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new directions

Howe Sound Secondary leader in skills training (or) Next wave of educational reform on the way (or) Students eased into employment, not pushed out of school By Tina Nowacewski Designed to kick parents, students and educators right in the seat of their perceptions, a recent presentation on new directions in education at Myrtle Philip School focused on the reality that only about 24 per cent of students pursue post secondary education. "The defining challenge of the '90s is to link school and the workplace," says Dr. John Walsh, an associate professor and researcher on loan from the University of Guelph. Walsh found that 70 per cent of high school students expect to go to university or college, 75 per cent of students feel their parents want them to go on to post secondary education, and 85 per cent of parents expect their children to do so. It's a "Mack truck of expectation hitting a brick wall of reality," says Walsh, who is under contract to the Ministry of Skills and Training. Where does that leave the other 76 per cent of high school students? Traditionally, students who didn't go to university got a job. As Walsh says, if you could read and write and weren't a jerk, decent work was available. But the labour market is far more sophisticated now and employers can't afford to train an employee with few skills. In this respect, the education system has been failing three quarters of all students. There is little or no preparation for the specialized, technical work world and that needs to change, says Graham Dickson, co-presenter and acting director from the Ministry of Education. The challenge is to provide students with employable skills in high school. Howe Sound Secondary is one of a handful of schools poised to start formal apprenticeship programs next fall that will become the norm at high schools throughout B.C. A steering committee is in place to monitor the program and organizers hope to start publicizing the program in March says Margaret Pallot, district vice principal of career programs. Grade 11 students participating, will, by the end of Grade 12, have completed one year (up to 1,600 hours) of a four-year apprenticeship, be paid minimum wage for working, and have satisfied all academic requirements to graduate. Is this a good deal for students? Pallot says there are 160 apprenticeable trades in B.C., and Walsh conservatively estimates starting salaries after completion of an apprenticeship at $45,000 per year. Walsh also found in his research that a whopping 81 per cent of employers say skilled trade shortages are a key limit to growth, and have been saying this for the last 10 years. Not every student will choose, or be able to choose, apprenticeship as a option. Yet it is impossible for schools to afford all the specialized, high tech equipment required to teach the skills necessary in today's labour market. As Walsh pointed out, it doesn't work very well in a mechanics class, for example, to learn how a carburetor works when new cars don't have them, or to draw a picture of a computerized diagnostic system on the chalkboard and explain how it would work, if the school had one. Only by creating formal partnerships with the community through intensive co-op and work experience programs can students gain access to the equipment necessary to learn employable skills. The remaining question is whether teachers and counsellors have the skills and the understanding of the work world to be a source of information and make subjects relevant to students. The answer is, in most cases, no. In response, the Ministry is giving teachers the opportunity to go on subject-related job placements. Starting this summer with 100 placements, Dickson says this program will give educators needed exposure to the labour market students face upon graduation. Starting with a mandatory career planning program for Grades 8 to 12 in September 1995, the goal is to make high school relevant to both students and current job markets and to create a seamless education system where college and university is one path of many from which students can choose.