img_1906PISA who? Canada on the rise in what? Christmas has come early where? One of the top countries in math, science and reading? Does this have anything to do with Santa? What does this all mean? Are we more proficient than USA? United Kingdom? Russia? Surely not China or Finland?

This past week, the OECD (The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) released their PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results from 2015 and lo and behold Canada is taking off like Santa on the Christmas Eve. PISA tests over half a million 15 year olds from 72 different countries, assessing science, mathematics, reading, collaborative problem solving and financial literacy. Let’s look at how Canada’s 20,000 students faired.

In science, the focus of the assessment is on the use of “abstract scientific ideas or concepts to explain unfamiliar and more complex phenomena and events.” There has been a slight rise in science ranking from 2009, which brings us almost even par with Finland, yes Finland, the global educational juggernaut. In 2015, 89% of our students preformed at the baseline or above, and the news is even better for Quebec, with 90% of students preforming at the baseline or above in science. Though these results are impressive, minority language learners are scoring lower than majority language learners in Canada and Quebec, according to the Council of Ministers of Education. Furthermore, in Quebec our girls are still being significantly outperformed by boys in all areas in science education.

161207_Top scorers i Pisa 2015 TIEN

“Close to 90 per cent of Canadian students performed at or above Level 2 in science, which is the baseline level of proficiency required to take advantage of further learning opportunities and participate fully in modern society. The OECD average was only 79 per cent.” Doug W. Currie, chair of the Council of Ministers of Education Canada (CMEC)


Photo By UBC Learning Commons Used with permission via Creative Commons 2.0

As for mathematics and reading, the story is interesting – Canada is a country of readers, with only Singapore out scoring Canada on reading results, and only China, Singapore and Japan outscoring us in math. But get this, Quebec is math king in Canada, with results way above the Canadian average, largely associated with Quebec’s numeracy approach to math education. In Quebec, essential skills are more overtly developed such as solving problems, understanding and explaining the solutions, making decisions based on logical thinking and reasoning and interpreting data, charts and diagrams and not just on computation. Again, discrepancies exist between Anglophone and Francophone school systems, with majority language learners outperforming minority language learners in both mathematics and reading. The gender gap is also something to note, in that girls outperform boys in reading, while boys are outperforming girls in math.

Quebec students performed extremely well in mathematics and are among the best in the world. CMEC

screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-9-02-31-amThe PISA test is competency based, steaming largely from student interaction with scientific theories and concepts rather than simply memorizing scientific information. Signalling that rote learning of science and math has no correlation with performance in the PISA test, because the questions require students to use their knowledge and skills to solve problems, not rely on what they have memorized. So students that interact with science and math at a competency level tend to score higher because they have internalized their understand and can use their skills to solve problems. Have a look at some sample questions. Did you get the right answer?

“The results from PISA 2015 are extremely gratifying. In every domain, Canada is not only near the very top internationally, we have increased our ranking since PISA 2012,”  CMEC

Education is definitely a culture phenomenon, in countries where families and teachers value education, and believe all students can achieve success thorough practice and hard work achieve higher results on PISA tests. As Dr Schleicher told The Straits Times, “Students in North America would tell us that talent counts. If I’m not born a genius in maths, I’d better study something else. But the majority of students in Asian countries such as Singapore would say… their achievement depends on how much time and effort they put in, rather than inherited intelligence, which suggests that education and its social context can make a difference in instilling values that foster success in education.”

So Canada can be a bit happier this holiday season knowing that our 15 year olds will in all likelihood be able to count out the percentage of tip at family dinners out, add up their spendings on Christmas gifts, measure the right ingredient quantities for the gingerbread house, and even make sure it has the right slope on its’ icing roof.

PISA 2015 Results (Volume I): Excellence and Equity in Education. Published on December 06, 2016

PISA 2015 Results Shows High Levels of Achievement by Canadian Students. (n.d.). Retrieved December 08, 2016, from