Education: who and what?

Author:Chodos, Bob

An introduction by Bob Chodos

The essence of journalism, according to the time-honoured formula, consists of the five Ws: who, what, when, where, why. This section on education focuses especially on two of those Ws. Who is being educated (with its converse, who is not being educated), and what are they learning? A number of articles in the section come from Quebec, where both of these questions have taken on particular urgency.

In French, with its genius for abstract nouns, the "who" question is summed up in the phrase le decrochage scolaire. The English translation, "the school dropout problem," conveys the plain meaning of the French phrase but not its flavour. School dropouts are individuals; le decrochage scolaire is, by definition, something society as a whole needs to be concerned about. And indeed Quebec society has shown concern recently, as reports and newspaper articles abound. One of the catalysts for the current concern was an article by Quebec's former premier and still its leading gadfly, Jacques Parizeau, published in Le Journal de Montreal last September and included here in translation. In it Parizeau points not only to the high dropout rate in Quebec as a whole but also to the differences between francophone and anglophone students as well as between public and private schools and between boys and girls. Pulling no punches as usual, he suggests that the bureaucrats in Quebec's Ministry of Education have a lot to answer for.

Parizeau's former adviser, Jean-Francois Lisle, is more measured, but le decrochage scolaire figures in his wide-ranging critique of Quebec's education system as well. He identifies early childhood and secondary school as key points at which changes can be made that will enhance equality of opportunity. His recommendations reflect policy proposals he believes an "effective Left"--the theme of his latest book, from which his article is adapted--should be putting forward.

John Richards extends the analysis to Canada as a whole. While commending Parizeau for drawing attention to decrochage among Quebec francophones, he points out that there are other groups in Canada among whom the problem is equally--or even more--serious. He is especially concerned with Aboriginals, noting that well over half of male Aboriginals in Manitoba, for example, are high school dropouts. "Ottawa has recently set in place a high-profile Commission for Truth and Reconciliation with respect to the historical wrongs of the...

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