OECD’s Pisa rankings: Canada continues to shine

There are some prevailing discourses with respect to public K-12 education in Canada: too many students drop out, we’re failing Aboriginal students, EFL/ESL student needs are shifting resources from other programmes and initiatives. All of these are true. But they also don’t tell the whole story.

Because, in fact, our public education system is one of the best in the world. Even when data from some regions (PEI most notably) brings down our mean scores.

PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) assesses student performance of 15 year-old public school students around the world. In the most recent study (from data collected in 2009) 33 countries or regions (Hong Kong, Shanghai, Macau, Taiwan are “regions”; China as a country does not participate) took part. Three domains are assessed: math, reading and science. It’s important to note these tests are designed to assess reasoning in each domain rather than content knowledge. The application of math, reading and science understanding. As is often the case the wikipedia page on PISA is clearer than the OECD’s own.

Canada ranked 10th in math, 8th in sciences and 6th in reading. The  other countries/regions in the top 10 in all three are Finland (6th/2nd/3rd), South Korea (4th/6th/2nd), Shanghai (1st/1st/1st), Singapore (2nd/4th/5th), Hong Kong (3rd/3rd/3rd), and Japan (9th/5th/8th). If we rank these 7 side-by-side (giving 10 points for 1st down to 1 point for 10th) we get:

Math Science Reading Overall (30)
1. Shanghai (10) 1. Shanghai (10) 1. Shanghai (10) 1. Shanghai (30)
2. Singapore (9) 2. Finland (9) 2. South Korea (9) 2. Hong Kong (24)
3. Hong Kong (8) 3. Hong Kong (8) 3. Finland* (8) 3. Singapore (22)
4. South Korea (7) 4. Singapore (7) 3. Hong Kong* (8) 4, South Korea (21)
8. Finland (3) 5. Japan (6) 5. Singapore  (6) 5. Finland (20)
9. Japan (2) 6. South Korea (5) 6. Canada (5) 6. Japan (13)
10. Canada (1) 8. Canada (3) 8. Japan (3) 7. Canada (9)

What’s also worth noting is that Canada is one of only two multicultural migrant nation in the top 7. None of the other countries, save Singapore, have as many migrant children in their systems. All of the others except Singapore also use languages with relatively consistent orthographies (assuming Singapore is also teaching primarily in English). Singapore is an island city-state…which means administering “an” educational system isn’t nearly as challenging as in in a large confederated country like Canada.

Do we need to improve things here? Absolutely! But we’re also doing a lot of things right. And personally I find and asset-based approach–where we acknowledge successes to build upon them, rather than only focussing on deficits–much more inspiring.

O Canada indeed!

About John P Egan

Learning technology professional.
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