Could COVID-19's chaotic school year spark a spike in dropouts?

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By Matt Gilmour and Adam Kovac 

MONTREAL -- As Quebec students carry on in a school year unlike any other, experts fear the uncertainty and chaos sowed by the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to a spike in dropouts.

Prior to the pandemic, Quebec's graduation rate was the worst in Canada, with only 64 per cent of high school students graduating, according to a 2018 Institut du Quebec study.

“No young person can be considered not at-risk of dropping out in the current situation,” said Louis-Philippe Sarrazin, director of advocacy group Perspectives Jeunesse.

Last week, the provincial government announced new COVID-19 safety measures, including that students in secondaries four and five would begin alternating days in the classroom and online learning. But Sarrazin said that the measure could further alienate students who already need a level of individualized attention that isn't available over Zoom.

“For sure it's not the same,” he said. “We need a human connection to learn, to be able to read the face, to read the hands and be able to bond together and build confidence.”

Sarrazin stressed the added importance of education given the tough economic situation the province finds itself in due to the pandemic, noting a high school diploma will be more valuable than ever as current students try to enter the job market.

Perspectives Jeunesse has launched a campaign to raise $20,000 to sponsor 200 students who are undergoing personal, academic, social or family difficulties and help keep them in school.

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