On Tuesday, ministers of education from three Canadian provinces—Alberta, Ontario and Prince Edward Island—gathered to address a small group of education and business leaders at MaRS. Earlier that morning, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development released its triennial education benchmarking scores, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). The ministers are under steady pressure to ensure that Canadian students are not slipping behind their global peers.

Last year, 21,000 15-year-olds from across Canada were tested on three verticals: literacy, numeracy and science. Their results were compared to those of 15-year-olds across the world. The data generally confirm what education insiders already know: that Canadian students perform well above the global average on these measures.

But we should not be complacent. The trend is downward,” said Jeff Johnson, Alberta education minister and chair of the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada. “The numeracy piece in particular is something that we have had our eye on for a while. In 2007, Canada was in the Top 5 in all three categories. In 2010, we had slipped down the tables, especially in math, and on Tuesday we had slipped slightly further.

One of the measures in which Canada performed especially well was equity of performance. “Canada’s population is one of the most diverse on the entire planet, yet the equity of where people are in terms of their competencies and skill levels, those gaps are the smallest on the entire planet,” said Johnson. “Canada is doing a very good job on that front.”

At MaRS, education technology (edtech) startups form a large part of the information technology, communications and entertainment practice, and they are innovating on everything from after-school programs to math curricula to role-playing games designed to teach kids to read. These entrepreneurs are mindful of the fact that, while Canada continues to perform very well in international comparisons like PISA, we still have a long way to go to reform our education system so that it produces the kind of flexible and innovative thinkers we will need for the economy of the future.

MaRS recently signed a partnership with global education company Pearson, focused on “accelerating digital innovation in the global education space.” Through this partnership, Pearson will work actively with MaRS’ edtech startups and provide opportunities for entrepreneurs to collaborate with its global team.

To ensure that educators have the digital tools required to deliver a demanding curriculum, it is imperative that the best new digital technologies and teaching methods get scaled throughout the education system.

Education innovations could soon become a key export for Canada as we look to change our economy from being resource-dependent to being knowledge-dependent. Our expertise in education could become a major driver of economic growth in this country, especially in light of recent success stories such as Embanet, Desire2Learn and Top Hat.

Look for further announcements in upcoming months as MaRS seeks to find the best global partners with which to share our education expertise.

Feature photo credit: CB101515 from cybrarian77 CC BY-NC 2.0

Joseph Wilson

Joseph was an education advisor at MaRS Discovery District. He writes on topics of science, culture and city issues for NOW Magazine, the Globe and Mail, Spacing and Yonge Street. He is the Executive Director of the Treehouse Group, dedicated to fostering innovation by hosting cross-disciplinary events. See more…