The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) assesses reading, mathematics, and science skills every three years (they measure results from 15 year olds in participating countries) through their Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Canada has participated since 2000 (PISA was launched in 1997). As recently as the 2009 assessment (the 2012 assessment does not appear to have been released yet),, Canadian students were above average in many measures, from the Canadian School Boards Association 2010 (?) posting titled, PISA Results: Canadian Students Score High in Performance, Canadian Education System Scores High in Equity,
The results of the Programme for International Assessment (PISA) 2009 were released today at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education in Toronto. This report, which measures the “quality, efficiency and equity” of education in sixty-five countries and economies, is issued by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), in conjunction with the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada and Statistics Canada. This international assessment ranks Canadian students in three domains: reading, math and science. …
Highlights of both the international report and Canadian report include:
- Canadian students continue to be leaders in reading, math and science. [emphasis mine]
- The overall performance of Canadian students in math and science are well above the OECD average and remain unchanged from previous PISA results. Canada is outperformed only by seven countries in math and six countries in science.
- The Canadian gender gap: females outperform males in reading, while males outperformed females in math and science.
- Equity, a measure of how well a country can maximize its students’ potential, was ranked as extremely high in Canada. The combination of high PISA scores with high equity demonstrates that there is a small gap between highest and lowest performing students.
Three or so years later, it appears that we have high drop out rates in the sciences and maths, from an Oct. 8, 2013 news item on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) website,
… Canadians are paying a heavy price for the fact that less than 50 per cent of Canadian high school students graduate with senior courses in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) at a time when 70 per cent of Canada’s top jobs require an education in those fields, said report released by the science education advocacy group Let’s Talk Science and the pharmaceutical company Amgen Canada.
Spotlight on Science Learning 2013 compiles publicly available information about individual and societal costs of students dropping out STEM courses early.
The answer as to what happened has something to do with when the OECD programme makes its assessment. They measure skills in 15 year olds and generally speaking that means students in grade 10, which coincidentally, is the last year math and science are required courses in most provinces, from the CBC Oct.8, 2013, news item,
Even though most provinces only require math and science courses until Grade 10, the report [Spotlight on Science published by Let’s Talk Science and pharmaceutical company Amgen Canada) found students without Grade 12 math could expect to be excluded from 40 to 75 per cent of programs at Canadian universities, and students without Grade 11 could expect to be excluded from half of community college programs. [emphasis mine]
This news about Canadian students and their failure to pursue maths and sciences according to the Spotlight on Science Learning report was included in the context (in the CBC news item) of another OECD report (released Tues., Oct. 8, 2013), which concluded that Canadian adult numeracy skills lag behind, from the Oct. 8, 2013 CBC news item,
The OECD released its first survey of adult skills Tuesday (Oct. 8, 2013), measuring the literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving skills of those aged 16 to 65 in 24 countries, including 27,000 people in Canada.
While Canadians scored far above average at problem solving in technology-rich environments and their average literacy score was around the average of OECD countries, their mean numeracy score was “significantly below the average,” the OECD said, putting Canada 13th out of 21 countries. [emphasis mine]
The Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, described the average score as “slightly below the OECD average,” but acknowledged the results suggested “this is one area that could be targeted by policymakers for improvement. [emphasis mine]
There’s a difference between ‘significantly below average’ and ‘slightly below average’ and shy of reading the report I’m not sure who to believe. In any event, our literacy skills are accounted to be good and we’re also good at problemsolving in technology-rich environments. This latest OECD report is titled, OECD Skills Outlook 2013. Here’s more about it from the Outlook webpage (Note: Links have been removed),
This first OECD Skills Outlook presents the initial results of the Survey of Adults Skills (PIAAC), which evaluates the skills of adults in 24 countries. It provides insights into the availability of some of the key skills and how they are used at work and at home. A major component is the direct assessment of key information-processing skills: literacy, numeracy and problem solving in the context of technology-rich environments.
You can get the full report or summaries from here. As for the Spotlight on Science report, you can find it here on the Let’s Talk Science website. I’ve included the video about the report, which I think illustrates one of the key problems with Canadian children and science,
It’s (video) dull and it didn’t need to be.As for the report itself, it’s reflects a standard approach to this ‘problem’ of getting children to pursue the sciences and maths after a certain point. Personally, I think there’s a much interesting study on this topic of children and science, the ASPIRES project, in the UK, which I highlighted in my Jan. 31, 2012 posting,
One of the research efforts in the UK is the ASPIRES research project at King’s College London (KCL), which is examining children’s attitudes to science and future careers. Their latest report, Ten Science Facts and Fictions: the case for early education about STEM careers (PDF), is profiled in a Jan. 11, 2012 news item on physorg.com (from the news item),
Professor Archer [Louise Archer, Professor of Sociology of Education at King’s] said: “Children and their parents hold quite complex views of science and scientists and at age 10 or 11 these views are largely positive. The vast majority of children at this age enjoy science at school, have parents who are supportive of them studying science and even undertake science-related activities in their spare time. They associate scientists with important work, such as finding medical cures, and with work that is well paid.
“Nevertheless, less than 17 per cent aspire to a career in science. These positive impressions seem to lead to the perception that science offers only a very limited range of careers, for example doctor, scientist or science teacher. It appears that this positive stereotype is also problematic in that it can lead people to view science as out of reach for many, only for exceptional or clever people, and ‘not for me’.
Professor Archer says the findings indicate that engaging young people in science is not therefore simply a case of making it more interesting or more fun. She said: “There is a disconnect between interest and aspirations. Our research shows that young people’s ambitions are strongly influenced by their social backgrounds – ethnicity, social class and gender – and by family contexts. [emphases mine]
Families and support systems make a huge difference in children’s lives and their aspirations, scientific or otherwise.
In sum, up until 2009 Canadian children seemed to have good skills in literacy, maths, and sciences at the age of 15, which is the same year courses in maths and sciences are no longer required (in most provinces). According to the Spotlight on Science Learning 2013 report, most children choose not take those maths and sciences courses after grade 10 despite the fact that they are needed for most higher education. This lack of interest appears to be reflected in the OECD’s recent report, OECD Skills Outlook 2013, which noted that Canadian adults’ numeracy skills lag behind that of many of their counterparts in other countries (although we compare well with high literacy and other skills). While I find the Spotlight on Science Learning 2013 report interesting, the UK’s ASPIRES project has taken what seems to me a more fruitful approach to children and science.
Bottom line: I think we need more imagination in our approach and we need to better include the kids themselves (a couple of interactive demonstrations just aren’t involving enough), and we need to make science, etc. engaging for the entire community.