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School or Skills: Ontario’s Grade 11 apprenticeship fastrack could put graduation at risk, education advocates say

Toronto, Ontario — An Ontario-based education advocacy group has called the provincial government’s March decision to allow Grade 11 students to enter full-time apprenticeship programs into question.

People for Education put forth a series of questions to the Ford government on Wednesday, dissecting how the organization feels this decision could create a backslide into ineffective practices of the past.

The organization questions why the government is attempting to introduce an entirely new education pathway instead of improving the multiple systems it already has in place, including Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP), the Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) program, co-operative education and numerous dual-credit opportunities.

Another criticism on the part of People for Education is that allowing a Grade 11 student to opt out of full-time school, and effectively increasing the chances of them not earning a high school diploma, holds the potential to exacerbate the same issues that arose while the Grade 9 “streaming” policy was in effect.

Regarding the practice of streaming Grade 9 students into academic or applied level classes, People for Education wrote: “The evidence is unequivocal that streaming has a disproportionately negative impact on students who are Black, Indigenous, racialized, with disabilities, and/or from low-income households.

“Ontario data show that approximately one-quarter of students in applied courses do not graduate, and less than one-third go on to college.”

Further to the point of putting graduation at risk, the organization pointed out that, according to Statistics Canada, only 16 percent of apprentices obtain their apprenticeship certificates during the expected program duration.

To all of these questions, People for Education offered the following recommendations:

  • Provide ample opportunities and resources for parents, students, and teachers—especially guidance and career counsellors—to learn about the trades as early as in Grades 7 and 8.
  • Address the challenges faced during apprenticeships and school programming related to the skilled trades (i.e., OYAP, SHSM program, etc.).
  • Support the ongoing implementation of de-streaming by providing the necessary resources to schools (e.g., professional development, consultations regarding implementation, clear communication about curriculum changes, and funding for lower class sizes and guidance counsellors), and develop an adequately resourced plan for the de-streaming of Grades 10, 11, and 12.
  • Publicly collect and report identity-based data on student pathways and outcomes to monitor how policies and programs are impacting different groups.
  • Convene an Education Task Force to provide advice on this and other interrelated education issues. The Task Force should include, but not be limited to, teachers, principals, support staff, students, directors of education, school board trustees, employers, representatives from the skilled trades, apprenticeship program delivery experts, colleges and universities, and Indigenous leaders
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