The Highs and Lows of ‘Special Paths’ in School

The private schools that offer high school in four years or in six years have invented nothing. These programs enjoyed some popularity in the 1980s before they were shelved due to a lack of student interest. However, public schools attempting to set up these atypical courses encounter the inertia of the bureaucratic machine.

In the early 1980s, the Jean-Baptiste-Meilleur School in Repentigny offered a secondary school in four years (instead of the normal five years). The last three years of high school were compressed into two years. The students received an enriched education in mathematics and science.

This improved programme, designed to counter the exodus to private schools, produced fantastic results: “The students did very well in secondary school and even in CEGEP, even though they arrived a year younger at university level”, recalls Marc St.-Pierre, who taught at this public school in the suburbs of Montreal at the time.

The program did not last long, because young people did not rush to attend this demanding profile. “Students said to themselves, ‘Why would I kill myself at work for two years when it could take me three years to finish high school?’ †

Six-year “specific trajectories” in high school were also common at the same time. They were sidelined because they no longer seemed to be leading young people to a degree, recalls Marc St-Pierre.

Students in these programs were often stigmatized. Young people in the mainstream sector treated them as ‘not good’, explains this former deputy director-general of a school board. He was also responsible for the educational services of the Federation of Private Educational Institutions in the early 2000s.

Marc St-Pierre isn’t surprised to see private schools launch secondary programs in six years instead of five: “Parents pay for six years. It can undoubtedly help students who need time to learn, but let’s not kid ourselves, for private schools it is still a business opportunity in the company students in difficulty. †

A bureaucratic wall

However, the implementation of this model in the public network encounters obstacles: several schools are overcrowded, and the fact that students remain in the classroom for another year would exacerbate the shortage of staff and rooms, Marc St-Pierre points out.

Public schools looking to offer four-year or six-year secondary courses have run into a wall. The Ministry of Education agrees with these types of projects, but the school service centers are reluctant to go down this mold road, our sources indicate. The staff in particular must want to start working on this model, which can disrupt the working methods laid down in the collective labor agreements.

“We know that students with a disability [ou ayant des difficultés d’adaptation ou d’apprentissage] can learn when given more time, but our service center has refused to investigate this opportunity offered to us by the ministry,” said a source who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation.

“The Education Act is clear: these students can follow education until they are 21. Why don’t we take the opportunity to offer them a course that respects their pace? They are forced to run as fast as the other students, but they cannot follow,” adds this person who has a long experience in the school network.

The advantage of having a course scheduled in six years instead of five is that it avoids the trauma of doubling a school year, explains this source. Often the school will notice that a student has great difficulty after failing the ministry exam in Secondary II. This student doubles his second secondary. Doubly stigmatizing: the young person feels incompetent and will have to revisit the same subject, at the same unsustainable pace as the previous year.

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