Canada's High School Dropout Rates Are Falling

Unattributed, Canadian Council on Learning, Dec 16, 2005
Commentary by Stephen Downes

The Canadian Council on Learning today released statics arguing that Canadian drop-out rates are falling - only 10 percent of people aged 20-24 did not have a high school diploma and were not in school (that still seems pretty high, but I digress). I read this after just having read yesterday this scathing item from Christopher D. Sessums on rates in the United States. He writes, "The national graduation rate is 68 percent, with nearly one-third of all public high school students failing to graduate." All of a suddent, ten percent looks pretty good (though it is important to recognize that these statistics are compiled very differently). It is tempting to look at the different political systems, as Sessums does, but I'm not sure the answer lies there. The major clusters of drop-outs in both Canada and the United States are from minority groups, and life for members of these groups tends to be less stable, because they are poorer and live in poorer communities. There aren't many chances in such communities, and very few second chances; once you're out, you're out. The CCL report interestingly documents the Scandanavian experience, where drop-outs have been reduced considerably. And it seems to me the approach could be summed like this: give people non-traditional routes back into the system even if they have dropped out, to allow them to pursue their studies at a later time. For example, "Creating incentives for employers to take on high school apprentices, by reducing apprentice wages from 80% to 50% of qualified workers' wages and offering employers the approximate equivalent of the cost of one year of schooling." Now lower wages isn't something I'm thrilled about (perhaps we could subsidize them instead), but creating linkages between work and learning is something we should explore.
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