Education Indicators in Canada: An International Perspective, 2020
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Canadian and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) indicators

The following table outlines the indicators presented in this edition of Education Indicators in Canada: An International Perspective beside the corresponding indicators from Education at a Glance 2020: OECD indicators.

Table summary
This table displays the results of Indicators . The information is grouped by Education Indicators in Canada: An International Perspective 2020 (appearing as row headers), Education at a Glance 2020: OECD Indicators (appearing as column headers).
Education Indicators in Canada: An International Perspective 2020 Education at a Glance 2020: OECD Indicators
A1 Educational attainment of the adult population A1 To what level have adults studied?
A2 On-time and extended high school graduation rates B3 Who is expected to complete upper secondary education?
A3 International students B6 What is the profile of internationally mobile students?
A4 Transitions to the labour market A2 Transition from school to work: Where are today’s youth?
A5 Labour market outcomes A3 How does educational attainment affect participation in the labour market?
B1 Expenditure per student C1 How much is spent per student on educational institutions?
B2 Expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP C2 What proportion of national wealth is spent on education?
B3 Distribution of expenditure on education C6 On what resources and services is education funding spent?
C1 Instruction time D1 How much time do students spend in the classroom? (2019)
C2 Teachers’ working time D4 How much time do teachers and school heads spend teaching and working?
C3 Teachers’ salaries D3 How much are teachers and school heads paid?
D1 Online learning across Canada: Preparedness of students, teachers, and schools
D2 Pathways of full-time students in a Bachelor’s or equivalent program B5 Who is expected to graduate from tertiary education? (2019)

International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) classifications and descriptions

Indicators are classified according to the ISCED-2011 categories. The ISCED standard, developed and maintained by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, is used for reporting data to the OECD.Note 1 ISCED provides a framework and methodology that allows information from different national education programs to be presented within a comparable set of broad indicators.

The following table provides a brief description for each ISCED category.Note 2

Brief description for each International Standard Classification of Education category
Table summary
This table displays the results of Brief description for each International Standard Classification of Education category. The information is grouped by International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) 2011 classification (appearing as row headers), Description (appearing as column headers).
International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) 2011 classification Description
Early childhood education/Pre-primary education
ISCED level 0 refers to early childhood programmes that have an intentional education component. These programmes aim to develop socio-emotional skills necessary for participation in school and society. They also develop some of the skills needed for academic readiness and prepare children for entry into primary education. ISCED level 0 programmes target children below the age of entry into ISCED level 1. There are two categories of ISCED level 0 programmes: early childhood educational development and pre-primary education. The former has educational content designed for younger children (in the age range of 0 to 2 years), whilst the latter is designed for children from age 3 years to the start of primary education.
Primary education
Designed to provide a sound basic education in reading, writing and mathematics and a basic understanding of some other subjects. Entry age: between 5 and 7. Typical duration: 6 years.
Lower secondary education
Completes provision of basic education, usually in a more subject-oriented way with more specialist teachers. Entry follows 6 years of primary education; duration is 3 years. In some countries, the end of this level marks the end of compulsory education.
Upper secondary education
Stronger subject specialisation than at lower-secondary level, with teachers usually more qualified. Students typically expected to have completed 9 years of education or lower secondary schooling before entry and are generally around 15 or 16 years old.
Postsecondary non-tertiary education
Internationally, this level straddles the boundary between upper secondary and postsecondary education, even though it might be considered upper secondary or postsecondary in a national context. Programme content may not be significantly more advanced than that in upper secondary, but is not as advanced as that in tertiary programmes. Duration usually the equivalent of between 6 months and 2 years of full-time study. Students tend to be older than those enrolled in upper secondary education.
Short-cycle tertiary education
Programmes at ISCED level 5, or short-cycle tertiary education, are often designed to provide participants with professional knowledge, skills and competencies. Typically, they are practically based, occupationally-specific and prepare students to enter the labour market. However, these programmes may also provide a pathway to other tertiary education programmes. Academic tertiary education programmes below the level of a Bachelor’s programme or equivalent are also classified as ISCED level 5.
ISCED level 5 has a minimum duration of two years and is typically but not always shorter than three years. For education systems with modular programmes where qualifications are awarded by credit accumulation, a comparable amount of time and intensity would be required.
Bachelor’s or equivalent level
Largely theory-based programmes designed to provide sufficient qualifications for entry to advanced research programmes and professions with high skill requirements, such as medicine, dentistry or architecture. Duration at least 3 years full-time, though usually 4 or more years. They are traditionally offered by universities and can also be offered at some colleges.
Master’s or equivalent level
Programmes at ISCED level 7, or Master’s or equivalent level, are often designed to provide participants with advanced academic and/or professional knowledge, skills and competencies, leading to a second degree or equivalent qualification. Programmes at this level may have a substantial research component but do not yet lead to the award of a Doctoral qualification.
Doctoral or equivalent level
Programmes that lead directly to the award of an advanced research qualification, e.g., Ph.D. The theoretical duration of these programmes is 3 years, full-time, in most countries (for a cumulative total of at least 7 years full-time equivalent at the tertiary level), although the actual enrolment time is typically longer. Programmes are devoted to advanced study and original research.

Mapping to ISCED

The report uses the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED-2011) to classify education programmes and the highest level of education successfully completed (educational attainment). The following tables show the correspondence between ISCED and the other data sources used for the indicators in this report.

Labour Force Survey (LFS)
Table summary
This table displays the results of Labour Force Survey (LFS). The information is grouped by ISCED (appearing as row headers), LFS (educational attainment) (appearing as column headers).
ISCED LFS (educational attainment)
  • Grade 8 or lower (Quebec: Secondary II or lower)
  • Grade 9 to 10 (Quebec: Secondary III or IV, Newfoundland and Labrador: 1st year of secondary)
  • Grade 11 to 13 (Quebec: Secondary V, Newfoundland and Labrador: 2nd to 4th year of secondary) (non-graduate)
  • Grade 11 to 13 (Quebec: Secondary V, Newfoundland and Labrador: 2nd to 4th year of secondary) (graduate)
  • Some postsecondary education (non-graduate)
  • Trade certificate or diploma from a vocational school or apprenticeship training
  • Non-university certificate or diploma from a community college, CEGEP, school of nursing, etc.
  • University certificate below Bachelor’s level
  • Bachelor’s degree
  • University degree or certificate above Bachelor’s degree

Postsecondary Student Information System (PSIS)
Table summary
This table displays the results of Postsecondary Student Information System (PSIS) . The information is grouped by ISCED (appearing as row headers), PSIS enrolment (program type and credential type) (appearing as column headers).
ISCED PSIS enrolment (program type and credential type)
  • Career, technical or professional training program (diploma)
  • Post-career, technical or professional training program (certificate, diploma, other type of credential associated with a program)
  • Undergraduate program (certificate, diploma, degree [includes applied degree], attestation and other short program credentials, associate degree, other type of credential associated with a program)
  • Post-baccalaureate non-graduate program (certificate, diploma, degree [includes applied degree], other type of credential associated with a program)
  • Graduate qualifying program, second cycle (other type of credential associated with a program)
  • Graduate qualifying program, third cycle
  • Health-related residency program (certificate, diploma, degree [includes applied degree], other type of credential associated with a program)
  • Graduate program, second cycle (certificate, diploma, degree [includes applied degree], attestation and other short program credentials, other type of credential associated with a program)
  • Graduate program, third cycle (diploma, degree [includes applied degree], attestation and other short program credentials)
  • Graduate program, above the third cycle (diploma)

Institution versus program-based levels of education

Historically, degree programs (levels ISCED 6 and higher) have been primarily delivered at universities.  However, degree programs are increasingly being offered at community colleges, university colleges and technical institutes.  In this text, references to ‘university’ level or degree programs include all ISCED 6 and higher programs offered at both universities and colleges.  Conversely, ‘college’ programs refer to those ISCED 5 level programs that were traditionally offered at colleges and still make up the bulk of college program offerings.

The one exception to this terminology relates to the indicators in Chapter B of this report.  Chapter B reports financial data which is collected from college and university institutions.  Thus, when the text refers to college data in Chapter B, this would include any data relating to programs delivered at colleges, as it is not possible to separate the financial data directly related to the delivery of ISCED 6 and over programs from financial data directly related to the delivery of ISCED 5 programs. 

Note that the ISCED term, ‘tertiary’ education includes the vast majority of university programs as well as any diploma (2 year plus) and degree level programs offered by colleges.

OECD averages

As stated in the OECD's Education at a Glance 2020: OECD IndicatorsNote 2:

The OECD average is calculated as the unweighted mean of the data values of all OECD countries for which data are available or can be estimated. The OECD average therefore refers to an average of data values at the level of the national systems and can be used to answer the question of how an indicator value for a given country compares with the value for a typical or average country. It does not take into account the absolute size of the education system in each country.

The OECD average can be significantly affected by missing data. Given the relatively small number of countries surveyed, no statistical methods are used to compensate for this. When a category is not applicable in a country or when the data value is negligible for the corresponding calculation, the value zero is imputed for the purpose of calculating OECD averages. When both the numerator and the denominator of a ratio are not applicable for a certain country, this country is not included in the OECD average.

OECD member countries

In 2020, the OECD member countries are: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Colombia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea [South Korea], Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Costa Rica has also been included in the OECD average, as it was invited in 2020 to become a Member.

Please refer to Education at a Glance 2020: OECD Indicators, available on the OECD Web site, for the latest international statistics.

Comparisons to G7 countries and other selected countries

In this edition of Education Indicators in Canada:  An International Perspective, data from G7 countries are presented in comparison to Canada where available.  The other G7 countries are the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom.  In some cases, data from non-G7 countries such as Australia are presented when it has been deemed appropriate because of the subject matter – e.g. immigrant outcomes.


Indicators combine discrete education statistics and give them context. This report presents a selection of indicators that places Canada and the provinces/territories in an international perspective; however, it is only a partial picture of the performance of Canada, the provinces and territories. Although indicators show trends and uncover interesting questions, they cannot by themselves provide explanations or permit conclusions to be drawn. Additional research will always be required to determine causes and suggest solutions. The aim of this report is to stimulate thinking and promote debate on global education issues.

The harmonized indicators presented in this 2020 edition align with a selection of indicators from the OECD’s 2020 edition of Education at a Glance, and they were selected based on their policy relevance and the availability of data for Canada and its provinces and territories. The definitions and methodologies agreed upon in developing the harmonized indicators were used to produce the data for Canada and the provinces/territories, and those definitions and methodologies may differ from those used in a particular province/territory. Consequently, the numbers presented in this report may differ from those published independently by the provinces/territories.

Although the data for Canada presented in this report are, for the most part, identical to those presented by the OECD in this year’s Education at a Glance (EAG), there are some instances where figures may differ slightly. This is not due to differences in methodologies or in data years, but it does reflect revisions to initial figures that were provided at earlier stages through the UNESCO/OECD/Eurostat data collection (UOE) required for the production of EAG.

It is preferable to avoid comparing, for any given indicator, the results presented in this report with those presented in previous editions because certain methodological adjustments may have been made in some cases, or because certain data used in the calculations for indicators may have been revised.

The OECD and other international organizations provide detailed guidelines and definitions to help member countries complete the complex data collection process in order to achieve the highest possible level of comparability. However, the countries must best apply these guidelines to their own data. Depending on the degree to which national concepts match these guidelines and to which national classifications of education map adequately to ISCED, the comparability may be affected. For more detailed information on the latest international statistics, please refer to EAG, available on the OECD Web site.

Finally, while some data from Nunavut is not currently available for comparison, Statistics Canada will work with the Government of Nunavut to validate information for future years, including consideration of contextual information, such as funding sources and demographics. 

Note to readers on gender variable

This variable is obtained through administrative data shared with Statistics Canada by other organizations.  Hence, it is possible that sometimes the only information available is “Sex at birth” in which case it is used as a proxy for “Gender.”  Also, some organizations include “Non-binary genders” in the “Unknown gender” category for the gender variable provided in their files which makes it impossible to publish data on non-binary population.  Statistics Canada and the Canadian Government tries to make our gender data as inclusive as possible and we will keep working with our data provider to maximize alignment with the new recommended standard on gender.

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