School Dropout Rates: Are Boys Paying the Price for the Pandemic? (Part I)

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Québec’s student dropout rates, particularly those of boys, have been a worry for a long time. With the pandemic – which forced students to learn from home – the situation could easily have turned catastrophic.

By Martine Letarte

Even though some students had to be closely followed up with, many involved in the world of education say that what had to be done to avoid a total shipwreck on the boys’ school dropout front has been successfully accomplished. But efforts still must be made to catch young students up, so that the most vulnerable don’t paying the price for Covid-19.

In November, the Fédération Québécoise des directions d’établissement d’enseignement (FQDE), which represents school administrators, voiced its concerns: schools are reporting a 30% failure rate among secondary school students, up from the usual 10%. But this rate was already coming down as early as February of 2021.

“We still have concerns when it comes to high failure rates,” underscores FQDE President Nicolas Prévost. “They raise the risks of kids dropping out. But the fact that Québec succeeded in keeping its schools open this year despite classroom closures, and new measures like tutoring and direct services to students, have had a very positive impact on passing rates among our youth,”

Something to Keep an Eye On

It always takes time to gauge the damage. Numbers on dropouts from the education ministry for the school year 2020-2021 won’t be available until 2022. But we know that in 2017, no less than 17% of boys quit school without a diploma or a qualification, compared to 11% for girls.

This 6% gap is worrying. But keep in mind that it’s an improvement over the situation 20 years ago, when that gap was 12%.

Québec has identified 220,000 students – 65% of who are boys – as either disabled, or suffering from a learning disability or an adjustment disorder. Only 38% of these students normally graduate within seven years of starting high school.

“Add to that an event like the pandemic, which interrupts the school year, and it reasonable to worry about the risks of kids dropping out, especially when it comes to boys,” argues Égide Royer. He’s a psychologist specializing in educational achievement, and a member of the Comité réussite scolaire (committee for achievement at school) formed by education minister Jean-François Roberge to work on mitigating the effects of Covid-19 on students.

Before the pandemic’s arrival there were already problems with labor shortages in several sectors of the Québec economy. The post-Covid restart risks deepening these manpower shortages.

“A low unemployment rate tends to raise the school dropout rate, because young people can easily find a job even if they don’t have a diploma. We have to keep an eye on this,” Royer says.

First seen in Reflet de Société, Vol. 29, no. 6, août (August) 2021, pages 18-19

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