • 1) that people need to verify that the correct methods accompany the numbers rather than incorrect methods accompanying unfounded numbers.
    • to provide verifiable projections, an education program is now available to community members, including high school students, showing how understandable population projections can be created.

    • 2) the number of children 5 to 17 years of age and enrolment rises and falls (people may have heard of Boom Bust and Echo)
Regarding Verification of Population Projections:

To meet the standards of science and of statistics, correct methods must accompany findings, rather than accepting incorrect methods accompanying unfounded numbers.

Do not accept numbers that are deemed "valid" by a small group of people who will not allow the numbers to be validated by the rest of the community2 or those, namely BC Statistics, who provide incorrect methods. Numbers that can not be validated are simply not valid.

If you cannot reproduce the numbers being used to justify opening or closing of public facilities then do not use those numbers.

I also told Yvonne that the Population Projection Project was shown to two Grade 11 Social Studies classes on Monday December 2, 2013. The goal is to provide students with the opportunity to earn credits towards their graduation.

By ensuring that the correct methods accompany the projections and by making sure that the numbers can be reproduced (get your high school and undergraduate students to run the models) we can better understand the strengths and weaknesses of the methods, the input data, and therefore the findings.

Regarding Enrolment:

To understand change in enrolment it is helpful to understand the change in the number of school aged children, roughly speaking those 5 to 17 years of age. As we have seen in the 2011 census counts, the number of pre-school children (0 to 4 year olds) has increased. The increase is understandable since the relatively high number of high school graduates over the last many years are aging into their family formation years creating another echo which we are seeing in the increased enrolment in elementary schools.

The fluctuating age distribution makes planning of opening and closing of public and private facilities difficult, but we benefit from better understanding of how the boom, bust, echo, cycle impacts our communities.


1Indeed, BC Statistics changed the methods used many times without publication including using the change in the number of telephone landlines as an indicator of population change without informing citizens (tax payers). When we asked what was going on, the Assistant Deputy Minister asserted the "integrity" by quoting a study but refused to provide a citation for the quote. Our request through Freedom of Information for the citation was denied claiming " Disclosure harmful". See Disclosure harmful.

2 In the summer of 2011, a small group of people selected by the Qualicum School District met with a contractor who provides enrolment projections. My requests that the meeting be open to anyone interested in seeing how the projections are created, including myself, were denied. The attendees announced that the projections are valid. I find this very interesting, particularly because the contractor had stated that they use Child Tax Benefit (CTB) data in the calculations.

Having written the program to calculate monthly interprovincial migration based on CTB data for the provincial government, I am still curious about how monthly interprovincial migration at the provincial level is used at the School District level. Nonetheless, the point is that a small group of people who may or may not have actually verified the numbers, but more likely just accepted what they were told, cannot deny parents/guardians, and concerned citizens the ability to verify the projections and understand the strengths and weaknesses of the contractors methods.

For example, why are projections presented without consideration of high and low case scenarios so that we may see the likely range of possible enrolment. These numbers and the methods used to create them are too important to be withheld.

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