Lack of fifth year in high school hurting some post-sec students

On the 6:45 evening GO train home, a Toronto university student contemplates the school work she has yet to do that day.

It seems tedious and irrelevant given her decision not to pursue a career in journalism, though that is what she’s majoring in.

“University definitely has not prepared me for the real world,” the student said. “The whole program basically tries to do that, but instead I’m just getting tired and depressed in the process.”

Why rush students into university when shortly thereafter they are back home with a big debt, no degree and not certain what to do next?

—Paul McNeil

She is not alone and many have pointed to Ontario’s elimination of Grade 13 in 2003 as one reason for the frustration.

“Why rush students into university when shortly thereafter they are back home with a big debt, no degree and not certain what to do next?” said Paul McNeil, a high school history teacher.

According to “Pathways to University: The ‘Victory Lap’ Phenomenon in Ontario“, a study by Lakehead University’s Patrick Brady and Philip Allingham published in the Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy in 2010, many high school students voluntarily return for a fifth year for a number of reasons, including improving grades, gaining maturity and “transition anxiety”.

“Overall it would appear that the most recent attempt by the Ontario government to create a truly four-year university-preparatory secondary school program has been only partially successful,” Brady and Allingham conclude.

Making the right decisions about post-secondary education is critical because of the changing job market, said Sipho Kwaku, a youth and employment expert at WoodGreen Community Services.

“People are staying in their jobs and what that means is that there is no real room for the labour markets to absorb new employees, and to add to that the fact that a lot of businesses are downsizing,” Kwaku said. “So it puts an additional pressure on young people who are emerging out of post-secondary, college and university, looking for an opportunity. It’s discouraging.”

Without that formal fifth year of high school, the university student looked to university as the place where things would come together.

“In high school you think going to university will make your life better,” she said, “but it really doesn’t.”