Back to school more important then ever


Life is back to normal for 350,000 of our young people at this time of year. Among them, the youngest ones are getting into a new routine that will carry them through the next 10 months until summer holiday comes around again.

All those little children carrying big backpacks. These days it looks like there is more backpack than child when paired together; something like two kilos of backpack per kilo of child.

One young student I know gave me a chance recently to hold the daily burden she loads on to her slight shoulders, and given the combined weight of the text books, gym wear and laptop it surely won’t be long before she will have to start seeking chiropractic treatment. She quickly rejected the suggestion to switch to one of those hard cases with wheels. Apparently, those are only for old fogies.

But for today’s students there is a much more pressing concern, which is the weight of the burden to complete high school and, moreover, to get on with the business of attaining post-secondary education. For students who do not complete education up to high school the chance for a prosperous work life becomes extremely limited. And there are many students who seem to be aware of that. Students entering Ontario universities this year will exceed the record number that entered universities in 2003, the ‘double cohort year’ when almost 88,000 first-year students entered university. This year Ontario universities expect just over 90,000 first-year students.

The surge does not mean that all students will continue to graduation at the end of four years. By the end of the first year almost half of the initial first-year group will drop out. Not every student will find success by studying at the university level. Those who struggled to get the grades in the first place just to get in may find that once there, they are not prepared for the level of effort required to keep up.

The fact is that not every person will thrive in that environment whereas they will succeed in other programs more suited to their interests and learning needs.

Most of us hold to an education ideal that sees a university education as the one most sought after. But it has been the case in recent years that people who have completed a university degree have then had to look elsewhere for training in order to find their place in the job market. Regardless of whether a person heads toward a university, college, or skills training program, the need for additional training beyond high school is now an absolute necessity.

It used to be that a person could leave high school and get a job without too much difficulty and, with enough initiative and the right mentoring, advance through a company over the years. But these days, companies do not provide training as often. People applying for jobs are expected to already have the training. If you are lucky, you can get on-the-job training, but it is called an internship, which usually means getting some experience but no pay.

The working world has changed and the vital survival skill needed to adjust to it is for young people coming up to find a way to get into it ahead of the education they are receiving in schools because almost inevitably formal academics alone will not prepare them for the reality that awaits them.

Another concern with so much emphasis on an education that will prepare them for white-collar jobs there is already a gap in employment where hard skills are required.

It’s no wonder today’s students say they feel additional stress about their future.

For their sakes, we are obligated to provide them with as much support as possible. Not only theirs, but for our sakes, we need a well-prepared future workforce and a viable education is key.

A note on the annual Snowbird noise-fest…

Just like clockwork the annual air show that wraps up the Canadian National Exhibition showered the grounds at Exhibition Place and the rest of the city with its peace shattering noise over the weekend. Apart from being a visual marvel, flying at great speeds in perfect formation, the sight and sounds of these fighter jets give a sense of what it must be like to live in war zones in less stable parts of the world – think Libya or Afghanistan, or for that matter Compton or Watts in Los Angeles, areas that must endure police helicopter surveillance.

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