New Canadians know more about Canada than those born here: Survey


Immigrants to Canada claim a stronger knowledge of the country's history than those who were born here, according to one of the surprising results of a nationwide survey probing Canadians' grasp on the past.

More than 2,300 people were polled this fall by the Montreal-based Association for Canadian Studies for a year-end report that explores respondents' perspectives on Canada's history, including how they assess their own command of the subject.

About 82 per cent of survey respondents who identified themselves as being born outside of Canada claimed to have "very strong" or "somewhat strong" knowledge of Canadian history.

In contrast, only about 70 per cent of respondents born in Canada rated their historical knowledge strong or very strong.

Notably, nearly twice as many immigrant respondents (27 per cent) as born-in-Canada citizens (16 per cent) described their history knowledge as "very strong."

ACS executive director Jack Jedwab suspects the reason immigrants are more likely to claim a solid command of Canadian history is that they have — in many cases quite recently — been required to familiarize themselves with highlights of the country's past as part of the process of gaining citizenship.

"Those people are exposed to our citizenship test, which has a historical dimension," said Jedwab, referring to the multiple-choice examination that immigrants must pass before becoming full-fledged Canadian citizens.

While native-born citizens get a Canadian history education during their elementary and secondary schooling, they don't get the "refresher course" newcomers receive in their quest to gain citizenship.

Jedwab also notes that polling repeatedly shows a correlation between high levels of education and knowledge of national history and that immigrants are — relative to average schooling levels among born-in-Canada citizens — better educated.

He also speculated that immigrants may be more attuned to the story of Canada's growth and evolution because of their direct connection to the country's multicultural identity, which Jedwab says "is becoming the dominant narrative in Canadian history. They see themselves as part of this."

Citizenship and Immigration Canada, under the direction of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, revised and updated the 63-page Discover Canada citizenship guide last year as part of an effort to underline the need for newcomers to learn about Canada's past.

"Whether we are citizens by birth or by choice, we should all learn about our history, heritage and citizenship," the federal department states on the website for the Discover Canada study guide, which is subtitled "The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship."

The department also raised the passing grade for the 20-question test to 75 per cent, from 60 per cent, and implemented a random-scramble system to ensure no two tests are identical and thus subject to copying and memorization by applicants.

Last December, Kenney argued that the changes wouldn't prevent earnest newcomers from passing the citizenship test.

"We reject completely," he said at the time, "the condescending notion that new Canadians aren't smart enough to learn some basic facts about the country's history and values."

The survey results suggest that — at least as far as they see themselves — immigrants are quite confident in their knowledge of Canadian history.

The polling was conducted for ACS in late September and early October by Leger Marketing.

A representative sample of 2,345 Canadians were surveyed online, and the results reflect a potential margin of error of two per cent, 19 times out of 20.

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