13 jurisdictions, one perspective
How do you consolidate data from 13 different jurisdictions and produce a national educational profile that supports international comparison?
It tells the story of where Canada, as well as each province and territory, stands relative to the 34 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). What percentage of Albertans has a university degree compared with citizens in Nova Scotia or Quebec? How does Ontario's educational spending compare with other provinces?
Provinces and territories use the data to better understand how their educational systems are performing relative to the other jurisdictions. “They can take a look at themselves and put themselves in a larger context,” explains Michael Martin of The Centre for Education Statistics at Statistics Canada, the group that works with its provincial, territorial and international counterparts to produce an array of education indicators.
The indicators in this year's report include sub-national information from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). The PIAAC is an OECD project that provides internationally comparable measures of three skills that are essential to processing information: literacy, numeracy and problem-solving in technology-rich environments.
The PIAAC covers adults, aged 16 to 65, in 24 countries and sub-national regions, including all of Canada's provinces and territories. Statistics Canada worked with provinces and territories and a number of federal government departments to conduct the Canadian component of the assessment.
Data from the PIAAC provide a measure of a country's cognitive and workplace skills, as well as a picture of how they are distributed among different groups and by age. This information helps ensure that education and training programs can focus on the right competencies. It takes effort to produce good quality data on education.
Canada faces unique challenges when it comes to producing educational indicators. Unlike the centralized education systems in most OECD countries, Canada has 13 independent jurisdictions, each with a different education system. Canada is also a diverse country with two official languages, a significant Aboriginal population, and a large immigrant population. Because education policy is developed and decided at the provincial and territorial level, a larger sample is required to obtain statistically reliable results within each jurisdiction.
Mr. Martin notes that the United States also has state-run educational systems. However, they have a central federal authority with a national education mandate that wields some centralized power over data collection.
A further challenge is the ongoing international work to harmonize definitions and methodologies used by the OECD in the production of education data. StatCan has a place at the table during these discussions, working again with provincial and territorial counterparts.
So, how to meet this fundamental challenge?
It comes down to cooperation. In 1989, Statistics Canada and the Council of Ministers of Education Canada formed a partnership: the Canadian Education Statistics Council. The members of this council are the provincial and territorial deputy ministers responsible for education, along with the Chief Statistician.
The council established the Canadian Education Statistics Program “to produce high quality, comparable and relevant education data and information that can inform research and policy development in education.”
For StatCan, it means engaging with every jurisdiction to ensure that each province and territory agrees to play by the same OECD rules, or to find compromises to ensure comparability across the board.
“It requires a lot of assessment and analysis of the data to carry out a reality check with the provinces because we are comparing different jurisdictions with different operations,” Mr. Martin says. “It is a big consortium. We bring it all together here at Statistics Canada using our data sources, compiling their data sources, quality checking and then producing the product.”
And, the picture is ever shifting. For example, Canadian community colleges began granting degrees in recent decades. This change required a shift from counting at the institution level to counting at the program level. More recently, new standards were adopted to provide data on master's degrees separately from bachelor's degrees. Students might use the data to consider whether an advanced degree could provide a lift in the job market or improve their future earnings.
For example, Labour Force Survey data can be integrated with education statistics to look at the relationship between jobs and educational attainment. “As we move toward internationalization of our data, we have to make sure the concepts are refined in other survey areas to make sure the outputs are compatible,” Mr. Martin notes.
The data consolidation process enables StatCan to continually develop and refine the measurement of education in Canada and policy makers to look at their results using a common set of standards.
The Education indicators in Canada report creates a singular Canadian perspective across 13 jurisdictions that is built on cooperation, negotiation and goodwill.
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