Key Coverage

In Canada’s Public Schools, Immigrant Students Are Thriving

When 13-year-old André Cordeiro moved from rural Portugal to Toronto, the only English words he knew were, “hi,” “bye,” and “hot dog.” Four years later, he speaks English “way better” and credits the English-learner class he attends every morning at Islington Junior Middle School.

Three-fourths of the roughly 500 students at Islington, a K-8 school in Toronto, speak a language other than English at home, including Somali, Arabic, Korean, Bengali, and Russian. But far from being unusual, this diverse school mirrors Canada’s largest city, where almost half the 2.7 million population is foreign-born.

Overall, 30 percent of Canada’s schoolchildren are either immigrants themselves or have at least one parent born abroad. That’s compared with 23 percent of U.S. students who are immigrants or children of immigrants. Yet Canada has one of the highest performing education systems in the world as ranked by the Program for International Assessment, or PISA, test that 15-year-olds from more than 70 countries take. The United States’ rankings, by contrast, are mediocre.