New Canadian Media

From: Parisa Mahboubi 

To: Ahmed D. Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship 

Date: August 3, 2017 

Re: Let’s Toughen Literacy Standards to Boost Immigrant Success 

Strong literacy skills improve new immigrants’ employability and earnings capacity. But immigrant literacy skills in Canada lag non-immigrants despite the large proportion of immigrants with university degrees, according the 2012 OECD Programme for International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). My latest research for the C.D. Howe Institute — The Power of Words: Improving Immigrants’ Literacy Skills — argues for policies to enhance immigrants’ literacy skills through improvements in Canada’s immigration selection and settlement policies. 

The literacy skills gap between immigrants and non-immigrants is evident across all levels of education, including university-educated immigrants. It underscores why some immigrants struggle to successfully transfer their skills upon arrival. Among immigrants, however, those who obtained their highest educational attainment in Canada perform better than others perhaps due to having a better knowledge of language and receiving a high-quality education. 

My study shows that, indeed, language is a major factor in the skill gaps between immigrants and non-immigrants. Better language abilities in English or French result in higher literacy outcomes among immigrants, allowing them to do better in the labour market. 

Australia has a comparable immigration system, but its immigrants outperform Canadian immigrants in literacy scores. Why? Australia’s changes to language testing for prospective immigrants in 1999 is a major cause of improvements in the average performance of  immigrants, particularly those with a mother tongue other than English. 

Although Canada announced similar policy reforms to its immigration system around 2010, its approach is more lenient than Australia’s. Canada assigns two-thirds of total possible language points to applicants under the Federal Skilled Worker program (FSW) who meet the minimum English Language Testing level while Australia provides no reward for candidates under its a skilled immigration program with the same level of language proficiency. 

In other words, applicants who demonstrate language skills that meet the most minimal thresholds have a much higher chance of being admitted for immigration in Canada relative to Australia. This implies that Australia’s system targets candidates with superior language skills, who are more easily able to integrate and access more opportunities for gainful employment, while Canada only screens out applicants with very limited language ability. 

The growing importance of immigration as a source of growth for Canada’s labour force requires a more effective immigration points-based system that selects the best candidates, according to their ability to settle in Canada, either by giving more weight to language proficiency or by making language testing more rigorous, or a combination thereof.  

The government can also grant permanent residency to more former international students who obtained Canadian credentials. Further, immigrants not admitted through the points system – those in family class and refugees – tend to struggle the most with literacy, so federal and provincial governments need to make sure new better, more rigorous language training is available.


Parisa Mahboubi is a Senior Policy Analyst at the C.D. Howe Institute. This article has been republished under arrangement.

Published in Commentary

A charity out of Canada - Peterborough, Ontario to be exact - is total...

PanAmerican World

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Published in Caribbean
Thursday, 22 January 2015 10:02

Family Literacy Day offers words to live by

Research shows that the education level of the mother is the strongest variable affecting a child’s school achievement.

It also shows that parents can increase their children’s chances to succeed in school through such means as reading to them or modelling good reading habits, while other research reveals that reading to your children has a huge impact on their development, especially in the early years.

These are the reasons why Family Literacy Day has been created with the aim of raising awareness of the importance of reading and engaging in other literacy-related activities as a family.

The Caribbean Camera

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Published in Education

by Charles Ungerleider in Vancouver 

It isn't often that I have the luxury of watching television, but, when I see Discovery Channels’ Mythbusters, it makes me smile. The hosts use their knowledge of science to entertainingly debunk myths. I've often thought that, if the program did some education myth-busting, it would be doing a public service.  The problem with my idea is that busting educational myths depends on logic and research, topics that don’t have much visual appeal.

I’m guessing that’s why David Berliner and Gene Glass, two educational researchers with international reputations, chose to write book to expose 50 Myths & Lies that Threaten America’s Public Schools (Teachers College Press, 2014). Their book makes use of logic and evidence to refute common myths and outright lies that are made about American public schools. Some of those myths and lies are applied to Canadian public schooling, too: Private schools are better than public schools; Teachers of the poor are not very talented; Homework boosts student achievement, and others. One myth often applied to Canadian schools that Berliner and Glass do not tackle is that immigrants drive down school rankings.

Before tackling that myth, it is important to know that school rankings are, at best, misleading and, at worst, dishonest. It is important to recognize that the methodology used to produce school rankings compares each school with every other school being ranked. Those comparisons are normalized, meaning that the results of the comparisons are manipulated to distribute the results (school scores) so that half of the schools fall below the average school score and the other half of the schools above the average.  When I point that out to parents, someone correctly points out, “That means that, if all schools improved by 50%, there would still be half of the schools below the average score.”

While it is true that immigrant students have lower levels of print literacy upon entering school, the differences between them and their non-immigrant peers is reduced over time with good instruction and exposure to positive English language role models.

Flaws in school ranking

People who produce school rankings based on student achievement conveniently ignore some of the other flaws in the logic. For example, they ignore that student achievement is a product of all of the prior in-school and out-of-school experiences that a student has had up to the point when the achievement is assessed. One implication of that in a highly mobile society is that holding a particular school accountable for the achievement of the students currently enrolled in that school probably places too much weight on the school’s influence and understates other influences.

What we know from the lengthy history of studying student achievement is that, while schools – and especially the quality of instruction that students receive in schools – matter, factors outside of school matter more. Parental influence is one of the factors affecting how and how well students achieve in school. The amount and quality of interaction between parents and their children makes a difference. The value that parents ascribe to school and the respect they accord to teachers affects how their children view their school experience and their teachers.

Family income affects student achievement in several ways. Families living in impoverished circumstances (see report on research done in Ontario) have children who are less healthy. Those children are typically less likely to have seen a dentist or a doctor than their more advantaged peers. One reason is that parents struggling to make ends meet often work multiple low-paying jobs. If they take time from work, they lose pay. If employers think they are taking too much unpaid time off, they risk being replaced. Under such circumstances, the necessity of a visit to the dentist or physician can become a luxury that they cannot afford.

[I]mmigrant students often perform as well or better in mathematics and science than their Canadian-born peers.

On the other hand, more advantaged parents have time and resources they can invest in their children. They can ensure that their children receive regular dental and medical checkups. They can afford more nutritious food. They can attend school meetings and meetings with their children’s teachers. In addition, they can afford experiences such as after school activities and summer camps that are beyond the reach of their less advantaged peers. All other things being equal, children whose parents are better off reap educational advantages and benefits.

Challenging circusmtances

Children who live in more challenging circumstances sometimes struggle with school work. If they are classes where the students come from varied backgrounds, they benefit from having peers who are not struggling – especially if the more advantaged peers are in the majority. If poor children live and attend school with children from the same background, they are deprived of the positive peer influences of those more advantaged youngsters.

While it is true that immigrant students have lower levels of print literacy upon entering school, the differences between them and their non-immigrant peers is reduced over time with good instruction and exposure to positive English language role models. However, immigrant students often perform as well or better in mathematics and science than their Canadian-born peers. If school rankings take into account performance in a variety of subjects, the performance of immigrant students should not diminish the overall ranking of the school.

It is interesting that the reverse is not true. More advantaged children do not suffer from being in a school where most of the children are poor. This is likely a consequence of the very strong influence that having advantaged parents confers as well as living in communities that are relatively more advantaged. In other words, affluence appears to be a protective factor for advantaged learners.

Socio-economic segregation is another story.  A concentration of low income students will have a negative effect on a school’s rankings just as the concentration of high income students will have a beneficial effect. As you have probably inferred, I do not have much interest in or regard for school rankings.  But I have a very strong interest in encouraging school boards to ensure that school boundaries do not separate groups on socio-economic lines. 


Charles Ungerleider, a Professor Emeritus of Educational Studies at The University of British Columbia, is Managing Partner of Directions Evidence and Policy Research Group, LLP,  a partnership of professionals with experience in applied research, policy analysis and evaluation in a variety of domains, including K-12 and post-secondary education, social services, justice, and health. He has served as Deputy Minister of Education in British Columbia, Director of Research and Knowledge Mobilization at the Canadian Council on Learning, and Associate Dean (Teacher Education) at The University of British Columbia. 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Education

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