Double Cohort Students Urged to

"We hear a lot about increased competition for university spaces, but less about increased competition for jobs, or college or apprenticeships. Students need to explore these options, too."

By Lois Browne

Even though the provincial government has moved in recent months to address a number of concerns raised by students, parents and educators about the double cohort, some issues continue to concern students now in Grades 10 and 11 and due to graduate simultaneously in 2003.

For students, there was a promise to expand the financial aid program to take into account the much larger number of students. The government had earlier committed $1.8 billion to colleges and universities to accommodate 73,000 more students and in June, responded to lobbying by postsecondary institutions by agreeing to boost operating grants by $72 million for the coming academic year and promised further increases in operating grants for 2003-2004.

Universities and colleges have also now begun to post admission requirements on their web sites, providing high school students with the information they need to prepare for a particular program.

But as these issues of facilities and admission requirements get addressed, others continue to preoccupy high school students, one of the most prevalent being how academic grades under the new curriculum will be assessed relative to the five-year program.

L O W E R    S C O R E S

Anecdotal information suggests that students in the four-year program, now in Grade 10, are struggling with the new curriculum and may be getting lower scores than students still studying under the old curriculum. Some teachers maintain that marks in courses like mathematics are noticeably lower among Grade 10 students.

Parents like Anna Schnurr, who is a member of the Lawrence Park Collegiate Parent Council, fears that the four-year students may have to earn higher marks to compete for postsecondary spaces on an equal footing with students from the five-year program.

Questions to the universities about this issue evoke vague reassurances, but "they donít have any other answer to give except to say theyíre working on it," says Schnurr, who helped organize an information meeting at Lawrence Park Collegiate earlier this year to which many of Ontarioís universities sent a representative.

Diane Crocker, head of admissions at York University and representative at the meeting of the Council of Ontario Universities, says that the universities are indeed working on the problem.

"Itís a very complicated issue," says Crocker, and there are teachers, guidance counsellors, people from the ministry and from the universities working together to try to determine how much of a difference there might actually be in how students in each program are assessed. "Weíre not likely to even begin to have any data before the late fall," she says.

Crocker emphasizes that even if it turns out there is a significant difference, there are a number of ways of addressing the problem, including doing nothing at all. "There are always complaints from students and parents that their school or their teacher marks differently and that comparisons are not fair. This is not a new problem."

In any event, "itís not a student problem," says Crocker. Students should continue to do what students usually do in preparing themselves for postsecondary programs, she says.

P R I V A T E    T U T O R I N G

A growing number of students are seeking additional help in maintaining or raising their marks through private tutoring. Although the private tutoring schools say parents donít usually talk about the double cohort, the schools do see a marked increase in the number of high school students seeking help. And the help theyíre looking for reflects the difficulties students are encountering with the new curriculum.

Satish Verma of the Sylvan Learning Centre in Thunder Bay says they have seen a great increase in Grades 9, 10 and 11 students during the past year. "Weíve never seen such high enrolment of high school kids before this year, especially for help with the math and writing skills."

These students, says Verma are both students who are functioning above their grade level and want to stay there, and those who are having real problems and want to improve their skills so than can be sure to get into university.

Danielle Smith of the Oxford Learning Centre in North Bay sees more evidence of good students having problems. "A lot of high school students who have always been A students are suddenly unable to comprehend some of the material, mathematics in particular. So although I donít know if thereís a direct relationship, I canít help thinking it has something to do with the curriculum." Smith has seen an increase of about 50 per cent in the number of high school students she has enrolled this year, most of whom are Grade 10 to OAC.

Toronto students are also seeking more help. Laurie McNelles, an education specialist with the Kumon Math and Reading Centres, says they saw a "tremendous jump from one month to the next" in enrolment following a provincial government announcement about literacy testing of high school students.

McNelles says parents worry their children wonít be able to handle the new high school curriculum and that the level of math now being taught in the early high school years may be too difficult. "Those are the two major concerns I hear across the province and Iím usually speaking with parents about once a week," she says.

The other strategy students are pursuing is to look at universities outside the province.

Bernard Pomerleau, recruitment manager at Concordia University, says that his department is certainly doing more recruitment in Ontario with an eye to the double cohort. Concordia can offer smaller classes, tuition that for out-of-province students equals what Ontario students would pay at home and the chance to improve their French.

C O U N S E L L O R S    S T R E S S    O P T I O N S

Phil Hedges, head of the Ontario School Counsellorsí Association (OSCA), says there has been a steady increase in public meetings offering advice and information to students and parents, which may be indicative of a sense that there is a little more information to offer. But Hedges points out, as do other counsellors and some university officials, that the difficult decisions that 2003 graduates are facing are not new.

"Making decisions about what to do after high school has always been stressful," says Hedges. "The better prepared students are, the less stressful they will find the whole process."

One of the problems for students and their families, he says, is that a lot of information Ė no matter where it comes from Ė is delivered with a political spin put on it.

"Students canít have much of an influence on the politics of the situation. They should focus their energies on what they have some control over." The best advice for students has not changed much over the past few months, he says. "Students should be doing as much research as possible to understand all their options."

They should be making sure that the program they are applying for is the one they really want. "We hear a lot about increased competition for university spaces, but less about increased competition for jobs, or college or apprenticeships. Students need to explore these options, too."

Research, planning and education about options have now become constant messages from guidance counsellors to students who wonder about their future after high school. Pat Comley, head of guidance at Riverdale Collegiate in Toronto and a member of the OSCA board, has co-written an article for OSCA Reports, the organizationís magazine. It offers advice on the information that guidance counsellors should be giving students, parents and schools concerned about the double cohort.

I N T E R N E T    U S E F U L

Comley stresses the usefulness of the Internet in the depth of information it provides on university programs. She and her co-author, Penny Hopkins of Kingston, emphasize the need for everyone with an interest in double cohort issues to acquire as much information as possible. The article offers some useful suggestions for students, parents and schools.

Students need to take responsibility for their own postsecondary planning, talking with guidance counsellors, networking with students who have already graduated and looking at backdoor routes that include college, work or apprenticeships that lead to university via a less traditional path. They should be exploring their own strengths and interests, developing options for themselves and taking advantage of every opportunity to gain new experiences and broaden their horizons.

Parents and schools can help students make informed choices by supporting them in this process of self-discovery.

Parents should be doing their own research into what the options are for their children, attending presentations with their teenagers and taking an active interest in their childís choice of courses for their final years of high school. Parents should be encouraging their children to take a look at several options, but the emphasis has to be on the childís needs and interests, not the parents.

Schools should be encouraging students to begin the process of thinking about their postsecondary options as early as possible. Schools should be staying as up to date as possible, making information available, holding information sessions and building a school web site specifically for double cohort-related questions. Information should be provided on all options and outside of Ontario with comparisons of cost, programs, financial support and admission information.

The Ontario School Counsellorsí Association has a number of resources on the double cohort available on its web site at . The Comley and Hopkins article will appear in the organizationís official magazine, OSCA Reports, the full text of which is on the OSCA web site.

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