Face Bleak Job Future
Tough curriculum leaves many without diploma. Making more
than minimum wage all but impossible.
Theresa Boyle, The Toronto Star, October 25, 2004
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Hayes reaches into the back pocket of his blue jeans and pulls
out a crumpled piece of paper. It's his pay stub from the
previous two weeks' work. His net take-home pay after working 84
hours is $547.98. That's a meager $7.75 an hour, the dejected
20-year old points out.
For Hayes, who has only a Grade 10 education, the prospects of
finding a well-paying job are slim. And he's not alone. Hayes is
one of thousands of Ontario youth known as "curriculum
casualties" — students who have struggled with the tough, new
high school curriculum and with the mandatory Grade 10 literacy
According to a report prepared for the provincial government by
Queen's University professor Alan King and released last
January, the rate of students who failed to complete high school
has hit record levels. A projected 48,000 students didn't have
enough credits to graduate in 2003. That's a staggering 30 per
cent of Ontario students who failed to graduate, up 8 per cent
from the previous year.
It's not yet clear how many of those students are taking longer
than four years to accumulate enough credits for graduation, and
how many have given up on high school entirely.
While Ontario's year-old Liberal government is making strides in
stemming the flow, critics say it is not moving fast enough and
is not doing enough to help those who have already left the
Hayes' story of dropping out of school is similar to that of
many young men who struggle in the education system. He has a
learning disability, having been put on Ritalin at age 11 for
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Around the same time, his parents split up, and for a few years
he had no contact with his father. His older brother also
dropped out. He's had run-ins with the law and has done time for
stealing cars. He was expelled from school a number of times
with truancy being his main sin. He struggled with his
schoolwork, especially math. "I hated school. I didn't find it
interesting. I couldn't sit still for hours. I would tap my
fingers or swirl my pen," he says, demonstrating the gestures.
"I didn't want to be there when it came to sitting down and
going to class... boring," he adds. Hayes dreams of a day when
he'll marry his girlfriend have children and own a house. He'd
like to go to college and study business so he can open up his
own landscaping company. But first he needs to graduate from
"I'd like to get my diploma. I know I need it. I can't work for
$7.75 forever," he says. In the meantime he's happy to take
whatever he can get, and has worked at Canadian Tire for seven
months, stocking shelves and assembling store displays.
With few skills, his job prospects are slim. Consider the
following: In Ontario, 69.2 per cent of the growth in employment
over the past decade was in jobs requiring a post-secondary
education, according to the post-secondary review being
conducted by former premier Bob Rae.
The unemployment rate in 1998 for people age 15 to 29 without a
high school diploma was 23 per cent, compared to 5.2 per cent
for those with graduate degrees, according to Statistics Canada.
As for salaries, anyone looking for jobs after dropping out of
school is lucky to make more than $8 an hour, says Krista Ray,
job developer at the Gateway Café, an employment centre for
youth, located on the Danforth.
"They're entry-level jobs in most cases. We call them survival
jobs. It's enough to survive, but not enough to save money,"
explains Diana Gatti, divisional coordinator of Gateway.
Still, the jobs give young people valuable work experience and
help them develop skills, she notes. The agency provides wage
subsidies to employers as an incentive to hire its clients.
On this day, Natasha Finbow, 18, is sussing out the prospects on
the Gateway job board. Like Hayes, she has a Grade 10 education,
dropped out of school in 2002 and has had some brushes with the
law. Like Hayes, she wants to go back to school.
She is the epitome of a curriculum casualty. "I think the
changes they brought in are ridiculous," she says. "You end up
doing four hours of homework a night because they tried to
squish five years of school into four. A project deadline that
used to be one week is now two or three days."
Finbow's resume includes a three-week stint at Molly Maid, where
she earned $8 an hour, and a six-month stint at a pizza parlor
for $9 an hour.
"It doesn't take a genius to scrub a bathtub, but you can't go
anywhere in life without a high school diploma," she says.
Finbow wants to be a social worker but has found that even
getting back into school is a challenge. She wants to go to an
alternative school, but there's a waiting list.
"There's a big stump in the way, so I'm taking a detour," she
Not only are these young people being squeezed out of the
education system, but they're also being squeezed out of the
workplace, suggests Matt Wood, executive director of the Ontario
Association of Youth Employment Centers.
"There's a trend toward credentialism in society in general.
Jobs that could once be filled with only high school or less
than high school (education) now require post secondary," he
Many trades that offer apprenticeships also require a high
school diploma, he adds. And even for ones that don't, there's
so much competition that those who haven't completed high school
get squeezed out.
"It's increasingly difficult for students without high school
diplomas to enter into long-term and meaningful employment,"
says Rhonda Kimberley-Young, president of the Ontario Secondary
School Teachers' Federation. "Their options are fewer than they
were in the past and certainly they're low paid and generally
don't have much stability. They might be seasonal jobs, or
casual or part-time."
What frightens Kimberley-Young is that the province might not
have seen the worst of the dropout tide yet. While Education
Minister Gerard Kennedy predicts we'll see fewer dropouts in
June next year as his government's initiatives start to take
effect, we still don't know how the class of 2004 fared.
"I would like to think that we've seen the worst of the dropout
rate, but I'm not sure that we have," Kimberley-Young says.
While a provincial review of the curriculum is ongoing and some
changes have already been made, more needs to be done — and
fast, she says.
"I'll give this government credit for a having a genuine concern
for students at risk of not getting their diploma (but change)
needs to happen more quickly than it is," she says.
Kennedy said he's well aware of the problems and is taking pains
to address them. "Students will have something of a compromised
future... I think they are a generation (facing) more struggles
than should have been necessary," he acknowledges, noting that
the former Conservative government ignored many warnings about
the "alarming" impact the curriculum changes would have.
"There is no excuse really for... the system not having
responded better, sooner on their behalf," he says. In June, his
government announced $100 million in initiatives aimed at
"stopping the slide for students getting lost in the system."
This included the creation of "rescue teams" of educators to
target support for struggling students, and the development of
courses aimed at meeting their interests and abilities.
Meantime, Kennedy's parliamentary assistant Kathleen Wynne is
reviewing adult education in an attempt to make it easier for
dropouts to complete their high school education.
And locally, the Toronto District School Board has approved a
plan to expand and promote tutoring, remedial, guidance and
summer school programs for at-risk students. Trustees also
agreed to ask province for funding so they can hire staff to
help students stay in school.
Annie Kidder of the advocacy group People for Education says any
corrective measures must take into account students who already
have dropped out.
"What's frustrating in the education system is that sometimes
decision makers admit, 'Oh yeah, we made a mistake. We'll go
back and fix it.'"
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