Ontario falling behind in preparing students for adulthood and jobs
Data reveal gaps in support for course choices, career and life planning, and guidance
For immediate release
TORONTO (February 26, 2019): A new report from People for Education warns that Ontario may be falling behind at a time when there is growing pressure to prepare students for a rapidly changing, increasingly complex future. It says that the public and policy-makers have a tendency to focus on post-secondary education when it comes to preparing young people for adulthood and jobs, but the work must start in kindergarten
The report, based on survey results from 1254 Ontario schools, calls for improved resources to support students’ career and life planning. It also recommends the end of streaming in grade 9, and a more comprehensive and coherent strategy to ensure that students leave school with the competencies and skills they need to support their success, no matter what their destination after graduation.
Schools struggling to implement career and life-planning policy
In 2014, Ontario introduced policy to support career and life planning for students from kindergarten through grade 12. Five years later, it is clear that the policy has not achieved the desired outcomes. Principals report challenges in implementing it, including a lack of resources and competing priorities. Among the findings in the report:
- Despite the fact that it’s mandatory, only 57% of high schools report that all their students have Individual Pathways Plans (IPPs). The IPPs are online portfolios that are intended to be updated twice a year, with support from guidance counsellors, teachers and parents. The purpose of the IPPs is to support students in keeping track of who they are, what they want, what they’re learning, and what their next steps should be on their path to adulthood.
- All high schools are required to have career and life planning advisory committees (with teachers, administrators, parents, community members, and students), but only 34% have them. The survey data show that schools with advisory committees are more than twice as likely to provide professional development for teachers about career and life planning, and they are much more likely to report that all students have IPPs.
- The provincial policy says that competencies and skills to support career and life planning (knowing yourself, understanding how to achieve goals and manage transitions, having the capacity to explore opportunities and make decisions) should be embedded throughout the curriculum from kindergarten to grade 12, but Ontario lags behind British Columbia, Alberta, and Quebec in this area.
Increase in guidance support, but regional disparities remain
Guidance counsellors can provide key support to help students navigate their journey through school and on to their destination after graduation.
According to the report:
- Only 23% of elementary schools have guidance counsellors, and there are significant regional disparities in access to them.
- In secondary schools, the average ratio of students to guidance counsellors is 375 to one; and in 10% of schools, the average ratio is 687 to one.
- Funding for guidance counsellors in grades 7 and 8 was increased in 2018, resulting in a significant improvement in access. This year, 33% of schools with grades 7 and 8 have guidance counsellors, up from only 20% in 2018. However, in the summer of 2018, the government changed the policy so that what had been targeted funding for guidance counsellors in grades 7 and 8 can now be used on any strategy relating to careers or mental health, in either elementary or secondary schools.
Streaming closes doors for some students
The report points to research from the EQAO, the Toronto District School Board, and the OECD suggesting that streaming – taking the majority of courses at the applied level — disadvantages certain students, and closes doors for many.
In Ontario, students in grade 8 must make choices about their course paths the year before they enter high school. While principals report a range of ways that parents and students receive information about course choices, it is not apparent that parents or students are routinely provided with access to data showing that students in applied courses are less likely to graduate or go to college.
A number of secondary school principals described initiatives to circumvent streaming and “de-stream” grade 9 courses such as geography, science, English, and mathematics, however 47% report students rarely (“never” or “not very often”) transfer from applied to academic courses.
Preparing students for complex future will require change – in policy and funding
According to People for Education board chair, Scott Nowlan, “There is no doubt that Ontario’s children need to be prepared differently than when we were young. They’re going to change jobs many times, they have limitless access to information, and the evidence is clear that they require a broad set of transferable competencies and skills to thrive today and in the future.”
In the report, People for Education makes a number of recommendations, including that the province:
- Develop a coherent strategy and consistent language to integrate foundational competencies and transferable skills across the curriculum from kindergarten to grade 12.
- Improve resources to support collaboration time and professional development focused on career and life planning.
- Hold consultations with school administrators, and conduct research to understand and address the barriers to effective career and life planning in schools.
- Evaluate policy and funding for guidance counsellors and clarify their role in schools.
- Ensure that parents and students have sufficient information about course choices in secondary school, including data on outcomes, graduation rates, and post-secondary access.
- Eliminate applied courses in grade 9 by the fall of 2020, and provide resources and supports to ensure that students can more easily transfer between courses throughout secondary school.
Students and experts outline urgent need
At the media conference to release the report, Amin Ali, Policy Coordinator with the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association, said, “Students today are worried about their futures. They want to know that they’re going to graduate with the skills they need not only to help solve the complex problems facing the world, but also to be successful in the multiple jobs they’re going to have.”
“Right now, many students are choosing courses that may severely limit their future choices,” says report author and Laurier Assistant Professor Kelly Gallagher-Mackay. “Principals from across the province told us about innovative programs they’re developing to effectively de-stream their schools. We need to learn from those examples, and move forward so that we end Ontario’s practice of closing doors for students when they’re as young as thirteen.”
Bruce Lawson, Executive Director of the Counselling Foundation of Canada, which funded the report, also called for change. “There is an urgent need for new policies and practice to support effective guidance programs in schools,” he says. “It is time to ensure there are adequate resources to support Ontario’s career and life planning policy and to ensure that the competencies and skills included in it are embedded throughout curriculum from kindergarten to grade 12.”
The full report is available here.
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