Civics and careers course needs work, say students

High school students say compulsory courses in civics and careers need to be revised to make them more relevant to their lives.

High school students say compulsory courses in civics and careers need to be revised to make them more relevant to their lives.

Civics and Careers are each half-credit courses students must take in Grade 10 in Ontario. Introduced in the 1998-99 school year, they were revised slightly in 2005, and the Ministry of Education is again reviewing the courses, with changes expected to be implemented in 2013.

Students and educators told CBC News they hope changes to the courses better connect students to the real world.

An Ontario Student Trustees Association survey from 2011 and released this week found just 46.3 per cent of students would take the courses if they were made optional.

That even close to half the students would take the course is less an indication of its utility than the perception that it is an easy grade, said Kareeem Ibrahim, a grade 12 student and student trustee with Ottawa's public school board.

"I think it might also unfortunately be the fact that students view it as an easy course. They want that credit, they want that easy mark to get a higher average and get a better mark in that course and reflect better on their academics as a whole," he said. 

74% of students said courses were waste of time

An earlier 2009 survey of 7000 students from the OSTA found 74 per cent of students considered the courses of low importance and a waste of time.

Ibrahim said the careers course needs less individual testing and more opportunities to connect to the real world through volunteer work placements.

"Sure personality tests are great once or twice but I think there was a little bit of overkill, a lot of time was essentially wasted," he said.

Ibrahim said a course like civics could also be taught dynamically but sometimes isn't.

"We learn about the House of Commons, how many people sit there and how often a year they meet," said Ibrahim. "But these details don't add to our knowledge of how we can get involved politically...the way they teach it is old-fashioned."

Pino Buffone, the Ottawa District School Board superintendent of curriculum, said there are challenges. Buffone suggests the civics course may layer too much theory up front, and said tying the course to real-world events may draw more students in.

"Flip that on its ear and say what's a really engaging problem that students can get hooked into and then build the knowledge off of that," he said.