At the April 6 meeting of the North Okanagan Labour Council, Robert Clift of Opening Doors for Every Student made a well-received presentation, which is reprinted below:

Thank you very much for this, the second time, you've invited me to speak to you.

My name is Robert Clift. I am the Executive Director of the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of BC I'm also the Coordinator of the Opening Doors for Every Student project, which is sponsored by the Coalition for Public Education.

The Coalition brings together students and the people who work in the public education system to support and strengthen BC's public education system from Kindergarten through post-secondary. The Coalition members are the BCTF, CUPE, BCGEU, Federation of Post-Secondary Educators, the Canadian Federation of Students and my organisation CUFA/BC.

The purpose of the Opening Doors for Every Student project is to get a message out to communities and specifically to the parents of high school students. The message is that our kids are having doors shut on them because the provincial government hasn't created the conditions that would allow every young person to graduate from high school and, if they choose, pursue a post-secondary education.

To put the current situation into context, let me make concrete for you something you already know intuitively -- according to provincial government projections, almost three quarters of future jobs will require some form of post-secondary education. Now, by post-secondary education I mean the full range of programs -- not only university degree programs, but apprenticeships, career programs, technical programs, and the like.

Something else you probably already intuitively understand is that people with more education are healthier, are less inclined to criminal activity and are engaged in their communities.

In short, education is vital to creating a better life for individuals and communities, both economically and socially -- we all understand that.

Despite this, many of our young people are falling through the cracks. Not all of our young people complete high school, and those who do graduate face obstacles to getting into a college, university college, institute, or university.

To put this into context for your community:

For the 2002/03 graduating class in the Central Okanagan school district, 1,937 young people potentially could have graduated from Grade 12, and 1,463 actually completed high school within six years of commencing Grade 8. This is a completion ate of 75.5%, which is slightly lower than the overall provincial rate tor that year of 78.0%.

Of those 1403 who graduated, we estimate that 448 were eligible for direct admission to university, and 960 were eligible for admission to a college, university college or institute.

If everyone who was eligible for direct admission to a university had applied, 76 would have been turned away due to a lack of space.

Of the 960 who were eligible for admission to other types of post-secondary institutions, an estimated 610 actually took some form of post-secondary education within a year of high school graduation. These type of programs range from apprenticeships, to nursing degrees, to business diplomas, to liberal arts degrees.

Overall this picture looks pretty good, but let's back up for a moment and look at the kids who were left behind.

-- 474 kids didn't graduate from Grade 12

-- 55 students who graduated weren't eligible for admission to a post-secondary institution

-- 350 students who were eligible for some form of post-secondary study didn't pursue it.

So, this means that of the 1,937 young people of high school graduation age in School District 23 in 2003, an estimated 879 or about 45% didn't take advantage of post-secondary education opportunities within a year of normal high school graduation age. Yet, 73% of future jobs will require some form of post-secondary education.

Fortunately, there are opportunities for these young people to return to their education at a later date -- and many do -- but there are still too many young people who are having the doors shut on them.

There are many reasons why these young people have lost educational opportunities. These reasons can be grouped into three broad categories: student support, system capacity, and cost.

One reason kids leave high school without completing, is because we can't provide them with the support services they need. Whether this means more attention from a classroom teacher, the services of specialist teacher such as a counselor, or some form of support from community service agencies, individual student support is increasingly harder to get.

A large reason why high school graduates don't continue on to post-secondary education is that there simply isn't enough room for them in the system. As a consequence, students are forced to chase high entrance requirements or they simply give up thinking they will never be able to make the grade.

Even for those students who want to go on to post-secondary education, and who can meet the entrance requirements, there are still substantial costs, particular for those students who have to travel long distances or relocate to attend a post-secondary institution. Fortunately, here in Kelowna, high school graduates will soon have both UBC-Okanagan and Okanagan College, but not all communities are so lucky.

On top of travel and relocation expenses, tuition fees have risen dramatically over the past few years and this has placed a large burden on students and families. For many students, this means a post-secondary education has become out reach.

So, although a substantial proportion of our young people are completing high school and going on to post-secondary education, a substantial number are not. What can we do about this?

First, we need to know that many of these barriers are the result of government policy decisions. There is no good academic reason for the entrance requirement into the Faculty of Science at UBC to be 87%. This is simply a response to not having enough spaces to let in everyone who is qualified.

Second, we need to believe that these barriers can be reduced or eliminated. There is no political force more potent than you - community leaders and parents-advocating for our children. We need you, your family and your friends to understand that change is possible and to do your part.

What can you do? It's really pretty simple; you need to tell your MLA and the candidates in the upcoming provincial election that things aren't good enough right now and that all of our young people deserve the opportunity to succeed. You can use our website, www.opening-doors-bc.ca, to find out the facts and how to contact your MLA and the other political parties.

Thank you.


Go back to News & Notes