Quebec’s high school drop out rate is by far the highest in Canada. The provincial government estimates that the 2009-10 school year saw the graduation of only 73.8 per cent of students under 20. Mounting popular demand has pressured legislators to adopt aggressive goals and implement a variety of unconventional strategies to address this.
A conference of concerned citizens, orchestrated by financial executive Jacques Ménard, met last Wednesday after a three year interlude. The group examined the Quebec government’s new initiatives to improve graduation rates and discussed potential improvements.
These government initiatives include an effort to keep companies from employing teenagers for too many hours a week, as well as robotics programs in Montreal secondary schools. The government has also pledged to reduce elementary school classroom sizes in a bid to stop children from falling behind at a young age. A recent ad campaign broadcast public messages urging kids to stay in school. The government has negotiated agreements with school boards, which include new incentivized targets for graduation.
Some question whether these measures are a step in the right direction, and it could be quite a while before results can be seen. Ménard believes that time is a crucial part of the process of improving graduation rates. By 2020, the government would like to see the graduation rate climb to 80 per cent.
Sophie Harnois, director of Réunir Réussir, believes it will take up to five years to notice any effects. Her non-profit organization is in charge of distributing a $500 million fund, half of which is provided by the government. Its goal is to improve education within the province and raise graduation rates.
“I think over the next five years we’ll see progress in some regions that have a bit more experience, that are more advanced in establishing their plan,” she said.
Quebec’s low graduation rate does not necessarily indicate a poor education system. For the better part of the last decade, Quebec students have, on average, scored well on the PISA test (Program for International Student Assessment, administered by the OECD). While these scores indicate that Quebec’s education system may be above par, its drop out rate shows that there is plenty of room for improvement.