CANADA. Alarmed by a surge in high-school drop-outs, Ontario will bring in an alternative vocational diploma that gives students credit for developing their skills for work.
"Too many young Ontarians are making the wrong choice: nearly one-third are dropping out," said James Bartlemann, the province's lieutenant-governor, announcing his government's plans in his Speech from the Throne, the state's equivalent of the Queen's speech. The government will introduce "an alternative secondary diploma, one that gives prominence to the ability to develop a skill or a trade. This diploma will set a different standard - not a lower one," he said.
The vocational diploma will be aimed at reversing the province's drop-out rate, which rose from 22 per cent in 2000 to 30 per cent in 2004. Among students going directly to work from high school, the percentage who gained a diploma dropped from 29 to 18 per cent. Details are still being worked out but the diploma will give credit for training outside school and come with its own in-school courses.
Dalton McGuinty, Ontario's premier, told a press conference: "We can all recollect friends of ours for whom studying Macbeth might have been a cruel and unusual punishment, but who possessed other tremendous skills in other areas."
Professor Alan King, of Queen's university, who has conducted a long-term evaluation of the province's education system, said schools are doing a "reasonably good job" in educating pupils for university, with the percentage gaining entry rising from 27 to 33 per cent between 2000 and 2004. "Where schools are failing is with kids going to go straight into the world of work," he said. He asked, for instance, if trigonometry was an appropriate maths topic for 15-year-olds.
According to Annie Kidder, executive director of People for Education, the problem dates back to the reorganisation of schools by the then Conservative government in 2000, when a new "rigorous" curriculum was introduced and high school reduced from five to four years.
"The government was warned at the time that setting one single standard for all students ignored the reality that there are all kinds of different students in the schools, not just university-bound students," she said.
But she fears the diploma could mark a return to simplistic streaming. "The government will have to be very careful to design something that proves that you have the prerequisites to go into a trade."