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Striking teachers Dan Kamin, left, the math department head, and Rachelle Tessier, who teaches French immersion walk the picket line outside Kitsilano Secondary School in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday June 24, 2014. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Striking teachers Dan Kamin, left, the math department head, and Rachelle Tessier, who teaches French immersion walk the picket line outside Kitsilano Secondary School in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday June 24, 2014.

(Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Why B.C. schools have a lot to celebrate Add to ...

If you’ve been following the teachers’ dispute in B.C., you’ve no doubt heard about the province’s broken education system.

Mostly this has been caused by the big, bad Liberal government, which has, if you believe what you hear, slashed education funding to the bone. Almost daily we are treated to the metaphor of the classroom as sardine can, with kids crammed in cheek to jowl, those with special needs almost numbering the same as those without. This has taken a horrible toll on the learning environment, we’re told, with kids in the province being the losers.

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(Read up on the issues and history of the education labour dispute with our explainer Q&A.)

There is only one problem with this notion: it defies the truth. Just in this last week, two reports have come out that suggest just the opposite.

A Conference Board of Canada study entitled: How Canada Performs ranks B.C.’s education program the tops in the country. The board used 23 indicators to assess provincial performance in the education and skills category, not all of it applicable to the K-12 system. But when the researchers did examine those grades, B.C. was still judged to be No. 1, receiving almost straight A’s across the board in categories including high school attainment, the lowest percentage of students with inadequate reading, math and science skills and equity in outcomes.

Meantime, a fresh report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development also ranks the province’s education (and health) system the best in the country and among the best anywhere in the developed world.

In its report card comparing education and skills levels among 10 provinces and 16 peer countries, B.C. was determined to be No. 1 overall in terms of the percentage of the population aged 25 to 64 with a high school diploma. It also noted that the province has relatively few K-12 students with inadequate reading, math and science skills.

These results mirror the findings in the last PISA study (2012) conducted by the OECD and measuring the performance of 15-year-olds in Canada and 64 other countries in the areas of mathematics, reading and science. Again, B.C. children scored extremely well when compared to other provinces and peer countries.

In reading and science, B.C. outperformed all other provinces in Canada, and trailed only five other countries that were measured. They included Shanghai-China, Singapore and Japan. In math, B.C. trailed only Quebec among Canadian provinces. (It should be noted that over the past nine years, Canada’s scores in mathematics have declined almost across the board, perhaps pointing to deficiencies in the way in which the discipline is being taught).

You would think all these results would be something to cheer about, something of which to be proud. Except in B.C., we prefer to cast every little problem as if it’s symptomatic of much deeper issues in the education system as a whole. We’ve allowed a few loud voices in prominent positions to suggest the foundation of our public education program is on the verge of collapse, with our students falling further and further behind those in the rest of the world with each passing day.

It’s political rhetoric mostly, often coming from people with a partisan axe to grind and who are using their bully pulpits to advance future political careers on the provincial stage.

This is not to say there are no issues in the system, that class composition isn’t a concern or that there aren’t some classrooms with more than the ideal number of kids in them. No education system is perfect. No matter the country you can always find problems without digging too deeply. And we should never stop trying to achieve broad excellence.

But we should also never be afraid to recognize how good an education system B.C. actually has, and this is a testament to those people who stand at the front of the classroom every day. You don’t get the kind of outcomes that B.C. does, get the kind of accolades its education system has been receiving recently, without one of the finest teaching corps anywhere.

Occasionally, it would be nice to hear something positive about what is happening in B.C. classrooms, rather than the usual din of pessimism that doesn’t reflect reality.

Follow on Twitter: @garymasonglobe

 

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