Many students will be ‘losing out of a high school education’ if Ontario proceeds with the apprenticeship plan: People for Education

An education advocacy group is speaking out against the province’s proposed plan to allow Grade 11 students to leave high school to join an apprenticeship program full time.

Earlier this year, the province announced that it intends to permit students to drop out of their final two years of high school to pursue an apprenticeship program in the skilled trades.

On Wednesday, People for Education released a report highlighting concerns with the change.

“The plan, if implemented, would make Ontario the only province or territory in Canada that would support students to leave high school to enter apprenticeships full time, rather than pursuing apprenticeships while still working towards their high school diploma,” the group said in a news releases.

“While People for Education agree that there is a need for change and improvements to encourage more young people to envision and pursue careers in the skilled trades, the province’s proposal has raised a number of red flags.”

The group notes that only about 16 per cent of apprentices obtain their apprenticeship certificates in the expected time due to a number of barriers, including gaps in knowledge and essential skills learned in school, such as mathematics.

“A high school diploma is a prerequisite for many well-paying jobs, including in the skilled trades, and students gain vital skills and knowledge in compulsory grade 11 and 12 courses,” the group added.

People for Education also expressed concerns over whether this plan could exacerbate issues caused by streaming.

“Ontario has not completed the process of de-streaming grade 9 and 10 courses, and streaming continues to have a disproportionately negative impact on students who are Black, Indigenous, racialized, have disabilities, and/or come from low-income households,” the group said.

“Students taking applied courses are currently less likely to graduate and are not going on to post-secondary education.”

Speaking to CP24 on Wednesday afternoon, People for Education spokesperson Annie Kidder said the biggest problem with the province’s plan is making it an “either/or choice.”

“Either you stay in school or you leave school and do an apprenticeship. In other provinces and territories they have a much more integrated approach, which we actually already have in Ontario but may not be working well enough,” Kidder said.

She added that the province needs to find a way to encourage students to pursue skilled trades in a way that makes sure they aren’t “losing out on a getting a high school education.”

She said the province should not hold “private,” “one-off” consultations on the issue but rather bring together a task force to look at ways the system can be improved.

“(We need to include) people from the skilled trades, people who run apprenticeship programs, also teachers and principals and students and experts in education so that we are having these conversations in public about potentially what we need to change in schools first, Kidder said.

“We definitely have to figure out how we all as a society value the skilled trades more and ensure that there is more of that in school but don’t make kids make those kinds of choices when they are 16.”

Many report recommendations already implemented: province

Grace Lee, a spokesperson for Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce, said the province has “already implemented many recommendations” listed in the People for Education report.

“Under our government, students are now exposed to opportunities in the skilled trades and hands-on learning starting earlier in elementary schools, to develop the skills they need to enter good-paying jobs. That includes requiring all high school students to take a technological education course starting next September, while expanding co-op programs,” the statement read.

Lee said that the province believes this has led to a 40 per cent increase in the Specialist High-Skills Major program.

“We will continue to take action to expand access to skilled trade learning and opportunities in schools. Our government has held successful skilled trades fairs across the province and speaking to stakeholders including employers, unions, trainers, parents, and others on how to successfully implement accelerated apprenticeship pathways, to ensure students who do not graduate have opportunities which lead them to a good -paying job.”

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