Canadian Lifestyles: Education

You know you’re in Canada when…

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it’s possible to go from ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) medication… to the Honour Roll!

“Canada? Well, they don’t have an elite school system like we do. Very general and basic there.” Those were the words of the principal in my children’s school in Germany, when I told him that we were moving to Canada. If I remember correctly, he also gave me “the look”, and it was rather condescending.

Among all the other things on my mind while planning our immigration to Canada, worrying about the school system there was not something I was willing to put on my plate. I had followed the results of the PISA study (Programme for International Student Assessment) for years and among the 65 participating countries, Canada had – unlike Germany – always scored in the Top Five. I was confident in my belief that education was not going to be an issue for my children, when we arrived in Canada.

There may not have been many things about our immigration that went exactly as planned, but my children’s education turned out to be everything I could have hoped for.

My daughter was in grade four when we moved, and she had struggled in school for a while. In an attempt to make it easier for her and save her some frustration, we had even agreed to try ADHD medication, but it didn’t help her. After we took her off the medication, the school told us that we should consider a school for children with special needs.

We arrived in British Columbia with a report card from Germany, which I was hesitant to translate. I was afraid that she wouldn’t get a clean slate, a fresh start like the rest of the family, but be given a certain label before she ever had a chance to bloom.

Luckily, the school didn’t ask for the report card. A big weight lifted off my shoulders and my daughter started her first day of school excitedly, without any worries. There was a language barrier (my daughter did not speak any English), but she seemed integrated into the class in a matter of weeks.

Unlike in Germany, where one teacher lectured to a class of 35 students, the classes in our school in Merritt, BC were much smaller and even had teaching assistants, who worked with individual students as needed. At first I thought that only my children received additional help, but I have learned since then that any student will get the help they need to succeed.

After a few months, as my daughter’s English improved and she started getting grades on her work like the other students, I noticed that she was not in the bottom of the class, but in a very respectable middle field. Not only had she gotten the help she needed, she was also being evaluated on her own personal achievements (as they related to the curriculum), and not measured against the acheivements of the straight A students.

With good grades and supportive teachers her confidence grew, and her joy of learning returned. Her personal interests were considered and even used for some hands-on learning. By the time she reached middle school, she was in the top of her class.

In the fall she will start High School. I am confident that she will successfully finish her last four years in school and have the possibility to study or learn anything she sets her mind to after that.

I know in Germany she would not have had that chance. Only the children with top grades get to go to High School and on to university afterwards. Average students complete a shorter secondary school and then move on to apprenticeships or jobs. Hopes get crushed at a young age, before some children even have the chance to develop their interests and strengths.

I have heard from other immigrants that my daughter’s success story is no exception. Every school system has its hiccups and problems, but in the end Canada’s schools help our children succeed – and that’s something that certainly puts my immigrant mind at ease.

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