Understanding the Rural-Urban Reading Gap


Understanding the Rural-Urban Reading Gap

5 years ago 5 years ago Published by
This report was published by Statistics Canada, Human Resources Development Canada and the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada


Students from urban schools in Canada performed significantly better in reading than students from rural schools, according to the Programme for International Student Assessment. The rural-urban reading gap was particularly large in Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Alberta. Students in rural schools in Alberta, while not performing as well as their urban counterparts, had reading scores above the national average and better than urban students in some other provinces.

This study uses data from the Youth in Transition Survey (YITS) and the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) to examine the difference in reading performance between students in rural and urban schools and to investigate why the rural-urban reading gap exists in some provinces.

The study found that rural students were more likely than urban students to come from families with lower socioeconomic backgrounds. The parents of rural students tend to be less well-educated and less likely to be employed in professional occupations, such as doctors, lawyers and bankers. These differences, however, do not explain the gap in performance between rural and urban students. Even if one were to compare rural and urban students whose parents had the same level of education and the same occupation, the reading difference would still remain. Moreover, the rural-urban gap cannot be attributed to differences in rural and urban schools because, for the most part, rural and urban schools are much the same. In fact, Canadian students ranked high internationally, in part, because there are few significant differences between Canadian schools overall.

Instead, this study shows that the difference between rural and urban reading performance is most strongly related to community differences. Relative to the urban communities, rural communities were characterized by lower levels of education, fewer jobs, and jobs that were, on average, lower earning and less likely to require a university degree. The rural-urban reading differences are linked to community differences in levels of adult education and the nature of work. The community characteristics are based on both the education and job level of the parents of all of the school’s 15-year-olds, and on the educational and occupational characteristics of the adult population of the school’s municipality.

Cartwright, F., & Allen, M. K. (2002). Understanding the rural-urban Reading Gap. Human Resources Development Canada. Service Canada, Ottawa, ON K1A 0J9, Canada.

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