Wednesday Night #1320 Conference Board Report Comment

A thoughtful reaction from Blake Sutherland on the Conference Board of Canada Report: How Canada Performs: A Report Card on Canada.
Among the top 17 industrialized countries, Canada was ranked number 3 by the Conference Board in terms of delivering “a high-quality education to people between the ages of 5 and 25.” Only Finland and Sweden ranked higher. Japan was number 4 and the United States was number 16.
One should not rejoice too quickly, however. The list of 16 indicators used to rank educational systems may present a picture that is too superficial to be meaningful. Indeed, economists crunching statistical series are unlikely to have the time, resources, or expertise to look behind the numbers to objectively assess the actual pedagogical content of the educational systems of 17 countries. It would be a monumental task and there is no indication in the Conference Board report that it was even attempted.
As a result, the report cannot contradict the very negative impression of Canadian educational standards that one easily gets, based on anecdotal evidence. Anecdotal evidence is of course notoriously unreliable. However, just to provide perspective and spark discussion, I thought I would offer an interesting example.
Consider China, which as an emerging country is likely to rank low if its educational system were evaluated using the Conference Board report’s 16 indicators. After Mao’s cultural revolution which essentially closed the universities for a decade, China is rapidly recovering lost ground. A society that traditionally values learning, China takes educational standards seriously. When the universities reopened, gruelling three-day entrance exams were instituted, requiring the students to demonstrate real knowledge of a broad range of subjects. For a slot in the sciences, for example, the exams covered the following subjects:

– Global geography: political and physical
– Sciences: including physics, chemistry, biology, and biochemistry
– Mathematics
– History of China: ancient and modern
– History of the world: ancient and modern
– English
– Chinese literature: including grammar, style, composition, and Classic
Chinese (their equivalent of Latin)
– Philosophy and political science: including a knowledge of current
events.

Having glanced at a sample math exam, and putting aside the heavy dose of Marxist-Leninism in political science, it seems to me that the overall level and scope of knowledge aimed at is far beyond anything that our high school students are likely to get in school. Can such a gap be closed later on by CEGEP or university studies? What are the implications? Interesting questions.
Best regards, Blake (Sutherland)

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