Physical Education

Poverty and poor grades: finding remedies

Once again, little Jean-Marc didn't do his homework. At home, no one could help him finish his exercises. His parents were too busy trying to make ends meet. Like 36.6% of young Québecers who live in an underprivileged environment, Jean-Marc is at high risk for joining the ranks of dropouts.

The Ministry of Education of Québec decided to strike a major blow with its strategy to “Encourage the success of secondary students in underprivileged environments”. The project, which will cost $125M over five years and bring together close to 200 schools and ten researchers, represents a tremendous challenge for Michel Janocz, associate professor in the School of Psychological Education and head of the scientific team responsible for evaluating it. “Living in an underprivileged environment considerably increases the risk of failure at school. When there’s no money and the parents toil just to stay alive, they often don't have the time or energy to provide appropriate support to their children,” he explains. Inadequate housing, lack of food and a thousand other worries can put children’s performance at school on the back burner. Added to that, an underprivileged socio-economic environment is often accompanied by a poor social cohesion, unlike more comfortable surroundings. “In areas where social cohesion is strong, people tend to help each other and take care of the neighbours’ children. In poor neighbourhoods, fewer adults can spend time helping children.”

Potential dropouts are hard to spot. Some children can present a risk from primary school onward. But the Ministry of Education has decided to concentrate its energies on the critical period of adolescence, by trying to improve the quality of secondary schools: “If you improve the quality of a school, you always encourage the kids to be successful,” notes Mr. Janocz. A school’s value comes from much more than just its teachers: the general climate, the support provided by the community and organizational practices are just some of the ingredients that the strategy should put on its menu.

For the researchers, the first step in the project is to help a group of target schools identify their strengths and weaknesses through questionnaires, discussion groups and individual interviews with the children, staff members and parents. Some pupils will even be individually monitored for five years. Every dimension of the school experience is being put under the magnifying glass: the questions deal with everything from educational practices and the students’ progress to the perception of work relations between management and staff.

Researcher: Michel Janocz
Telephone: (514) 343-6111, poste 2513
Funding: Ministry of Education of Québec


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