A few months ago — in early December, to be exact — the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development released a study that got the alarm bells ringing in Canada.
Results from the latest OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment, measuring how 15-year-olds around the world are doing in math, reading and science, showed Canada had fallen out of the top 10 in international math rankings. Canada’s new ranking of 13th was three places lower than in 2009 and six places below its 2006 standing. The list of countries ranking ahead of us included Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Switzerland, Estonia and Finland.
“This is on the scale of a national emergency,” John Manley, CEO and president of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, said in a Dec. 3 Globe and Mail article.
But parents who might have been moved to panic by those results can relax, because further results from the 2012 PISA study released last week showed that Canadian 15-year-olds rank near the top of the class in creative problem solving. The PISA assessment tested students on general reasoning skills, their ability to regulate problem-solving processes, and their willingness to do so. Canadian students produced a mean score of 526 points, good for eighth place among the 44 countries studied. Singapore led the way with a score of 562, followed by South Korea at 561 and Japan at 552.
These results drew a much different response than did the math results released in December. Andrew Parkin, director general of the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada, noted, “Today’s report shows Canadian students are highly competitive in problem-solving skills. These skills are increasingly important for success in the knowledge economy of the 21st century.”
The study also suggests that perhaps we’re sometimes too quick to sound the alarm whenever the latest study shows a decline in the performance of Canadian students compared with their international peers. Just as with the stock market, certain stocks alternately dip and climb over the course of time but the long-term, historical stock market chart shows a steady climb. Similarly, Canada’s educational performance, in spite of periodic ups and downs, has held its own in comparison to that of other countries, and shows a steady improvement in several key areas. According to a Conference Board of Canada report called “How Canada Performs,” between 1998 and 2010, the country’s high school completion rate increased from 78.7 per cent to 88.4 per cent, the college completion rate rose from 19.9 to 24.2, and the university completion rate increased from 18.2 to 26.4.
Overall, the Conference Board report said, “When benchmarked against its peers, Canada earns an ‘A’ grade on the Education and Skills report card. It ranks second behind Finland. Canada achieves ‘A’ or ‘B’ grades on 13 of 20 indicators.
“Canada’s strength is in delivering a high-quality education with comparatively modest spending to people between the ages of 5 and 19.”
Canada’s ranking may fluctuate from time to time on various educational studies, but generally speaking, Canadian students earn high marks when compared with their peers around the world.