By PAT WATSON
Completing high school is one of life’s milestone achievements, which is why the dropout rate among specific groups of students is a serious concern. Black students in the Toronto District School Board have often been cited as leaving school before graduating at a rate of 40 per cent. Essentially, two out of every five Black students face the prospects that their chance of making a go at a decent life is severely curtailed.
Although the number of students graduating from high school in the Toronto District School Board is climbing, at 76 per cent this year – up from 69 per cent in 2003 – it is still below the Ontario Ministry of Education’s target of 85 per cent.
One of the major hindrances to students from this community not making their way to the designated goal post is the experience of disengagement that so many students themselves identify. Too many Black students do not feel connected to the information, and the environment in their education experience.
Moreover, one of the key problems facing students who drop out is low literacy. Literacy is the ability to read and write in the common language, as well as being able to adequately make sense of such information.
This is an issue that is not getting enough attention and there seems to be a pattern of letting go of the necessity of teaching reading and comprehension after a certain age, usually in the earlier elementary school grades. Beyond that, there is not enough effort being put into remedial literacy. Children keep being shuffled along from grade to grade without the support to truly develop writing and reading skills.
The lack of opportunities that go hand in hand with not being able to read and write with competence is no small matter. One of the fallouts of this dilemma is that a significant proportion of our prison population consists of people with low literacy levels. This is no mere coincidence. Limited opportunities often lead to desperate choices.
This problem becomes even more critical when we realize the correlation between the lowest literacy rates and the poorest countries. None of the countries with low literacy rates are among the Group of 20 developing economies, for example. Countries like Burkina Faso, with a literacy rate of less than 13 per cent, is one of the 25 poorest, worldwide. Similarly, Afghanistan, where Canada has spent billions in its rebuilding and democracy efforts, will remain beyond real help unless and until the literacy level moves up from the current rate of less than four in 10.
Then too, given the new world of information technology, just having the ability to read a newspaper or write a note is not nearly enough to keep up.
Looking again at the children in our community, it is frustrating to see them losing out even as so many children across the African continent grasp for whatever formal education they can. It seems that there, increasingly, children are holding on to the understanding that they must at all cost become equipped with a formal education. Here, it is not until dropouts begin the struggle with minimum wage dead end jobs that they come to understand that returning to school and getting a high school diploma is absolutely necessary in today’s world.
Not only that, but some form of post secondary training also has to be a reality going forward if their lives in the working world is to provide them with any reward at all.
On a note of psychological tactics…
As the fences go up and the sound cannons are tested it feels more like those in the security forces who control the flow of information to us though the media are doing their best to intimidate ordinary people into staying as far away from the visiting heads of state as possible. Currently, the threat of terrorist acts is a reasonable concern, but all of this puffery over security fences and defenses is becoming obnoxious. The people coming are politicians; they are not delicate flowers who need to be heavily protected from the realities around them. There is something really strange about all the effort to shield elected officials from their true surrounding when on the contrary they should be made fully aware of it. This world just keeps on becoming ‘curiouser and curiouser’.