BOWLING GREEN - Canada is a nice, safe country that produces great hockey players and comedic actors.
It also has a public education system that has made Canadians the most well-educated people of the 29 member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, according to a Quebec educator who spoke here yesterday.
“Eighty percent of working-age people have graduated from high school,” said Dr. Ratna Ghosh, dean of the faculty of education at McGill University in Montreal.
In mathematics and science, Canadian grade school and high school students outperform their American counterparts, and girls do as well as boys, Dr. Ghosh continued. On average, Canadian schools have one computer for every nine grade school students; in high school, the ratio is 1 to 7.
All this despite the fact that education is entirely the responsibility of Canada's 10 provinces. Canada is the only Western country without a federal office of education. In education, it has no national standards or curricula.
Those were some of the fascinating facts brought up at Bowling Green State University's annual Reddin Symposium, sponsored by the university's Canadian Studies Center.
The program, “Public Education in Canada,” featured two other speakers: Dave Cooke, a former Ontario legislator and minister for education and training, and Darrel Skidmore, who was formerly director of the Metropolitan Toronto School Board and of the London Board of Education.
More than 100 people attended the presentations and discussion in Olscamp Hall.
There was no self-congratulation in the Canadians' comments. Admitting he was biased, Mr. Skidmore railed against Ontario's current Conservative government, which he said reduced funding and standards and implemented reforms too quickly, alienating the province's teachers.
“The current education environment is at best described as controversial and at worst poisonous or toxic,” Mr. Skidmore asserted.
He also blamed Ontario's changing governments for having different educational agendas. “There was no consistency,” he continued. Ohio could benefit from Ontario's experience, he said, by not instituting reforms “before getting consensus around the agenda.”
Mr. Cooke pointedly disagreed. “You're always moving too quickly if the people affected by your reform are opposed to it,” he responded. “If we waited for consensus on every change, we'd still be in a one-room school house. You can't get it.”
In Canada, government funding goes to religious schools, and the federal government kicks in money to ensure that standards don't vary widely from province to province. Yet on an average, per-pupil basis, Canada spends less than the United States, according to Dr. Ghosh.
Mr. Cooke noted that extreme decentralization makes testing for achievement difficult. “There are no national standards. What do you test for?”