A funding dispute with the Ontario government has forced the abrupt closing of an elite research co-op program, leaving about 30 students in the lurch, with some concerned about earning enough credits to graduate on time.
The program, run by the non-profit Foundation for Student Science and Technology, pairs gifted or exceptional Grades 11 and 12 students with professionals in science, tech, engineering, arts and math. The students, who are pursuing postsecondary education or careers in the fields, spend time researching the topic and doing literature reviews with the help of the mentors, while earning high-school credits.
The government had provided $50,000 in funding for the fall academic term, and executive director Jacques Guerette said he was surprised to learn just last week that money would not flow for students who are participating this term. The second semester began this month, and students found out this week the program would be shut down.
“I’m hard-pressed to explain the rationale and the logic behind all of this. Obviously to me, it doesn’t make any sense,” Mr. Guerette said on Thursday.
He added: “This cohort of kids, this is where the future leadership of science and technology and engineering is going to come from. I think it’s incumbent on us as a country to cultivate all kinds of talents and do what you can to hang on to it.”
Ingrid Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Education, said in an e-mail statement that it was “clearly communicated that this one-time payment was their total funding for the entire school year.”
She added: “We are proud to have invested in the FSST program, but their rationale for spending their entire allocation in half the school year is for them to address."
However, Mr. Guerette said the contract with the government was only for the first semester and, as the school year unfolded, FSST spoke with the ministry about continuing the program and submitted a funding proposal for the second semester and summer term.
More than 450 students in Ontario have earned credits in the online research co-op program since its inception about six years ago. Mentors have been drawn from across Canada and internationally, from as far as Brazil.
It is unclear whether classroom co-op teachers will be able to maintain the connection for students, and if mentors would remain available.
Hope Dettweiler, a high-school student, said this co-op program was her final credit to graduate. Ms. Dettweiler, 17, studies online at the Virtual Learning Centre run by Trillium Lakelands District School Board.
She had just started her chemistry research project this month on reducing the risk of pesticide contamination in ground and surface water bodies.
Ms. Dettweiler said she may try to register for another course, if she can get in. “However, nothing can replace this unique research opportunity,” she said, adding she may have no choice but to stay another semester to graduate.
Mairi Hallman, a Grade 12 in Kemptville, Ont., said she was in “disbelief” when she learned the program had been cancelled. She was just beginning a research project on the new coronavirus, and plans to study biochemistry at the University of Ottawa next year. She has enough credits to graduate from high school, but the program was a chance for her to get some research experience.
“The main problem with them defunding it, other than taking away this amazing opportunity, is that they [the government] are doing it in the middle of the semester when people have already started and are counting on this for a credit,” she said.
“It’s very shortsighted to take it away, because we need to inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers, artists, the people who are going to do the research that changes the world."