Paradoxes of our educational system

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Pontiac Perspectives by Peter Gauthier


Pontiac Perspectives by Peter Gauthier

In his June 20 column, Fred Ryan asked, “Are school boards functioning as they should, and, if so, why are so many kids under-educated?” In the August 15 letters, Jim Shea of the Western Québec School Board assured the community that education standards and success rates are well beyond the expected norm, and merit Mr. Ryan’s accolades and community reassurance. The fact that both views have merit illustrates some of the paradoxes of our educational system.
But before any evaluation can be made on these statements, some preliminary information is needed. First, the international standard for high school competency is given in the results and rankings of the OECD PISA (Programme
for International Student Assessment) tests. This is a set of standard tests
in Science, Math and Language conducted every three years with 72 nations participating. Here, Canada does very well, always among the top 10 (latest ranking is 7). We are far ahead of the USA, Great Britain, and France.
A second measure of educational standards is the percentage of working adults who have tertiary education (beyond high school). Here, Canada is a super-power (according to a recent report by the BBC). At 55%, Canada has the world’s highest proportion of working-age adults who have completed higher
education – the OECD average is 35%.
But education is a provincial or territorial matter, so let’s look at some Québec numbers.  In the math portion of the PISA tests, Québec students rank at the very top, but in science and language, Québec is significantly behind Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta.  And for tertiary education, Québec’s CEGEP system results in more Québec students completing a university degree after they’ve started a program of studies compared to high school students from other provinces.
Now for the other side of the education paradox. Of Canada’s post-secondary graduates in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), almost 50% are recent immigrants – our immigration system favours those with higher education. At the high school graduation level, 85% of Canadians have a completion certificate. However, a recent study by the Québec government showed that only 74% of Québec youth under 20 have graduated from high school. Students in the English system fared better – close to the national average.
Looking at MRC Pontiac, however, the numbers are not encouraging.  Current educational statistics group MRC Pontiac with Western Québec, but earlier reports indicated that, in the MRC Pontiac, more than 40% of the labour force didn’t have a high school diploma.
Canada and Québec have some very good education numbers, and also some very bad ones. What is needed in the Pontiac and Western Québec is an honest assessment of not just our educational system, but our entire community’s attitude toward education.  Consider some questions that should be asked: Why do graduates from Pontiac schools have to move elsewhere to find employment? Why are class sizes 25 to 30 students per teacher when studies recommend 10 to 15 students for the best learning environment? Is our current curriculum
giving students the skills they need to be active citizens in a world of high technology and fake news? Do our students have support from their family and community?
There are some real issues for the Western Québec school boards to respond to, but answers must also come from all citizens of West Québec. Learning should be
a continuous, life-long endeavour. This may be the biggest paradox of all – true education never ends. School boards are an important piece in solving the education paradox, but real education involves the whole community.