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Students Struggles Seen Nationally and Globally

Math and reading scores across Canada have continued to decline among 15-year-old students, with many blaming the COVID pandemic. Scores in each field have continually declined globally. 

Internationally, the average math scores have fallen 15 points since testing in 2018, according to a survey published by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). This equates to three-quarters of a year of education lost. Internationally, reading compression scores have dropped 10 points, the equivalent of half a year of learning lost, while science scores have remained stable. 

The PISA math test assesses mathematical reasoning and the student’s problem-solving ability. 

The tests were given in 2022, delayed a year by the pandemic. Canadian students scored 15 points below 2018 scores on math, the equivalent of three-quarters of a year behind where they tested previously. In the same period, reading scores dropped by 13 points. According to the assessment, 20 points equates to a full year. 

Testing 15-year-old students’ math, reading and science scores occurs every three years. PISA is conducted by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which has been conducting research since 2000. The most recent analysis included 81 countries around the world. In Canada, 23,000 Canadian high school students participated. 

At the end of their report, the OECD states the most impactful contributing factor to the decline in scores was remote learning and school closures during the pandemic. “Systems that spared more students from longer school closures scored higher while their students enjoyed a greater sense of belonging at school,” the OECD website says. 

Additionally, the report cites that students whose teachers were available despite closures scored higher in math and were “more confident” in self-directed learning. 

It is worth noting that in Canada, BC, Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec typically score higher academically than other provinces. While math scores in BC and Alberta dropped by 8 points each, the impact of the pandemic was much greater in the Maritimes and Manitoba. Newfoundland and Labrador had an average loss of 29 points in math, Nova Scotia had a 24-point loss, New Brunswick saw a 23-point loss, and Manitoba had a 22-point loss. 

While these are substantial decreases in performance, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Manitoba students performed at or above the average math scores reported by the OECD, while Newfoundland and Labrador were below the average.  

Anna Stokke, a math professor at the University of Winnipeg, shared a chart on X indicating math scores have been decreasing across Canada since 2003, with Manitoba having fallen 58 points in that time, recording nearly the lowest math scores in the country in 2022, only ahead of Saskatchewan and New Brunswick.  

Nationally, since 2003, math test scores have decreased by 35 points, an equivalent of nearly two years of education loss. A similar decline has been seen in both reading and science scores since 2000, though the decrease in math scores is by far the most dramatic. On average, immigrant students outperform non-immigrant students on the PISA math test, a consistent result seen in Canada. 

Experts suggest that the methods used to teach math in Manitoba and across Canada are sub-par, setting kids up for failure. The modern approach has failed somewhere, as the decline in math is consistent from coast to coast. Some advocates have argued that Canadian teachers should revert to a back-to-basics approach that allows students to learn the fundamentals. Most common today is the inquiry model of learning, through which students are taught by problem-solving and looking for patterns in their work. 

Anna Stokke has been a long-time advocate for modifying the education system in Manitoba to teach kids the fundamentals. 

“You can’t fix a problem by doubling down on methods that don’t work,” Stokke has said. “Problem-solving skills are developed by building up foundational skills and techniques through a lot of practice. They cannot be taught in isolation.” 

OECD Director for Education and Skills Andreas Schleicher believes math scores in Canada are concerning, particularly because math scores have been declining for so long. 

“The world requires a lot more mathematics these days,” he said in an interview. “If you do not understand an exponential function, you’re not going to follow the discussion on climate change or the evolution of the pandemic.” 

The 2022 PISA showed 78 percent of Canadian students above what OECD considers the baseline of mathematical literacy necessary to participate in society. Internationally, 69 per cent of students scored at or above this level. 

While it is clear that the effects of the pandemic have reached across the world, it is not a valid dismissal of the decades-long decline in Canadian math scores. While 12 per cent of Canadian students scored as high achievers in math, 41 per cent of students in Singapore scored as high achievers, while 23 per cent of those tested in Japan and Korea showed the same result. Singapore scored the highest in every subject, a common theme in these assessments.  

While some of this data may seem discouraging, it is important to recognize Canada scored in the top 10 internationally across subjects. Internationally, Canadian math scores ranked ninth, reading scores ranked sixth, and scores in science ranked seventh. 

A report released last year by the Ontario Education Quality and Accountability Office showed a decline in scores at multiple grade levels on basic subjects, including math and science. The 2021/22 school year report showed that 47 per cent of grade 6 students met the provincial standard for math comprehension, a decrease of 3 per cent from 2018/19. Eighty-five per cent of students in grade six reported scores at the provincial standard, and 84 per cent scored there as well.

At the grade 9 level, 52 per cent of students met the provincial standard, a score 23 per cent lower than what was reported in the 2018/19 school year when 75 per cent of students met the standard. In 2018, the Ontario government introduced a new math curriculum, which entered classrooms in the fall of 2020. The new movement was framed as getting “back to basics.” 

Ontario students at the grade 3 level reported similar scores in 2022 compared to 2018, with only slight decreases in scores in math and reading. 

The pandemic created obstacles for every person across the world. These lower test scores come as no surprise to anyone in the education system who experienced the frustrations of the shutdowns with their students in real-time. What comes next is an opportunity to sink or swim. How governments and school boards choose to address the declining scores will ultimately decide whether the drop in academic performance currently seen among young people is curbed or continues.  

As Professor Frokke and similar advocates have said, there is a need to return to the basics of math in order to allow students to actively and properly learn. More data may be needed from Ontario, but early indicators suggest their adoption of such practices has a lasting positive impact on the well-being and learning of their students. 

– Matthew Harrison, U Multicultural

Community Focus: Manitoba Filipino Seniors Group Promoting well-being among both the young and elderly members of the community while preserving Filipino culture is a key aspect of the Filipino Seniors Group of Winnipeg (FSGW). FSGW hosted the first Seniors Sports Fest last March, featuring popular games, including pool, darts, chess and Filipino Sungka. The efforts promoted socialization,Continue Reading

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