The new program aims to get more PEI high school graduates to pursue post-secondary education

A pilot project that started in February aims to encourage more students on Prince Edward Island to pursue post-secondary education after they graduate from high school.

The Essential Skills Achievement Track will commence at Colonel Gray High School and Montague Regional High School, with the aim of expanding it to all PEI secondary schools for the 2023-24 school year.

“The rationale for this program is to make sure we open as many doors to students as possible,” said Ryan McAleer, youth transition manager for the provincial Department of Education.

Ryan McAleer, Youth Transition Manager for the provincial Department of Education, sits at a desk using a computer.  He wore a blue shirt and yellow tie.
Ryan McAleer, youth transition manager for PEI’s Department of Education, says only 40 percent of high school graduates on the Island go directly to post-secondary education. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

McAleer says only about 40 percent of high school graduates on the island go directly to college or university after they graduate — 25 percent to university and 15 percent to college.

“Some of our students, they don’t really see a place for them in the PEI job market,” McAleer said.

Some students will eventually pursue post-secondary education after some time in work, though not all

“We know our existing graduation pathways are working very well for most of our students,” he said. “But there’s always a group of students who find issues with relevance and engagement.”

Lack of skills

Problems are growing, because many industries in PEI need more workers—and those workers may lie in the right student population.

Holland College Chancellor Sandy MacDonald sits at a desk holding a cell phone and looking into the camera.  He wore a gray blazer with blue buttons.
Holland College Chancellor Sandy MacDonald said many industries at PEI needed more workers. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

“We hear from every industry we work in that there is a labor and skills shortage,” said Sandy MacDonald, president of Holland College.

“So we need to have everyone that we possibly have in the labor market fully engaged in the labor market.”

The program itself is targeted at grade 10 students who are struggling with what to do after high school. They will start spending their days exploring new careers and skills based on their interests.

“Then in Years 11 and 12, we really focused on developing the skills needed down the pathway,” says McAleer.

“If a student has an interest in becoming a carpenter, then all the skills around numeracy and literacy, and problem solving, and innovation and critical thinking and creativity are all contextualized through a carpentry lens.”

Students dressed in winter clothes walked in and out of the doors of Colonel Gray High School in Charlottetown.  Trees frame the foreground of the photo.
Grade 10 students at Colonel Gray will be the first in the province to take part in the new Essential Skills Attainment Pathway program. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

A similar program was launched at a New Brunswick high school five years ago, and McAleer said it was successful there.

He hopes that this new program will allow more young people to stay at PEI to work.

“Students will accept, students will engage, and do their best to demonstrate their learning for the things they are interested in,” says McAleer.

“If we can tap into that from an early age and determine students are interested in a particular career path, then we have an obligation to provide as many learning opportunities as possible, so that students are better prepared for the job.”