Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Politics of Student Part-Time Work - Part One

Having taught high school for 30 years, one of the issues of interest that I carried over into retirement is whether or not students should work part-time. While students have always worked for any number of reasons, ranging from saving for post-secondary education to purchasing things their parents either wouldn't or couldn't buy for them, over the years it was my perception that the number of hours young people were devoting to their jobs rose significantly. A recent article in the Globe and Mail addressed the problem, and some interesting and startling conclusions were reached.

Jorgen Hansen, an associate professor of economics at Montreal’s Concordia University, used data from Statistics Canada’s Youth in Transition Survey, a survey that follows cohorts of students over a number of years. His conclusion: working part-time hurts grades. The more you work part-time, the greater the harm to grades.

According to Wendy Patton, a dean of the faculty of education at Queensland University at Brisbane, Australia, the upper limit should be 12 hours per week. Other studies showed a deterioration in academic performance commensurate with the number of hours worked.

From my own personal experience, it was not unusual to have some students, usually seniors, working almost the equivalent of full-time jobs, and, of course, their grades, homework completion rates, and assignments all suffered. Plaintively, they would tell me they had to work to save for university; my usual response was that if they continued to put in those kinds of hours, they likely wouldn't be going to university anyway, as they wouldn't have the marks. Such harsh observations generally, of course, fell on deaf ears.

And this is where we come to the political aspect of the equation. For a number of reasons that I will outline in my next post, I strongly believe that government has a role to play in regulating how many hours high school students can work.

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