Quebec's education reforms stalling, graduation rate dropping, report finds

Quebec's high-school graduation rate is even lower than previously thought, according to a report released Wednesday that recommends the province look to its neighbours in Ontario for inspiration.

Institut du Québec says province is falling behind Ontario, though critics ask whether comparison is fair

'Ontario undertook reforms and managed to improve [its graduation rate] by 12 percentage points, while Quebec has stagnated,' said the report's author. (CBC)

Quebec's high-school graduation rate is even lower than it was a decade ago, according to a report released Wednesday, which recommends the province look to Ontario for inspiration on how to improve. 

The report, published by the Institut du Québec, found that between 2008 and 2015, the number of Quebecers graduating from public high schools in the required five-year time frame decreased — from 65 to 64 per cent. 

Over the same period of time, Ontario's public-school graduation rate climbed from 72 to 84 per cent.

Despite comparable amounts of funding, "Ontario undertook reforms and managed to improve by 12 percentage points, while Quebec has stagnated," said Mia Homsy, who heads the institute, associated with the Conference Board of Canada and HEC Montréal.

The study lists a number of policies it believes contributed to Ontario's success, including:

  • beginning kindergarten at four years of age.
  • making school mandatory until the age of 18.
  • offering more training, throughout teachers' careers.

Is it fair to compare Quebec to Ontario?

Quebec has struggled for decades to improve graduation rates, which are the lowest in Canada — especially for boys in public French-language high schools, where only 51.4 per cent received their diploma on time in 2014.

However, previous figures released by the Quebec government indicate the province's graduation rate, while still trailing Ontario's, had improved to 71 per cent by 2014.

Last year, the government unveiled a $1.8-billion plan to raise the graduation rate to 85 per cent by 2030.

Education Minister SébastienProulx minimized the think-tank's findings, pointing out that a passing grade in Quebec is 60 per cent, compared to 50 per cent in Ontario. He also noted students there have an additional year to complete their high-school education.

Last year, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, centre, and Education Minister Sébastien Proulx, right, released a $1.8-billion plan to boost graduation rates. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

"I'm not saying these distinctions justify anything. What I'm saying is that you have to compare apples to apples," Proulx said Wednesday in Quebec City.

"The availability of information is terrible," Homsy responded.

Indeed, one of the major issues impeding successful reform, the study concluded, was a lack of data about what's going on in Quebec's public schools.

Harsh criticism from union

The study also advanced the controversial claim that money is not necessarily the solution to Quebec's education woes. 

For the past decade, funding for the education system has kept pace with, and even exceeded, inflation, yet there has been no improvement in graduation rates.

The problem is less about the amount of money spent and more about how it's spent, the study suggests. 

That particular finding rankled Quebec's teachers unions, whose leaders say more than $1.5 billion was stripped from the public system between 2010 and 2016.

"How could the authors of the report claim that the chronic underfunding of the public school system in Quebec hasn't hurt Quebec students," said the Fédération autonome de l'enseignement (FAE), a federation of unions representing 34,000 elementary and secondary school across the province.

The cuts, the FAE added, have led to fewer teachers and fewer resources for students with learning difficulties.

It also accused the report's authors of seeking to further the "austerity years imposed by the Couillard government" and questioned their expertise in pedagogy.

With files from Radio-Canada

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