By Douglas J. Fehlen
The Program for International Student Assessment is an academic evaluation of 15-year-old students from around the world. The assessment - which gauges learning in science, math and reading - is performed every three years as a reflection of which countries are doing the best job of academically preparing young people for the future.
In the latest round of results from the PISA, Canada performed quite well among the 65 countries and regions measured. Our neighbor to the north placed sixth in reading, eighth in science and tenth in math; it was one of seven countries to score in the top ten in all three testing categories.
Canada's success in the PISA comes despite significant classroom challenges. Chief among these is a large immigrant population in schools. Figures show that 24 percent of Canada's student population was born outside of the country. As a point of comparison, schools in Shanghai, China - which performed best in the PISA - feature an immigrant population of less than one percent of the full student population.
While immigration is an important part of the social fabric and economic development of Canada, students from other countries must overcome language and cultural barriers to succeed in the classroom. Analysis from the latest PISA suggests, however, that there is virtually no difference in the academic success of native-born and immigrant students - a marked difference from the achievement gap observed in American schools and in other countries throughout the world.
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Formula for Success
So what is Canada doing right? Analysts look to its national commitment to meet the education needs of immigrant children. Programs put into place have helped teachers to do a better job of ensuring non-native children are not left behind. Funding has been appropriated for the reduction of class sizes that allows teachers to focus more on individual students. Educators have been provided with additional prep time and professional development opportunities designed to help them be effective in teaching immigrant children. There has also been a stricter focus on math, reading and science in schools across the country.
The PISA report identified another aspect of the Canadian education system that may allow it to succeed in educating immigrants: Rather than feature a centralized national department of education, Canada instead has a federated system in which provinces are in full control of how children are taught. This decentralized approach can allow regions to utilize methods that work for them and the respective immigration populations residing there. Schools respect multiculturalism while working to provide all students with the skills and knowledge they'll need to succeed in the Canadian workforce. As the PISA report notes, 'Canada could provide a model of how to achieve educational success in a large, geographically dispersed, and culturally heterogeneous country.'