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McGuinty to expand specialized trade skills program in Ontario high schools

Liberals take credit for rising graduation rate; critics say dropout rates among specific groups still too high

The Ontario government is expanding a specialized trade program for high school students that aims to boost graduation rates in the province.

Premier Dalton McGuinty will unveil two new “majors” in the provincial program Tuesday while visiting a Catholic high school in Pickering, east of Toronto, a government source told The Canadian Press. The new areas of study offered under the specialist high skills major program are community safety and emergency services, and information and communications technology, the source said.

The program, which allows students to tailor their education to specific trades while working toward a high-school diploma, already offers 12 other majors, including agriculture, arts and culture, business, construction and mining.

More than 14,000 students in 338 Ontario schools are participating in the program, which started in 2006 as part of a $1.5 billion plan to prepare more students for the workforce and increase graduation rates.

Student interest in the program has jumped “by leaps and bounds” since it was introduced two years ago with only five majors, said Rob DeRubeis, a curriculum consultant at the Halton Catholic District School Board.

“What the programs try to do is really give students some relevant learning,” DeRubeis said. “It gets them excited about education. They see meaning in it and they see that there’s something that they can achieve at the end of it. It’s not just, ‘Get my 30 credits and get out’.”

Under the program, Grade 11 and Grade 12 students select courses from a bundle of eight to 10 credits which provide both trade-specific skills and required credits from the Ontario curriculum.

The majors also prepare students for life after graduation, whether they plan to go straight into the workforce or enrol at a college or university, DeRubeis said. “What we’re finding is students who were probably a little unsure, unclear about what opportunities were available to them in the way of post-secondary destinations, these programs are really helping them make those informed decisions.”

Ontario’s graduation rate rose to 75 per cent last year, up seven percentage points since 2003-04. The government has set a target of 85 per cent by 2010-11.

While the governing Liberals have credited their policies for rising graduation rates, critics have accused them of taking credit for the hard work of innovative teachers who still aren’t getting the funds they need.

Others have pointed out that despite the overall improvement, dropout rates remain high among certain groups, such as black teens.

– With a report from CP

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