Experts suggest math scores higher in Quebec because teachers are better trained
The Quebec flag is seen in this undated file photo. (Tom Hanson / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
MONTREAL -- Ontario needn't look too far to find ideas on how to improve its students' math scores after Premier Kathleen Wynne's announcement Wednesday her government would begin public consultations to overhaul the school curriculum.
Education experts in Quebec credit one main reason why students in the province consistently top the country's math rankings: Quebec teachers are better trained.
A bachelor of education in Quebec takes four years to complete, during which future teachers spend at least 700 hours in elementary or secondary classrooms.
In Ontario, teachers often get a four-year undergraduate diploma before starting a two-year teaching degree.
Before 2015 in Ontario, teachers received only one year of training -- meaning most of the teachers in classrooms in that province have been trained one-fourth as long as their Quebec colleagues.
Annie Savard, a professor at McGill University's department of integrated studies in education, has just finished conducting research on how mathematics is taught in high schools across Canada.
Ontario, she explained, has elementary school through Grade 8, while high school in Quebec begins in Grade 7 and ends in Grade 11.
Therefore, Savard says, Quebec students in seventh and eighth grades are taught by "math specialists" while their peers in Ontario are instructed by elementary school teachers.
"If we look at a Grade 7 teacher who was trained at the elementary level, who went to one year at teachers college, and you compare them to someone in Quebec, who had four years training ... it's clear we have two teachers who are completely different," Savard said in an interview.
Ontario's poor and stagnant math scores correspond with assessments from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
It found eight of 10 provinces recorded statistically significant decreases in scores between 2003 and 2012.
Only students in Quebec exceeded the Canadian average.
Savard said another reason Quebec students perform well is due to their teachers' understanding of "didactic," which is a concept championed in French-speaking European countries.
Quebec teachers are taught to differentiate between teaching and learning.
Didactic teaching concentrates on learning conditions and making content easy for students to digest, she said.
"Knowing the content of the course isn't enough for teachers," Savard said. "You need what we call didactic (teaching). You need to unpack the content to make it accessible to students."
Lucie DeBlois, a professor in the education department at Universite Laval, agreed didactic teaching is essential to proper teaching.
"We study the conditions that allow students to learn," she said.
DeBlois added francophone teachers in Quebec also benefit from strong teacher associations.
"The associations in math are particularly strong," she said. "They regularly propose seminars, conventions. They are very structured organizations and it helps to motivate the troops, so to speak."
Quebec teachers are also exposed to French-language research papers that aren't immediately accessible to those who can't read French.
"We read as much French as we do in English," she said. "We are as up to speed on the best practices and the leading research on teaching in both languages."
And it's not just math scores that set Quebec apart.
If Quebec were an independent country, it would rank in the top five in the world for its students' science scores, according to 2015 statistics by the OECD.