For at-risk youths, Pathways to Education may be a one-way ticket out of poverty.
The program can be described as an “early intervention” initiative: it identifies demographically disadvantaged students and, from grade 9 onwards, guides them towards high school completion and post-secondary education through a combination of tutoring, mentoring, and scholarships.
Unlike tuition freezes or other quick fixes that
seek to increase access to education by merely throwing money at lower-income populations, this approach provides a holistic model of educational guidance that involves the active agency of its participants. The process is meant to empower students to choose a higher path (pun intended) of educational success, for which the necessary funding will follow.
Since Pathways’ 2001 inception in Toronto’s Regent Park neighbourhood, school dropout rates in the community have gone from 56 per cent to 10 per cent; the percentage of local youths attending post-secondary institutions has increased from 20 per cent to 80 per cent. The program has been so wildly successful that, in November 2007, the Ontario Government made a $19 million investment to extend the program to communities in Kitchener, Rexdale, Lawrence Heights and Ottawa.
While Pathways has been met with robust enthusiasm by government officials, skeptics worry about the reliability of the program’s success-boasting statistics (Alex Usher of the Educational Policy Institute complains that the numbers released would “flunk almost any university-level stats class”). Then, there’s the potential ethical concern: is this kind of program empowering in the long-term, or ultimately another example of paternalistic intervention by privileged “benefactors” to frequently marginalized populations?
Regardless of the program’s theoretical drawbacks, the available data is too juicy to ignore. It seems as though Pathways to Education—and the early intervention model—just might be the wave of the future.