Canada's education system remains one of the best in the world, and our students perform well regardless of socioeconomic background, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development's most recent international assessment of reading, math and science. But Canada's results have stagnated and we face the possibility of falling behind while countries including Korea surge ahead.
Dr. Andrew Parkin, director general of the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada, helped us pick apart the data.
Globe and Mail education reporter Kate Hammer and Dr. Parkin led an online discussion about Canada's performance in the most recent Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development assessment.
Below is a transcript of the live discussion, which aired at 2 p.m. on Tuesday Dec. 7.
Kate Hammer: Welcome to today's chat, we're going to be getting under way shortly. In the meantime, feel free to start sending questions for Andrew Parkin, Director General of the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada.
Andrew Parkin: Hello everyone. My name is Andrew Parkin and I am director general of CMEC - the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada. CMEC is formed by all provincial and territorial ministers of education and helps them carry out certain projects together, including the one we are talking about today -- PISA.
Kate Hammer: Thanks Andrew. The PISA data released today paints a mixed picture. Can you tell us about some of the encouraging aspects of Canada's performance and some of the concerns?
Andrew Parkin: The encouraging facts are clear: we are part of the group of countires that perform best in reading, math and science. Only four countries/economies do better than we do in reading, only six in science and only seven in math. That's out of 65 countries/economies.
Comment From Peter GB: How can Canada awaken our high school students to the competitiveness of those in other countries, especially in the sciences?
Andrew Parkin: The main concern is that our overall performance is more or less stable over time. This would be pure good news if it wasn't for the fact that the world around us is not standing still. The bar is being raised by some countries that are doing better. We have also seen some high-performing countries join the study for the first time. So when we look around us, we find we have more company at the top.
Andrew Parkin: The benefit of a study such as PISA is that it raises the awareness of everyone of where the competition is at. I don't know if anyone needs to be woken up. But knowing how we are doing compared to others is crucial.
Andrew Parkin: The high-level of performance of a region like Shanghai (China) in math, for instance, is striking. This is the first time they have been included in the study, and they are far ahead of everyone else. We can be pleased about our performance, yet curious as to what is going on elsewhere, at the same time.
Comment From JT: How important is this statistic, really? Is there a direct correlation between our ranking -- among top performers -- and a failure to compete in markets, or enjoy the standard of living and success that many Canadians enjoy?
Andrew Parkin: First, I would express it the other way around: the correlation is between our good performance and our ability to compete. How important is the statistic? The statistic refers to the ability of 15 year olds. We are going to have to rely on their abilities to create, to innovate, and to lead in the coming decades if we are going to continue to compete. So, the statistic is an important indication of how prepared we are for that.
Kate Hammer: The PISA report also looked at equity. Andrew, can you tell us what that means, how Canada fared, and what we know about why?
Andrew Parkin: Here is what distinguishes education systems in Canada: we are one of the few countries that is able to combine high performance with high equity (which means a smaller gap between the highest and lowest performing students).