High grades for stu­dents, high praise teach­ers

Cana­dian stu­dents’ re­sults in literacy, math­e­mat­ics and sci­ence are among the best in the world. What drives our schools to be so good?

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - BY GERRY CHIDIAC Troy Me­dia colum­nist Gerry Chidiac is an award-win­ning high school teacher spe­cial­iz­ing in lan­guages, geno­cide stud­ies and work with at-risk stu­dents. Dis­trib­uted by Troy Me­dia

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 Co­op­er­a­tion 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.

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