Quebec seeks to curb slumping high school graduation rate

The Quebec government is aiming to increase the province's sagging high school graduation rate by more than 10 per cent by 2030, as part of a new plan that sets targets for improved student success.

Premier Philippe Couillard wants to increase rate to 85% by 2030,

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard chats with young students at a news conference to unveil new policies on education on Wednesday. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

The Quebec government is aiming to increase the province's sagging high school graduation rate by more than 10 percentage points by 2030, as part of a new plan that sets targets for improved student success.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and Education Minister Sébastien Proulx made the announcement Wednesday. 

The graduation rate sits at 74 per cent, among the lowest in Canada, and the province wants to improve that to 85 per cent.

The province also wants to reduce the graduation gap between boys and girls. Nearly one in three boys quits school in Quebec before graduating.

Exactly how this will be done remains unclear.

"For the means, we will see, but the most important is that we've established the framework," Couillard told reporters at the announcement in Quebec City, adding that the targets are part of a long-term project that is "society's to put in place." 

After years of cost-cutting measures, Couillard said the province has set aside $1.8 billion for education for the next five years, which will help create new infrastructure and add 1,500 teaching jobs this year. 

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard made the announcement in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Couillard denied the announcement, paired with that of Montreal's light-rail project last week, was part of his preparations for next year's provincial election.

"This is a very important time for Quebec — there was the electric train — but even more important for the province are our kids. They're the ones who will develop Quebec in the 21st century," Couillard said. 

"We finally have the means," he said.

"Never would I have been able to announce this to teachers one or two years ago."

Opposition unimpressed

Alexandre Cloutier, the education critic for the Parti Québécois, said the announcement does nothing for students with needs now.

"Nothing will change for our students in September," he said. "Our public system needs some help, and unfortunately it won't happen."

Cloutier said the $1.8 billion the government is pledging over the next five years doesn't cover the more $2 billion that he said the Liberals cut from education since coming to power in 2014.

"It doesn't even cover what they've cut in the past," he said.

"We were expecting something huge with very precise measures, but unfortunately what they're saying is 'we're working on it' ... they didn't have the courage to decide."

Teachers want details

Sebastien Joly, president of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers, said the plan's objectives are noble, but more needs to be known about how the government hopes to achieve them.

"We still have a lot of question marks," he said. "We don't see a lot of concrete measures."

Sébastien Joly, president of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers, said the plan's objectives are noble, but vague when it comes to details like resources and funding. (CBC)
One area he highlighted was the level of resources for special needs students, such as psychologists and others specializing in early intervention for learning disabilities, which is a major concern in English-language schools.

"[Resources] will allow us to maintain small English schools in remote regions — that's what we're looking for and we don't see it right now because we don't see the concrete measures that will be implemented," Joly said.

Jennifer Maccarone, president of the Quebec English School Board Association, said the lack of specifics makes it difficult to know if the needs of Quebec's English schools are being addressed.

"When they're talking about increasing success rates and providing resources and support, how does that actually translate into jobs in the outlying sectors outside of the greater Montreal area, where we don't have access to English-speaking professionals to support our schools and our students," she said.

"We need more information, and the flexibility to spend those funds to meet our targets."

Key objectives

The government's new education strategy emerged from consultations involving teachers, parents, students and those working in the education sector. It has seven key objectives.

Other than improving graduation rates, the objectives include:

  • Reducing the percentage of new students presenting "a vulnerability factor related to their development."
  • Improving the success rate in the composition component of the Elementary 4 language of instruction exam.
  • Increase the number of adult Quebecers who demonstrate high-level literacy skills.
  • Reducing the proportion of students starting public secondary school at age 13 or older.
  • Ensuring all school buildings are in good condition by 2030.