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A recent BBC article called Canada an education superpower. It referred to the fact that, in recent years, Canadian students’ results in literacy, mathematics and science are among the best in the world. We’re in the same echelon as countries like Finland and Singapore.
The article drew primarily from results of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), an Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) study.
The results are rather surprising, given that Canada is a vast and varied country where, thanks to the British North America Act of 1867, the federal government only plays a small role in educational policy. Education is a primarily under provincial jurisdiction; each province and territory establishes its own policies and practices.
As an educator, I was intrigued by the analysis of our school system done by a foreign journalist. Several positive aspects of our schools were pointed out, including that we not only have a large number of immigrant children in our schools but that these students tend to do very well. Indeed, our public schools do an amazing job of welcoming and integrating new Canadians into our society.
Tying in with this is what the article refers to as a common commitment to an equal chance in school. As an educator, I had never given this much thought. But upon reflection, I realized that it’s indeed ingrained in the culture of our schools. Much effort is put into tapping into and drawing out the gifts of every child, and the socio-economic background of the people who sit in front of us every day is really not a factor. This is not to say that resources will not be found to support a child in need – a great deal of effort is put into finding ways to aid them – but the focus is on helping each child to succeed.
So there’s a system in place in our schools to improve literacy and help students who are struggling. The result is that there’s a relatively small gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students, especially when compared to other countries.
What drives our schools to be so good? Although I don’t have statistical evidence to prove these points, I can attest to what I experience as a public school educator in Canada.
First, there’s a high level of professionalism among teachers. We’re held to a very high standard by the public and we embrace that standard.
We also know that we’re valued and that we will be paid the same regardless of the economic means of our students’ families. Our wages are much better than those of teachers in many countries – but they have to be. Economic forces would draw the best and brightest from our areas of expertise if they weren’t.
It should also be noted that teachers’ unions provide a strong and unified voice in promoting our values. The mission statement of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation cites standards of professional practice which incorporate principles of pedagogy, social responsibility, ethical practice, and collaborative relationships.
While there’s no federal department of education, there is a Canadian Teachers’ Federation and the vast majority of Canadian teachers are associated with this institution.
Canadians can be proud of our schools and proud of the investment we make in our children. We’ve developed a system that works, is constantly improving to meet the needs of the whole child and adapts to an ever-changing world.
Although we may have always known that we do excellent work, it’s affirming to see our efforts recognized globally.
Troy Media columnist Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.