New International Study Shows Canada Promotes Culture of Literacy at Home and at School

TORONTO, December 11, 2012 – Canadian parents and teachers are succeeding at creating an environment at home and at school that promotes good reading skills among children, according to the two reports released today by the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) and the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA). But while the reports show that Canadian Grade 4 students perform well in reading by international standards, there remains room for improvement, especially as not all students in Canada are coming to school as ready to learn as they could be.


Results from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) show that Canadian parents have one of the highest levels of involvement in literacy-related activities with their preschool-aged children, such as reading books or playing word games. These activities are associated with higher readings scores once the children enter school. What's more, Canadian students are more likely than those in almost every other country in the study to say they like to read, a factor that also has a positive effect on their reading scores.


In 2011, PIRLS tested over 325,000 students from 45 countries and economies, including over 23,000 students from Canada. Overall, Grade 4 students from Canada did well in reading, with a score of 548, which is well above the PIRLS-scale midpoint of 500. Students from Hong Kong SAR, the Russian Federation, Finland, and Singapore showed the strongest performance on this study, with Northern Ireland, the United States, and Denmark also achieving higher results than Canada.


Canadian students were more likely than the international average to perform at the highest levels in reading. Thirteen percent of students in Canada reached the highest level (the Advanced International Benchmark), compared with 8 percent internationally. Fifty‑one per cent of Canadian students reached either the Advanced or the High International Benchmark, compared with 44 per cent internationally; and 86 per cent reached at least the Intermediate International Benchmark, compared with 80 per cent internationally.


“These results are very encouraging for our youth, our schools and our communities”, said the Honourable Ramona Jennex, Chair of CMEC and Nova Scotia's Minister of Education. “They confirm the essential role of families in developing early literacy skills of young children, in preparing them well for school, and in supporting teachers in developing strong reading skills both at home and at school. They also show why so many other countries continue to look to our teachers and our schools as models to follow.”


As was the case in almost all countries participating in PIRLS in 2011, girls performed better than boys in reading, but this so-called “gender gap” was smaller in Canada than in most countries.


As well as their above-average results, provincial education systems again stand out on measures of equity. In Canada, as in other countries, schools with a greater proportion of children from affluent background produce higher reading scores. However, the difference in reading scores between schools with a greater proportion of affluent students and those with fewer affluent students is smaller in Canada than in most other countries.


One of the factors contributing to this degree of equity in Canada is the fact that the vast majority of schools place a high or very high emphasis on students' academic success. Previous studies have shown that students from all backgrounds have better chances of succeeding academically if schools aim to reach high standards of excellence and if teachers believe in the students' abilities to succeed. This is confirmed by PIRLS, which shows not only that students in Canada are more likely than students in other countries to attend schools that place a high emphasis on academic success, but that students in these success-oriented schools perform better in the reading assessment.


At the same time, the reports demonstrate that there is room for improvement. A significant number of teachers report that their teaching is affected by the fact that children in Canada are not coming to school as ready to learn as they should be. Four in five teachers in Canada say that their teaching is affected, at least to some extent, by students' lack of prerequisite knowledge and skills. Perhaps more surprisingly, two-thirds say that their teaching is affected by students' lack of sleep, and one-third say that their teaching is affected by students' lack of basic nutrition.


No less worrying is the study's findings with respect to bullying. Between 7 and 17 per cent of Canadian Grade 4 students report experiencing a specific bullying behaviour ― ranging from name-calling to hitting ― at least once a week. More generally, less than half of Canadian students say they almost never experience any type of bullying, with one in five saying they experience these behaviours often. And according to PIRLS, the more students are bullied, the more their performance in reading decreases.


“Although we should be pleased with these results, PIRLS shows us that there remains room for improvement in early literacy,” said Dr. Andrew Parkin, Director General of CMEC. “Our education systems continue to stand out in terms of overall levels of achievement and in terms of equity, both of which are high by international standards. But issues such as bullying remain a challenge, both in Canada and around the world, and will continue to be a priority for ministers of education until every student feels welcome and is able to succeed at school.”


The language environment of students continues to play role in their performance. Students in French minority-language school systems did less well than students in English majority-language school systems. Other recent Canadian and international reading assessments of older students have obtained similar results. However, there was no significant difference between the performance of students in the English minority-language school system and students in the French majority-language system in Quebec.


In addition to country-wide results, PIRLS provides jurisdiction-level data for seven of the Canadian provinces that participated in the assessment.


PIRLS 2011 marks the first time that Canada has participated in the study, which is repeated every five years. Canada's participation was coordinated by CMEC and financed by participating provinces. The next assessment will take place in 2016.


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


- 30 -



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