Study: High school graduation rates in Canada at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2016/2017 to 2019/2020
On-time high school graduation rates increased at the beginning of the pandemic
Despite the COVID-19-related school closures in Canada and the subsequent transition to distance learning, almost all provinces and territories saw graduation rates increase at the end of the 2019/2020 school year. However, the gap in on-time graduation rates between young men (81%) and young women (87%) persisted, with the rate for young women being 6 percentage points higher than that of their male counterparts.
High school graduation rates went up at the start of the pandemic
The class of 2019/2020 were the first graduating cohort affected by public health measures put in place to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Although school buildings closed and both teachers and students had to adapt to distance learning, the on-time graduation rate for Canada rose from 81% in 2018/2019 to 84% in 2019/2020, a larger increase than that observed in the four previous academic years. The on-time graduation rate is the proportion of young people who complete their high school studies within three years of starting grade 10 ("Secondary 3" in Quebec).
Nova Scotia (6 percentage points higher), Newfoundland and Labrador (5 percentage points higher), and Saskatchewan (5 percentage points higher) saw the greatest increases, while the graduation rate decreased in Manitoba and the Northwest Territories. The increase in high school graduation rates may be associated with policies implemented by provinces and territories during the pandemic to ensure students would not fail or drop out of school given the impact of the pandemic. For example, in Ontario, the provincial government instituted a policy that students' grades could not decline from March 2020. Similarly, in Saskatchewan, all students were assigned at least a 50% mark at the beginning of the pandemic.
High school graduation rates were higher for young women than young men
Consistent with high school graduation rates since 2016/2017, young women in Canada were more likely to complete high school on time (87%) in 2019/2020 than young men (81%). Previous research has shown that young men are less likely than young women to complete high school at all or on time, and this has been linked to young men being less engaged in the high school educational experience, having lower grades and average reading scores.
The gap in high school graduation rates between young women and young men was observed in all provinces and territories but was most evident in Quebec, where young women graduated high school at a rate of 10 percentage points higher than young men. The second widest gender gap was in Ontario where the rate for young women was 6 percentage points higher. The difference between young women and young men was smallest in Newfoundland and Labrador (1 percentage point higher for young women) and Prince Edward Island (2 percentage points for young women).
Canada above the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average for the overall high school graduation rate of students younger than 25 years of age
The most recent internationally comparable information on high school graduation rates do not include pandemic-era data. Before the pandemic, the Canadian high school graduation rate of 84% was above the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average of 80%. While Canada's graduation rate was higher than some OECD countries, such as Iceland (80%) and Belgium (77%), it was lower than other countries, such as the United States (87%) and Italy (90%).
Note to readers
On-time high school graduation rate: the percentage of a cohort of young people who complete their high school studies within three years of starting grade 10 ("Secondary 3" in Quebec).
Upper secondary first-time graduation rate for students younger than 25 years of age: the number of upper secondary graduates younger than 25 divided by the population younger than 25. See the OECD Handbook for Internationally Comparative Education Statistics 2018 for further information.
The article entitled "High school graduation rates in Canada, 2016/2017 to 2019/2020" is now available as part of Education Indicators in Canada Fact Sheet (81-599-X).
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