|Guest author Josh Pekarsky is currently a volunteer with Pathways to Education and works to increase awareness about the program in B.C.|
Providing youth with quality education is critical to the federal poverty reduction strategy.
Canada’s educational indicators rank at or near the top of all Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. But that only tells part of the story because beneath the surface of this achievement lie pockets of disadvantage. Canada’s national high school dropout rate averages between 7 and 13 per cent. This is 7 to 13 percent higher that we would like it to be, but it pales in comparison to high school dropout rates of 30 per cent or higher in low-income communities across the country. In British Columbia, almost 10% of adults between the ages of 25 and 64 do not have a high school diploma, let alone post-secondary education.
Federal Government’s New Poverty Reduction Strategy
In August, the federal government released Canada’s first-ever strategy to eradicate poverty in the country. Opportunity for All – Canada’s First Poverty Reduction Strategy makes a bold commitment to reduce national poverty by 20% in 2020 and 50% by the year 2030.
Providing youth with quality education is critical to the government’s strategy. Education is a key determinant of one’s future earning potential, and with most jobs today requiring a minimum of high school education, it is essential in breaking the cycle of poverty. An estimated 31,800 Canadian youth drop out of high school every year and the economic and social costs are astounding. Each year of secondary school that a student completes lowers the likelihood of unemployment by 2.5 to 5.6 per cent, and increases weekly earning potential by 10 to 25 per cent.
Closing the Achievement Gap in BC
At 3.8%, British Columbia has the highest job vacancy rate in the country. This labour scarcity can be attributed to the growing skills gap for young people in the province who aren’t equipped with the skills, training, and education to land available jobs. This achievement gap expands dramatically for youth in lower income neighbourhoods because they face increased barriers as a result of socioeconomic factors.
The Pathways to Education Program
Over the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about Pathways to Education, a national charity that is mentioned in the government’s strategy as an effective poverty reduction initiative. They support youth in low-income communities to overcome barriers to education, graduate from high school, and build the foundation for life-long success.
The program has been delivered in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and Strathcona neighbourhoods since 2014, and was most recently expanded to Surrey. Since 2001, the Pathways Program has been improving graduation rates by an average of up to 85% and 71% of Pathways graduates transition to post-secondary education or training.
The Power of Partnerships
Pathways to Education partners with diverse leaders in the business and public sector who have CSR strategies or mandates to increase opportunities for disadvantaged youth in the communities they work within. These partners, alongside many community-driven initiatives, lead by example to demonstrate the large scale impact that can be achieved when entire communities mobilize behind education. Individuals play an important role in this effort as well.
Eradicating poverty in Canada and closing the achievement gap in BC won’t be easy and it won’t be accomplished alone. It will require the continued efforts of organizations such as Pathways to Education, hardworking communities, and partners from all sectors to step up and champion education.
Josh Pekarsky is a Principal in the Vancouver office of Longview Communications & Public Affairs. He is currently a volunteer with Pathways to Education and works to increase awareness about the program in British Columbia.
 This figure is based on the 2016 census, Education Highlight Tables, for adults (both sexes) aged 25 to 64. https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/dp-pd/hlt-fst/edu-sco/Table.cfm?Lang=E&T=11&Geo=00&SP=1&view=2&age=2&sex=1
 This figure is based on the 2011 census and is an approximate annual dropout rate calculated by taking the total number of adults between the ages of 20-24 without a high school diploma (158,985) and dividing by five, the number of years it often takes a young person to graduate.
 Philip Oreopoulos, Stay in School: New Lessons on the Benefits of Raising the Legal School-Leaving Age (2005), https://www.cdhowe.org/sites/default/files/attachments/research_papers/mixed//commentary_223.pdf.
 This figure is from the latest Help Wanted report released by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. https://www.cfib-fcei.ca/sites/default/files/2018-06/help-wanted-2018-Q1.pdf