Making sure students from all backgrounds and origins can fulfill their potential
Most Canadian high school students do well in education, independently of their socio-economic status, their first language or whether they were born in Canada or elsewhere. Provincial governments are in charge of education policy, and the province of Ontario provides a good illustration of the factors behind the educational success of the nation as a whole.
Handling the education challenges facing immigrant children is one of Canada’s social and political priorities. Its large land area, low-density population and low birth rates make immigration an important and needed economic resource. Since 2003, Ontario has deliberately targeted the development of immigrant children as part of an overall drive to raise educational standards and boost its economy.
The general social environment in Canada is favorable for educational success. Parents are supportive of their children’s schooling, and society is viewed as having collective responsibility for children’s educational welfare. PISA data on leisure reading habits suggests that Canadian school students are more likely than other children in the world to read daily for pleasure.
Canadian multiculturalism seeks to respect the importance of native cultures while incorporating immigrants into a distinctively Canadian identity. Consequently, schools see it as their duty to incorporate immigrants into the mainstream culture as rapidly as possible. The value placed on high educational achievement for immigrant children has positive spill-over effects throughout the school system.
As part of its reforms, Ontario launched a Literacy and Numeracy project to raise reading and mathematics results in elementary schools. It also launched a Student Success project to increase high school graduation rates, including a new program for high school students who were not interested in traditional academic subjects: the High Skills Major teaching practical skills that can lead to employment opportunities.
One of the biggest challenges facing Ontario in its reform strategy was to win the support of teachers. This was achieved in negotiations with teacher unions through a combination of measures such as reduced class sizes, more time made available for class preparation and the creation of a “student success” position in each school, with a drive to strengthen teachers’ professional capabilities.