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How Canada Has Quietly Risen to the Top of International Rankings For Education

flickr/Viv Lynch

Canada’s universities have seen a surge in applications from international students, which has partially been credited to the rise of Trump in the US — but it’s not just universities that are gaining recognition in the education world.

A new assessment suggests that Canadian teenagers are receiving some of the best education there is.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) launched the Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA), a triennial survey of 15-year-old students around the world, to assess international performance in education.

Take Action: Ask Governments and Corporations to Support Girls' Education

The assessment focuses on science, reading and mathematics, and in the latest international PISA tests, Canada ranked among the top 10 for all three subjects.

Here’s why.

Equity in the education systems

Generally, the top performing countries have a united and likely nationally integrated education system. Such is the case in Singapore, the country that outperformed all others in the tests.

However, this is not the case for Canada.

Canada doesn’t have a national education system, but rather systems that vary from province to province. Therefore, the federal government plays a minimal role in education. The OECD even explained their role as “limited and sometimes non-existent,” according to the BBC.

And yet, Canadian students are excelling at rates comparable to the educational dynamo Singapore.

But why?

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Andreas Schleicher, the OECD's education director, says there is a concept that exists across the provinces.

Canada’s “big uniting theme is equity,” he told the BBC.

Across the country, there is an idea of fairness and equal access, which play an important role in education — and it’s especially notable when it comes to the academic performance of immigrant children.

Canada welcomes newcomers throughout the country and, consequently, within the education system. Children of immigrant families seem to integrate quickly in school.

The PISA tests show that within three years of their arrival, children of new immigrants end up with scores as high as the rest of their classmates.

Less of a divide between advantages

In most countries, socio-economic status and immigration backgrounds often affect student performance, according to the 2015 PISA tests.

On average, disadvantaged students score 88 points lower in science than advantaged students across OECD countries, according to the results.

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The variation in scores caused by socio-economic differences was only 9% in Canada. For comparison, it was 17% in Singapore and 20% in France.

This is another example of how the concept of equity in education positively affected Canada’s scores. The country as a whole does not have the same underachievement issues often caused by poverty.

Consistent scores — instead of extreme highs and lows

Instead of extremely high and extremely low scores, Canada’s education system maintains an average across the board, seeing minimal differences between privileged and less privileged students.

Recent immigrants also want their children to do well in their new home country.

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"Many families new to Canada want their children to excel at school, and the students are motivated to learn," Prof David Booth, from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, told the BBC.

What it all really seems to come down to is the idea of equal access to education no matter one’s background.

Imagine that — equality leading to impressive results. Who would have thought?