The Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal

Using dialogue to lower school dropout rates

According to Montreal Hooked on School, in 2013, 20.8% of young Montrealers dropped out of school before obtaining a diploma. School dropout rates have declined since 2009, when this figure was at 24.6%. This improvement should motivate us to step up our efforts to combat this issue.


First, young people are the future. “By 2017, approximately 150,000 jobs will need to be filled in Greater Montreal. Supporting young people in their academic pursuits is essential to helping our city meet this significant challenge[1] ”, said President and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal Michel Leblanc last year.

Furthermore, there are costs and consequences associated with dropping out of school, for the student who has dropped out and for their community. Hooked on School stresses this point by pointing out that a person who has dropped out of school will make 37% less than someone with a diploma and will be twice as likely to be unemployed (15% compared to 7% for graduates). They are also more likely to suffer from adult depression (15% compared to 9%).

What causes a student to drop out?

Three Operation Back to School speakers share their take.

For Alexandre Trudeau, who dropped out but returned to school at 21 to get his high school diploma and now works as a photographer, one of the main reasons students drop out is “the pressure of performing when you’re already behind. It’s a pressure that increases the desire to drop out,” he said.

According to Patricia Renault, a speaker with OBS since 2007, this outside pressure is internalized by young people. “I always ask them ‘If you get 78 on a test instead of 90, what would that represent for you?’ They immediately answer that they would see it as a failure. It’s a very harsh interpretation,” she said.

As for Carmel-Antoine Bessard, engineer at Mayimelle who often speaks to groups of failing students, she believes these young people aren’t aware of how their time in school will impact their future life.

How do you prevent young people from dropping out?

According to our three speakers, we need to first and foremost make them understand that school provides them with the basic tools they’ll need to become autonomous. These tools are essential for broadening their horizons, both on a professional and personal level.

For Carmel-Antoine, prevention involves explaining the nature of employment. It’s how they will occupy a role in a professional society but more broadly, it’s a way for them to achieve their individual goals. “Because I have a background in science, I love showing students the formula for work: force multiplied by distance. My point is that you always need to make an effort to get from point A to point B,” said the engineer. She insists that to be efficient, you need the right method.

Alexandre, who is at the beginning of his career as a speaker, wants to remind young people that “it’s okay to be who they are, with their strengths and weaknesses,” and that they “can give themselves permission to think about dropping out, to question the interest they have in their studies.” He also notes the need to act.

For her part, Patricia shows students that they’re on the road to success, not failure. She also invites them to reflect on what motivates them in life.

Why talk directly to students?

“By having a dialogue with them, I get the feeling that we are building a better society because I’m speaking to future citizens, individuals who will be contributing to our society. That’s why it’s a privilege to be able to talk with them,” said Carmel-Antoine. A sentiment shared by Patricia.

“Go sow your seeds,” said Alexandre, whose path will undoubtedly inspire reflection for some students who will recognize themselves in him.

You can make a difference in the lives of these kids:

Become a speaker for Operation Back to School

For more than 20 years, more than 4,000 businessmen and women have “gone back to school” to share their experience and passion with 150,000 students and to encourage them to stay in school.


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