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Canadian Education Systems Make the Grade in New OECD Report

TORONTO, September 11, 2012 – A new international report, released today, confirms that Canada is not only a world leader in education, but that its education outcomes continue to improve. But it also shows that many other countries are catching up, making the global race to the top in education more competitive.

Education at a Glance 2012, OECD's annual review of education systems around the world, offers a broad range of comparable national education indicators, including indicators on student demographics, the human and financial resources invested in education, the operation of education systems, and the social and economic outcomes of learning.

The report shows that over 50 per cent of adults in Canada hold a college or university degree, a figure that has risen by 14 percentage points over the past 15 years. That's the highest in the OECD, meaning that Canada stands out as one of the best educated societies in the world — all the more important, given the increasingly knowledge-intensive nature of work in the 21st century.

Provincial and territorial education systems also continue to make headway in reducing the number of students who drop out of school. Fifteen years ago, one in five adult Canadians had not completed high school. Today, that figure has dropped to one in ten.

At a time of growing competition for high-quality international students, Canada has doubled the number of international students in provincial and territorial public postsecondary institutions in less than a decade.

The OECD data for Canada have been broken down by province and territory in a companion report, Education Indicators in Canada: An International Perspective 2012, produced by the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC), and Statistics Canada, which is also being released today. It facilitates the comparison of Canadian education systems with those of OECD member countries.

“Canadians know that evaluation is essential. Finding out how you are doing helps you determine how you can do better. This is the value of education indicators like those developed by OECD,” said the Honourable Ramona Jennex, Minister of Education for Nova Scotia and Chair of CMEC. “They provide us with timely, internationally comparable data to help us understand how our education systems are doing, so we can direct government efforts and taxpayer resources to where they are most needed.”

Of course challenges remain.

Although Canada has weathered the economic crisis of the past few years well in comparison to many other countries, it has not been untouched. There has been a slight rise over the past few years in the proportion of younger Canadians who are neither employed nor in education and training, from 11.7 per cent in 2008 to 13.5 in 2010. However, this is still below the OECD average (15.8 per cent) and that of other countries such as the United Kingdom (15.9 per cent) and the United States (16.1 per cent).

Moreover, other countries are catching up. The rate of growth in the proportion of postsecondary graduates in many other countries is outpacing that in Canada. The result is that while Canada ranks first in terms of the proportion of its overall population that has a postsecondary credential (from either a college or university), it only ranks third when considering only the younger cohort of adults (those between the ages of 25 and 34).

“We should acknowledge our achievements in building one of the best educated societies in the world, but we cannot be satisfied,” said Minister Jennex. “We have to be prepared to confront the challenges that lie ahead.”

Some highlights for Canada from the 2012 editions of Education at a Glance and Education Indicators in Canada:

  • Fifty-five per cent of Canadian women possess a higher education credential, more than women in any other OECD country. On the other hand, Canadian men with a college or university degree are more likely to be employed (84.7 per cent) than Canadian women (78.5 per cent). This 6.2 per cent gap in employment between highly educated men and women is reflective of the trend in OECD countries generally, but is well below the OECD average of 9 per cent.

  • A look at how employment rates varied for Canadians with different levels of education between 1997 and 2010 suggests that the lowest-educated group is the most sensitive to changes in the labour market. The employment rate of adults who did not complete high school had dropped by five percentage points at its lowest point. The employment rate of Canadians who completed college or university was more stable in the same period, dropping by only 1.5 percentage points.

  • Students from China represent by far the largest group of international students studying at Canadian institutions, accounting for 24.7 per cent of the total international student population, compared to 7.4 per cent from the United States, 6.1 per cent from France, and 4.8 per cent from India.

  • Canadian children aged 7 to 14 spend significantly more time in a formal instructional setting (7,363 hours on average per year) than the OECD average of 6,621 hours.

About CMEC

Founded in 1967, CMEC is the collective voice of Canada's ministers of education. It provides leadership in education at the pan-Canadian and international levels and contributes to the exercise of the exclusive jurisdiction of provinces and territories over education. For more information, visit us at

The Canadian Education Statistics Council (CESC) is a longstanding partnership between CMEC and Statistics Canada. Its goal is to improve the quality and comparability of Canadian education data and to provide information that can inform policy development in education.

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Colin Bailey
Director, Communications
Cell: 416-929-6970
Tel.: 416-962-8100, ext. 259