Manitoba has the worst scores in math, science and reading, according to a national report on education.
The Council of Ministers of Education report is based on standardized tests, conducted in 2013, of Grade 8 students in French and English.
Manitoba is dead last in every category while top marks went to students in Ontario and Alberta.
Manitoba was also the only province to see reading levels drop between 2007 and 2013.
Minister of Education James Allum said he is not happy with the results.
"I take it kind of personally or at least as a personal challenge to turn these results around and that's exactly what we're going to do," he said.
"We want to focus on the fundamentals. We're going to prioritize the curriculum so that learning outcomes are clear for teachers — they'll know what to teach first, what comes next and what comes after that.
"Today's results indicate that even though 86 per cent of our kids are meeting or exceeding expectations it's pretty clear that we have an achievement gap here in Manitoba — 14 per cent of kids are not meeting expectations or exceeding them."
Allum said the province's action plan to improve academic achievement includes:
- enhancing teacher education:
- providing more support for teachers and students in their early years:
- focusing on fundamental skills:
- providing more supports for parents and students:
- ensuring greater accountability:
Action plan falls short
The Manitoba Teachers' Society isn't happy with the survey results, but not just because of Manitoba's poor showing.
"[You] would have to draw the inevitable conclusion that by some random accident the worst teachers in Canada have all collected in Manitoba, or you would need to pursue the thought plan that somehow we just have all these dumb kids and we don't," said Paul Olson, president of MTS.
Olson said the results don't take into account students' socio-economic backgrounds or where the tests were taken.
"There is a very big difference between a kid who shows up in the morning, well fed, well dressed, IPad in the backpack, private tutor, two private music lessons going on and a full time parent and another child who shows up with a single parent who's working three lousy part-time jobs on call and sees their kid maybe two or three evenings a week," he said.
Olson said teachers here face challenges that are more pronounced than other areas, and in that sense, Manitoba teachers are doing "rock star work." He said surveys such as this can cause unnecessary anxiety.
"People use it to blame parents, they use it to blame communities, they use it to blame schools for the results of what's going on," he said.
Olson said the government's strategy to close the gap could take up to a decade to bear fruit.
"Some really good ideas were laid out today," he said. "Do I think it will be enough? Not in my wildest dreams will this be anywhere close to enough. But it's a very good start."
Parents want more basic education, resources
Some parents are shocked to hear Manitoba students score so poorly in national tests in math, science and reading.
Lisa Bellemare, whose son is in Grade 8, said there should be more emphasis on basic education.
"Like instead of only the option of having TV and computer and video games, reading a book is really relaxing," she said. "And it should be maybe the first option."
Bellemare said when it comes to math, though, the low scores don't surprise her.
She said she's still confused about how children are taught now. She said it's totally different than the way her generation learned math.
Another Winnipeg parent with a child in Grade 8 said the province should have more teachers' assistants.
Adanna Hanniford said her son's class would benefit from that.
"I think if they were able to make it more fun, make it more interesting, where they're able to grasp the kids' attention, they would have no problem having these kids doing what they're supposed to," she said.