Education at a Glance 2011 (OECD Indicators annual report)

Parking my concerns with their statement that “in an increasingly global economy, in which the benchmark for educational success is no longer improvement by national standards alone, but the best performing education systems internationally, the role of the OECD has become central, providing indicators of educational performance that not only evaluate but also help shape public policy,” which is certainly overstepping both the OECD’s role and concomitant analyses, these sorts of reports do give us some indication of education on a global scale.

My pre-occupations are: 1.) Canada, 2.) girls and women, and 3.) strong public education. I’ll focus on these in my analysis, though I encourage you to download the report and read it yourself.


Currently 79 per cent of Canadian adults have a high school diploma (or dogwood as it’s called here in BC); in 1933 only 59 per cent did. Impressed? Don’t be too much: Canada is considered a country with “historically medium” attainment, in terms of secondary education. Only the Czech Republic, Germany, Norway and the US are considered “historically high” though–meaning in 1933 theirs were between 65 and 79 per cent. Today Canada is ahead of Norway, though Australia and Austria are at 91 per cent. And Korea (“South”) leapt from 21 to 98 per cent secondary attainment.

In terms of tertiary (post-secondary; usually university or college) attainment Canada ranks second overall, behind Korea! In Canada the “generation gap” between 25-34 and 55-64 year olds is relatively small: around 17 per cent. In Korea it’s much wider: almost 60 per cent. This shows how quickly Korea has transformed itself educationally–and how Canada, though still performing strongly, still has room to improve.

Canada is in the high attainment group with New Zealand and the US. Our rate has improved from25 to 58 per cent, with New Zealand (48%) and the US (41%) a fair bit back. I find this surprising, given the surfeit of post-secondary institutions in the US (parking the idea of quality). Even back in 1982 in my (suburban New York City) high school we were told “college is the new high school diploma.” In other words, everyone needs one in the new economy. From what I can tell about 2/3 of my class of ’82 peers have a four year degree. From other attainment groups Japan (medium; 58%) and Korea (low; 62%) are most notable.

The numbers for “vocational” (i.e. trades) education are quite different. Canada is 31st of 35 OECD members in terms of vocational educational attainment: less than 10 per cent of adults 25-34 have completed vocational education, which is a drop. I suspect there’s a number of dynamics in play, but certainly the emphasis on “the new grade 12” being a university degree plays a part in this trend.

One interesting stat about secondary attainment au Canada: of the 78 per cent of adults 25-64 with grade 12 or higher, only about 5 per cent completed their grade 12 after they turned 25. In many European countries higher proportions of adults complete their high school education through non-traditional channels: around 30per cent in Portugal (for a total of 95%!), nearly20 per cent in Iceland (total 89%), 12 per cent in New Zealand (total 90%) and Norway (total 91%). If Canadian adult education funding hadn’t been eviscerated in the last few years, how much higher could our secondary attainment rate be?

Girls and Women

In Canada women are slightly ahead of men, in terms of secondary educational attainment: among 25-64 year-olds 89 per cent of women and 86 per cent of men have completed high school. The gap widens with tertiary education: 28 per cent of women (versus 20 per cent of men) have completed a tertiary-level qualification in Canada.

More bad news for men and boys: we’re more likely to drop out of high school than girls and women: a difference of about 8 per cent. But we’re not alone: only Finland, Slovak Republic and Sweden have a differential of 5 or less percentage points, whereas in Israel and Norway the gap is more than 15 per cent.

Strong Public Education

Infused throughout the report is messaging about the value of strong public education–there’s no evidence to contradict or confirm this. That’s one assumption I’m happy to perpetuate myself, with strong being a key word.The reports does cite evidence that the enjoyment of reading the reading of fiction correlate with level of reading proficiency.

In terms of “socio-economic status” (i.e. being marginalized because of economics, social status, or membership in a cultural minority group), Canada has the 12th best (of 39 jurisdictions) administering the PISA reading test in 2009. The gender gap icitte is pronounced though: only 60 per cent of Canadian boys read for pleasure, compared to 81 per cent of Canadian girls.

In terms of overall school performance Canada is one of a handful of jurisdictions where there is a “below-average impact of socio-economic status on students’ reading performance”. In other words, our system does a better job of mitigating the impact of marginalization on educational attainment. Better doesn’t necessarily mean great, by the way…

There’s a lot more in the report…still reading it.


About John P Egan

Learning technology professional.
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