Toronto , Canada

Integration Through Education: Toronto’s Second Generation Makes the Grade

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB)

November 18, 2008

Global recognition for equal opportunities in education and successful academic outcomes for all kids

Creating a genuinely inclusive learning environment doesn’t just happen in the ESL classroom, it requires a comprehensive commitment to diversity.

By approaching the issue of diversity as an opportunity, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) has gone beyond instructional methods and curriculum to achieve significant results.

In September 2008, the TDSB was awarded the prestigious international Carl Bertelsmann Prize in recognition of its exemplary work in promoting social integration and improving equal learning opportunities at its schools.

According to data from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) the TDSB has successfully closed the average achievement gap between second generation students of immigrant origin and their Canadian peers.

Planning for success…

The TDSB governs over 550 schools. In some of these schools, the proportion of “new Canadians” is as high as 80 to 95 percent, with more being enrolled each day. More than 36 percent of these students come from economically disadvantaged families where the income is less than 70 percent of the median income. Over 49.9 percent of Toronto residents were born abroad. For half of them, neither French nor English is their native language.

Yet, the reading competence of students in Toronto tested in grade 9 is as high as the overall reading performance for Ontario, which, with its much lower proportion of immigrants is ranked among the best in the PISA.

This achievement did not come about by accident. The TDSB recognized that systemic change was required, and that it had to start at the top.

To insure an across the board commitment to education equity, the TDSB employed an Executive Officer of Student and Community Equity in August 2005. They remain, the only regional school authority in Canada to do so.

In his role as Executive Officer of Student and Community Equity, Lloyd Mckell has provided leadership to the TDSB’s comprehensive and systematic approach to promoting equity and access for all their students. “As the diversity of Toronto’s schools increased, we understood the need to ensure that all students reflecting that diversity, have equitable opportunities to be successful in our schools and that systemic barriers to their achievement are identified and removed” adds Lloyd.

The result is that all stakeholders have a role in promoting integration across the school system as part of a mainstream approach that is reinforced daily and through routine school practice –from the School Board though to principles, teachers, children, parents and migrant associations.

In addition to ensuring the school curricula reflects the diversity of the student body, the TDSB supports efforts to involve parents, neighborhoods and ethnic communities. In locations with a particularly high number of immigrants, integration advisors (settlement workers) at the schools are helping parents with education and other issues concerning integration. The Settlement Workers in Schools (SWIS) program is a partnership of settlement agencies and boards of education supported by Canada’s national department of Citizenship and Immigration, now available in schools across Canada.

Other specific actions that the TDSB has implemented to achieve these results include: providing low-achieving students with individual support in the classroom and access to language learning in their student’s native language.

In 2008, the Carl Bertelsmann Prize recognized the success of the TDSB’s efforts to promote more integration as part of a larger challenge to all education and school systems to meet the challenges of migration and demographic change.

“The school system in Toronto shows us what actions we have to take, considering the challenges we are facing from globalization, migration and demographic change,” commented Dr. Johannes Meier, member of the Bertelsmann Foundation Executive Board. “Germany is an immigration country just as Canada, but, regarding the education system in our country, we have not learned the necessary lessons from this reality. In Germany, educational success still depends too much on the social and ethnic background of the students. In that respect, we would do well to take guidance from a country like Canada and a city like Toronto.”

Since awarding the prize to the TDSB, the Bertelsmann Foundation has launched a German initiative called, “Integration through Education” which has invited all students from grades 5 to 12 to enter projects and ideas for improving integration at their schools.

Awarded annually since 1988 the prize is given by the German Bertelsmann Foundation to honour innovative policies addressing key global challenges. In 2008, initiatives from England, Sweden and Switzerland were also short listed.

For a selection of library resources related to this Good Idea, see sidebar at right.

Hier geht es zur Fallstudie auf der Seite Demographie Konkret (Bertelsmann Stiftung): Toronto – Equitable Schools.

Making it Work for You:

  • Find out whether your organization or local school has an official diversity officer or program. If not, find out if this is something that you can help implement or support.
  • All stakeholders in the home and school community have a role to play in improving educational outcomes of young immigrants. Has your school board mapped its community assets?
  • The TDSB's Settlement Workers in Schools program is a partnership of settlement agencies and boards of education supported by Canada's national department of Citizenship and Immigration and is now available in schools across Canada. Are there organizations or government bodies in your community that might be interested in getting involved with this issue?