Montreal, June 7, 2003  /  No 125  
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Harry Valentine is a free-marketeer living in Eastern Ontario. He can be reached at
by Harry Valentine
          The end of this academic year (June 2003) will see the final class of grade 13 students graduate from Ontario high schools. Like other jurisdictions across North America, Ontario has decided to abolish the grade 13 level. Ontario's last grade 13 class will graduate along with an almost equal number of grade 12 students, several of whom will have achieved a sufficiently high academic standing to qualify for graduation. 
          Except some in this group will not receive their diplomas, because they did not do the required "40 hours of Community Service," a prerequisite for graduation. Compulsory "volunteer" community service is now an integral part of the Ontario high school curriculum, without which a student cannot receive a graduation diploma. Previously, only people convicted of having committed a criminal offence were required to do compulsory community service as all or part of their sentences.  
          The "double cohort" situation of grade 12 and grade 13 students graduating high school at the same time has increased the number of applicants seeking admission to Ontario's colleges and universities. Academic admission standards have subsequently been raised, despite the Ontario government's claim that it has created an extra 135,000 spaces in Ontario colleges and universities. This occurrence is not unlike a free market phenomena whereby an increased demand coupled to a perceived supply shortage results in higher prices. Many Ontario grade 12 students who are striving for admission into a university are complaining that due to their increased academic workload, they don't have the time to do the required compulsory community service.  
The home school alternative 
          Few of these Ontario grade 12 high school students and their parents even realise that they may still be able to acquire a post-secondary education, despite not having done the required 40 hours of compulsory community service. Several universities in the USA offer online learning programs, requiring their applicants "to be at least 17-years of age and either be a high school senior or graduate." Alternatively, teenagers may be able to register in online post-secondary school programs, as home schooled students. 
          An increasing number of colleges and universities are now opening their doors to home schooled students, despite few or any of these students holding any official, or politically approved high school diploma. In academic contests held across the USA and Canada, home schooled students have almost consistently outperformed their publically schooled counterparts, regularly embarrassing public sector school officials in the process. This phenomena has caught the attention of an increasing number of colleges and universities. Well over one million students are being successfully home schooled in the USA every year, courtesy of caring parents who succeeded in nurturing the joy of learning.  
          Home schooled students who preferred not to have demonstrated their mettle in academic contests still get the chance to pursue a higher level education. Many of them begin their journey into the world of higher learning by registering as part-time online students in an undeclared major, taking a single elective course. After successful completion of this learner-paced course, they qualify to take additional courses. After successful completion of four courses (usually), they qualify for formal admission into accredited degree programs. The elective courses they had initially taken count toward their degrees. Several hundred former home schooled students have already graduated from colleges and universities across the USA and abroad, with accredited degrees. 
     « A changing world of higher learning offers an increasing number of new educational opportunities to all able and interested candidates, including people who may not hold a politically approved high school graduation diploma. »
          Former Ontario grade 12 students who skipped the compulsory community service requirement, will still be able to gain a post-secondary education by following the trail already blazed into the world of higher learning by their home schooled counterparts. They may even be able to graduate with accredited degrees at the same time as their on-campus cohorts. They may have regularly attended classes in crowded lecture theatres, packed with some 200 or more other students. Such situations make the prospect of studying online from home, in a student-paced distance learning program, quite appealing.  
The online university alternative 
          The rising value of the Canadian against the American dollar will help open the doors for Canadian students wishing to enroll in any of several accredited American University online programs. Several Canadian universities, including a few in Ontario, are also beginning to offer online accredited degree programs. The University of Athabasca in Alberta and Royal Roads University in British Columbia offer exclusively online degree programs. However, Ontario government officials may initiate policy action to discourage Ontario's colleges and universities from accepting online "home schooled" students from Ontario, even discouraging them from proctoring outside examinations for such students. 
          Such action would mainly inconvenience students who live far away from border towns. Those living near a border town may arrange with nearby across-the-border post-secondary institution to proctor their examinations. Many institutions now offer their online and distance-learning students several options to earn their course grades. They may do term assignments, do "take-home" examinations, taking their examinations online or do a combination of these. Microsoft pioneered the concept of online examinations, enabling candidates to acquire the Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) and Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) certifications, accredited qualifications that are internationally recognised by governments and by industry.  
          The Ontario Ministry of Education may have given a sizeable proportion of Ontario grade 12 students little choice but to "go on strike" against the government, by refusing to do the compulsory community service. Ontario's education bureaucrats have been criticised in the past for their shortsightedness. In this case, a changing world of higher learning offers an increasing number of new educational opportunities to all able and interested candidates, including people who may not hold a politically approved high school graduation diploma. The politically approved high school diploma may actually be losing its credibility due to the virtual epidemic of essentially illiterate high school graduates. In the face of such developments, the Ontario Ministry of Education resorts to invoking an order-in-council to compel final year high school students to do 40 hours of community service as a condition of graduation. Ontario's emperors of public education may not only have lost their trousers in this case, they may have lost their minds as well.  
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