Reducing the Risk: Co-operative Education
BY MARY BEAM
A workshop concerning the education of women in Canada sponsored by the Science Council of Canada in 1982 produced Who Turns the Wheel, a document which alerted the federal government that education equity in secondary schools was far from a reality and that aggressive action would be necessary (1). My school board, the Waterloo Region Catholic School Board, is the recipient of a federal grant that paid for the salary of a teacher for the last four years to affect changes in female participation in science and technology classes. The program's goal is to increase the participation of women in non-traditional careers.
Our schools are situated in an area in which business, industry and education are technically enlightened. Active investment and development by European and Pacific rim countries, coinciding with the Free Trade Pact undertaken with the United States, accentuate our need for students who are involved in practical applications in business and industry. Since the school Board's cooperative education program is well supported by two universities and a community college as well as local business and industry, it became the vehicle for the work of introducing girls to science and technology.
As we started working with young women in the early years of high school, we began by stressing facts and statistics about the reality of work, salaries and opportunities (or lack thereof) and left them to assimilate this unpalatable information. We expected them to react appropriately - take more mathematics courses, get better marks in science, and sign up for technical apprenticeships. Instead, bizarre developments such as girls stating that they would like to be involved in computer placements for individual senior students who had shown promise in technical subjects or who seemed to have the necessary stamina to survive a non-traditional environment. In the case of one culturally sheltered seventeen-year-old, we secured a cooperative education work experience at a progressive drug production company leading to an apprenticeship as a packaging line mechanic, a desirable and lucrative specialization. She found, unfortunately, that she could not take the risk of such a position, no matter what it might mean for her future. We in turn realized we must challenge female students early in their school careers and that female students will have trouble accepting the risk of non-traditional environment if they are to be isolated in that environment. We decided to change our strategy.