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Academic motivation: why do we persevere?

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A joint dossier from Carrefour education and L'École branchée

“It takes a whole village to raise a child. This African proverb takes on its full meaning when it comes time to tackle the topic of school perseverance. Indeed, the elements likely to promote the pursuit of a student's academic progress are just as diverse as the number of students themselves.

School perseverance is a complex phenomenon where each variable (human or contextual) plays a determining role. The school environment is of course one of these essential variables and it is possible to identify constants as well as to target pedagogical practices with a greater mobilizing potential for the students. The more dynamic and stimulating the environment, the more the level of student engagement will increase.

With the closure of schools last spring and the establishment of distance education, many people feared for the motivation of young people and therefore for their academic perseverance. It's not all black and white about it, according to the experts we spoke to, and there's always the possibility that the context will generate great opportunities.

Although the theme of school perseverance is well documented, the École branchée wanted to take a new look by taking into account the current situation and by dealing with the determinants associated with school in particular. We also offer some additional resources.


- Current portrait in Quebec: factual data and inventory
- Glossary of school perseverance
- Protective factors against dropping out of school
- Winning practices to promote academic perseverance
- Projects that make the difference
- The additional challenges of distance education

1- Current portrait in Quebec: factual data and state of play

The most reliable and recent data on the graduation rate comes from Statistics Canada. In 2016-2017, the on-time high school graduation rate (DES) was 75 % in Quebec (69 % for boys and 80% for girls). Looking at the extended-time high school graduation rate (up to two more years), it climbs to 83 % (78 % for boys and 90 % for girls).

Objectively, these rates are still among the lowest in Canada; the Canadian average being 80 % for the high-school graduation rate on time and 89 % for extended time. However, there is a constant increase in the graduation rate in Quebec, which shows that the situation is improving. It is possible to to consult all statistics by province on the Statistics Canada website.

Important clarification here: although young Quebecers may seem like the bottom of the class when we simply look at the figures, Frédéric Guay, holder of the Canada Research Chair in Academic Motivation, Perseverance and Success and professor at Laval University brings a downside: the graduation rate does not say everything about our Quebec students. Thus, other elements must be taken into consideration before feeling sorry for the Canadian statistics.

First, elsewhere in the country, obtaining a DES requires six years of study, in normal times, against five in Quebec. In addition, the passing mark is 50 % (and not 60 % as in Quebec). The success rate can then be perceived as higher in these provinces because of these two variables.

“You have to be very careful with comparisons. As it stands, this difference means that we do not adequately compare students from one province to another. Eventually, we should aim for equivalence between the provinces so that the figures are representative, ”believes Mr. Guay.

same Statistics Canada issues a warning on its website: "Academic progress, passing marks and requirements for subjects and student groups may vary from province to province."

Next, we should not confuse a lower graduation rate with poor academic performance. “Quebec students always perform very well in international surveys, such as PISA, and often even better than other Canadian students. It is therefore permissible to wonder whether we are more demanding than the other provinces. Not to lower the standards but to at least be aware of it before comparing without asking further questions, ”notes Professor Guay.

In addition :
- " No, Quebec does not have the worst education system », Francis Vailles, June 10, 2020, La Presse
- " Good and bad news about dropping out », Francis Vailles, January 24, 2020, La Presse 

2- Glossary of school perseverance

When dealing with the subject of persistence in school (or its opposite, dropping out), terms tend to come up constantly in the writings and speeches. Before going any further, it appears necessary to clearly define each of them.

To have aspiration means to be able to project into the future, to have a clear goal, to have dreams and to nurture them. Having a specific goal to achieve promotes motivation and commitment.

Motivation can be defined as the process responsible for initiating, sustaining, sustaining or terminating conduct. It is in a way the force which pushes to act and think in one way or another. It becomes a determinant that will help perseverance and success. Motivation leads to commitment.

Commitment is a voluntary decision to participate in a project, an action, or other, taking place over time. It involves active participation. Commitment is therefore another determinant that will lead to perseverance and success.

· Perseverance
Perseverance refers to the fact of pursuing a path in order to complete it, to go to the end of the process. School perseverance is therefore the pursuit of a program of studies with a view to obtaining recognition of prior learning (diploma, certificate, attestation of studies, etc.). Its opposite will be dropping out of school, which refers to the interruption of studies before having obtained recognition of prior learning. The term dropping out of school is most often associated with high school.

Success is the successful completion of a step, project, etc. Academic success is the successful completion of an educational path. Educational success is a much broader concept that also includes other factors that play a role in a child's development: family, community, etc.

In addition :
- " From motivation to commitment », Séverine Parent, spring 2014, Collegiate pedagogy
- " The ABCs of perseverance in school », Regional Committee for the Promotion of Education, 2020
- " Portrait », Regional Council for the Prevention of Dropping Out of School Saguenay Lac-St-Jean, 2020

3- Protective factors against dropping out of school

Before being able to answer the big question: why do we persevere ?, we must first seek to better understand the protective factors against dropping out of school, that is, any factor that increases the probability that a young person will develop his motivation. , actively engages in his studies and perseveres until he obtains his diploma.

Among its factors, the family environment, the socio-economic environment (neighborhood, community), the labor market (for students who work part-time), the social environment (friends and other ties within the framework of activities for example) and of course the school environment. These have been extensively documented over the years.

Each factor can influence another and their combined effects will also depend on how the young person perceives them as an individual. All combinations are therefore possible and there is no miracle formula. On the other hand, in terms of intervention, certain practices prove to be more promising than others, as we will see in the next section.

The role of the school

Rather than trying to intervene on all fronts at the same time, specialists are betting more on the school environment. Climate and general atmosphere, management practice (support for educators and young people on the part of the administration, classroom management on the part of the teachers), pedagogical practices, relations between educators and pupils are elements which then come into play.

“The main hold we have as a society is to capitalize on our education system; early childhood centers and schools. These places can play a key role in reducing inequalities and vulnerabilities in children. The richer and more stimulating an environment, the more it will promote the development of the child to its full potential, ”argues Mr. Guay.

He even specifies: "Beyond the school environment as a whole, the teaching effect alone will represent up to 30 % protective factors for a young person". Generally speaking, the teacher effect is defined as the influence that a teacher exerts on the learning, development and success of students. A group of professors in the Department of Educational Sciences at the University of Quebec at Chicoutimi (UQAC) have clearly defined this effect in an open letter published in February 2020 in The Daily. 

At school, special attention should also be paid by teachers to the circles of friends that are created among the pupils. Marie-Helene Veronneau, professor in the psychology department at the University of Quebec in Montreal, specifically studies the role of peers in school perseverance.

She has widely seen the ripple effect (positive or negative) that friends can have on young people. A study published in 2019 shows that academic performance towards the start of high school seems to be positively influenced by affiliation with friends who are performing well, but negatively influenced through affiliation with friends who have behavioral problems. 

Photo credit: Pixabay

“Knowing how to surround yourself well is one of the keys to success! Thus, teachers can certainly play a role in guiding students in their attendance: by keeping a close eye on the dynamics in the small groups that form in a classroom or in the schoolyard, by discussing certain observed situations. with students, by getting them to work as a team with other students outside of their usual circle of friends. 

When problematic situations (negative influence of a peer, for example) arise, it is wise to meet the students to better understand the context, to get them to think about the definition of friendship. Finally, parents should also be taken advantage of so that they can positively influence their child and lead him, when necessary, to reconsider certain associates.

Types of motivation

Among the protective factors, it is important to come back for a moment to the notion of motivation. This is the driving force that pushes to put into action to achieve a goal. On the other hand, the sources of motivation are diverse and do not all give the same results.

“The quality of motivation will have an effect on the level of commitment and long-term persistence. If the student is motivated simply by the desire to comply, obtain a reward, or avoid punishment, their motivation may weaken over time. It will be more difficult for him to maintain his interest, ”says Ms. Veronneau.

And conversely, "if the pupil is motivated by himself, because he likes what he does, that he understands the meaning of it and that he sets goals to be achieved, his motivation may lead to a higher level of engagement and he could even become a source of positive motivation for his peers ”.

One of the roles of the school would therefore be to enable children to develop this intrinsic motivation, which will enable them to experience a voluntary and lasting commitment in their school career.

In addition :
- " Determinants of school perseverance », Partner for educational success in Chaudière-Appalaches (PRECA), 2020
- " Student Motivation and Associated Outcomes: A Meta-Analysis from Self-Determination Theory ", Study, Joshua L. Howard, Julien S. Bureau, Frédéric Guay, Jane XY Chong, Richard M. Ryan, August 2020
- " How Do Individual Predispositions and Family Dynamics Contribute to Academic Adjustment Through the Middle School Years? The Mediating Role of Friends' Characteristics ", Study, Marie Claire Vaillancourt, Alexandra Oliveira Paiva, Marie-Hélène Véronneau, Thomas J. Dishion, May 2018

4- Winning practices to promote academic perseverance

In schools, pedagogical practices are increasingly identified as promoting academic perseverance and they have proved their worth for all students; not just for those who are more at risk of dropping out.

Frédéric Guay mentions some favorable approaches such as:
- Create environments that are neither controlling nor overly competitive;
- Multiply concrete examples and explicit applications of the concepts to teach (make sense);
- Focus on differentiation and personalized feedback;
- Promote models that are achievable and realistic (without diminishing aspirations).

He has also developed a top 3 winning practices that he shares with us:

1- Promote student autonomy
Offer choices, encourage initiative, respect opinions and encourage the sharing of points of view, trust and give confidence.

2- Support the student's perception of their competence
Appreciate, encourage, recognize good moves, raise the positive points in a large group, raise the negative points individually and give tips to improve.

3- Create a positive bond with students
Build a sense of belonging to the school and to the group, providing positive and pleasant experiences.

More formally, this top 3 is reminiscent of the Universal Design for Learning (UCL), which is intended to be very inclusive, by focusing on students' abilities and their strengths in order to give them confidence.

In this approach, the teacher “puts all learners on an equal footing in a spirit of justice and equity. Consequently, all see their differences accepted or even valued. This is a fundamental element which aims at the development of the potential and the autonomy of the people (I can do it) as well as the development of the feeling of personal effectiveness ”, one reads in one. folder produced by the Consortium of animation on perseverance and success in higher education.

Also, the AUC encourages the implementation of various teaching practices:

  • present information and material in different ways;
  • differentiate the means used by students to demonstrate their knowledge;
  • stimulate interest and motivation to learn.

This is in order to "meet the challenge of diversity by offering flexible teaching materials, techniques and strategies which allow teaching to be differentiated according to the needs of the pupils", as indicated by Cindy Perras, educational advisor on the site. from TA @ school.

In all cases, beyond the transmission of academic notions, the school and the teacher take the posture of guides who accompany the student in his personal journey and his learning, who help him to discover his strengths and skills. 'encourage them to find the subjects which interest them more particularly, those which fascinate them. In short, the human relationship is more than decisive in the entire school career.

Intervention 101

Despite the implementation of these practices, it does happen that students experience difficulties. Learning disabilities, low self-esteem, family problems, haphazard peer relationships, etc .; there are again many factors.

“As soon as someone detects a risk in relation to a young person, he must take action to find solutions. Whether at school, at home or even in those around her, ”says Ms. Veronneau.

According to her, it is essential to intervene as soon as possible to avoid an accumulation of factors and situations that will drag the youngster towards abandonment. To illustrate her point, she quotes a study carried out in 2015 showing that elementary school students perceived by their peers to be aggressive and those who already had academic difficulties had difficulty persevering even when their parents were more educated than average. “For these students, the school must act as a protective factor. "

Photo credit: Pixabay

At all times, very close interventions in which several partners are mobilized to support the young person are very promising. “Parent-school collaboration then takes on its full meaning. Actions must be concerted. The parent must be an ally or any other significant person for the young person (coach, mentor, etc.). While this can be a challenge in some situations, it is essential to build a strong bridge between school and home. "

In terms of intervention, four practices, put forward by the Institute of Education Sciences in the United States, are also recognized in Quebec by the PÉRISCOPE network (Platform for Exchange, Research and Intervention on SCOlarity: Perseverance and Success):

1- Monitor the progress of all students and intervene proactively when students show early signs of absenteeism or academic or behavioral difficulties.

2- Provide intensive and individualized support to students who have deviated from their school career and who face significant challenges to succeed.

3- Foster student engagement by offering a curriculum and programs that link schoolwork to college or career success and that allow the development of students' skills to manage challenges within and outside of school.

4- For schools with several students at risk of dropping out of school, create small communities of belonging to facilitate monitoring and support.

However, whatever may be said, both in terms of prevention and intervention, it seems that no practice stands out more than another. “School administrators and policy makers have a wide variety of options. The quality of the implementation of a program will be much more decisive than the choice of the program itself. Thus, programs which mobilize the entire community and which are permanently established will be more successful ”, concludes a study on early school leaving in which Mr. Guay participated in 2011.

Therefore, it is up to each establishment to choose or develop ways of doing things that will take into account the particularities of its environment and the characteristics specific to the situation experienced. There should never be a wall-to-wall solution.

In addition:
- " Universal design for learning », File, Consortium of animation on perseverance and success in higher education, April 2015 
- " Universal design for learning », TA @ school, May 2014
- " Preventing Dropout in Secondary Schools », Practical guide, Institute of Education Sciences, US Department of Education, September 2017
- " Four courses of action to counter dropping out of school », Transfer Center for Educational Success in Quebec (CTREQ), June 2018
- " Dropout prevention and intervention programs: effects on school completion and dropout among school-aged children and youth ", Study, Sandra Jo Wilson, Mark Lipsey, Emily Tanner-Smith, Chiungjung Huang Huang, Katarzyna T. Steinka-Fry, 2011
- " Emerging psychopathology moderates upward social mobility: The intergenerational (dis) continuity of socioeconomic status ", Marie-Hélène Véronneau, Lisa A. Serbin, Dale M. Stack, Jane Ledingham and Alex E. Schwartzman, November 2015
- " Prevention with families and children », Presentation by George M. Tarabulsy, PhD, School of Psychology of Laval University, April 2016

5- Projects that make the difference

Proof that interventions must take into account the reality of each environment, over the years, many regional initiatives have emerged throughout the province of Quebec in order to counter dropping out of school and promote perseverance.

“When it comes to work-study balance among high school students, for example, we do not intervene in the same way in metropolitan areas as in rural areas. The type of employer is not the same, nor are the local realities ”, illustrates Andrée Mayer-Périard, president of the Quebec Network for Educational Success (RQRE).

Created in 2004 to encourage the sharing of good practices between regions and to link them together on common issues, the RQRÉ is made up of a multitude of regional organizations, called regional consultation bodies.

“Our DNA is much more regional than national. There is still a need to come together to carry out concerted actions and continue to insist that academic success must be at the top of our priorities as a society, ”indicates the president. This is how the RQRS presents the national initiatives Engaged employers and Hooked on School Days

Same observation on the side of the Regroupement of Quebec community organizations to fight against dropping out (ROCLD). Its mission is to promote consultation and exchanges between community organizations working on the issue of dropping out of school (14 regions are represented within the ROCLD). Each year, a National meeting to fight against dropping out gives the opportunity to these actors from aboriginal, anglophone and francophone communities to better understand certain challenges, to discuss intervention practices and possible solutions. 

From one association to another, the observation is the same: many regional players (chambers of commerce, community and social assistance organizations, carrefour jeunesse-emploi, etc.) are now interested in school perseverance and are developing motivating projects for young people. This means that communities are increasingly taking ownership of the theme, realizing the vision that it takes a whole village to raise a child.

Also, the opinion is unanimous: the most promising projects are those which are best linked to the school environment. “The link with the school is necessary,” says Ms. Mayer-Périard.

“Good collaboration between schools and community organizations to meet the needs of young people and support their academic and educational success is important,” says Michael Canuel, president of LEARN Quebec, the English-language education resource network, partner of the ROCLD.

Some successful initiatives

Here are some projects that are talked about because they deliver results. Each in their own way, they offer a variety of possibilities to young people to allow them to discover new passions, to open up to new horizons. They allow them to feel competent by carrying out concrete tasks, to make connections with their academic learning and to develop greater self-confidence.

Youth fusion
This charity is best known for its FIRST Robotics Festival, a competition for young people and their robot. It also offers a multitude of projects to schools, related to the arts, sciences, design and entrepreneurship. The offer has been adapted into a virtual or hybrid formula. Available in Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick and France.

Passport to success
This organization provides support and resources to youth from low-income communities to help them graduate from high school and break the cycle of poverty. After-class tutoring and mentoring are offered, as are meal vouchers, financial assistance and career planning services. Several partners across Canada.

I go everywhere
Located in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district, this organization helps young people escape poverty by promoting academic success through a homework assistance service at school and support for their parents at the time of their retirement. study period at home, in a context of partnership with the school, the CLSC and the community.

Kids Youth Code
This Canadian organization offers programs related to the development of digital skills. These help to integrate code, computer thinking and physical computing into school activities. Special attention is paid to girls so that more and more of them are interested in the technological world. Kids Code jeunesse has just launched a challenge to get students to imagine solutions related to environmental issues. Across Canada, in both languages.

Photo credit: Kids Code Jeunesse

FabLab Onaki
The FabLab Onaki in Gatineau has a double mission: to develop identity pride and to teach the making of connected objects to young Aboriginal dropouts. Created in 2018, the organization has just received an honorable mention in the Community strengthening category during the Social impact award 2020.

At Go, We read! 
This movement was created and propelled by the Partners for Educational Success in the Laurentians (PREL). He seeks to increase teens' interest in reading by using social media to reach them. For its third edition, which will take place until Christmas, virtually all regions of Quebec are taking part.

Dare to undertake
This organization presents the projects Entrepreneurship education at school and the Entrepreneurs' week at school. These contribute to the entrepreneurial culture, to school perseverance and educational success, to personal satisfaction and development, in addition to professional guidance, by encouraging young people to carry out their own project.

In addition :
Quebec transfer center for educational success
Partners in the regions
Perseverance: the driving force behind academic success

6- The additional challenges of distance education

Just as the process of motivation and persistence in school is complex, so too is the decision to quit. “You don't pick up overnight. The road to dropping out of school is usually a long process. On the other hand, we know that there is often a trigger and that interruptions in the school career are critical moments, ”says Ms. Mayer-Périard.

This is one of the reasons why so many people feared a sharp rise in the dropout rate in the spring of 2020 when schools closed due to the pandemic. Since the start of the school year, we have also observed that the Ministry of Education has been making great efforts to keep schools open.

At the same time, distance education is also being organized in order to avoid an interruption in the event of a class or school closure. Classes should continue to be taught. Moreover, in the fall of 2020 during the 2nd wave of the pandemic, several students in Secondary 3 to 5 went through the homeschooling alternation every other day.

Photo credit: Pixabay

There is something to rekindle concerns about the perseverance of young people in a virtual context, and in the current general context, we could even say.

Researchers from all over the planet undertook studies to better understand the effect of distance education on pupil and student motivation. As the pandemic is quite recent, most of the results are preliminary and remain to be analyzed in more detail.

For example, very close to us, at Laval University, Frédéric Guay and his colleague Érick Falardeau started a study last June. They want to answer precisely the question: Is motivation affected by the context of online education?

Two high schools in the Quebec City region agreed to participate in the study, each mobilizing 300 upper secondary students, aged between 15 and 18, all confined at home to follow their classes. The students completed online questionnaires and the researchers compared the data obtained in the context of distance education with those obtained in 2010 by means of the same questionnaires, with the same age group, in a context of regular education, in class.

“During online instruction, students from both schools surveyed reported feeling less proficient in French and English compared to students surveyed in 2010. Even though teachers provide good emotional support, it appears that students lack skills. feedback on their learning to feel competent. This data is important insofar as the perception of competence is an important predictor of academic success, ”indicates the preliminary results.

"These data obtained in the first phase of confinement, in June 2020, could be echoed with a new wave of questionnaires, at a time when several high school classes alternate between classroom and distance education," said Mr. Guay.

Mental Health

But, it is still necessary that the students are in a suitable state of mind to experience distance education. Faced with the possibility of having to take courses from home, many factors influence the motivation of young Quebecers at this time. 

While many are deprived of contact with their friends outside of school hours, deprived of extracurricular activities and other socialization activities in their community, living with family situations that can be complex, it is possible to believe that their mental health in general may be affected and will have repercussions on studies.

The Quebec government has also noted an increase in requests for assistance services for anxiety and psychological distress linked to the health crisis. So he improved services in order to better meet the specific needs of young people aged 0 to 25 and their families.

Let us now hope that research work will continue to fully understand the effects of the pandemic on young people and thus be able to put in place new measures if necessary.


Although the theme of school perseverance is well documented, this dossier aimed to take a look at the determinants mainly associated with the school environment, while touching on the challenges associated with the current pandemic context.

Moreover, several specialists agree that it is necessary to rely even more on the school environment to promote school perseverance. Thus, rather than trying to intervene on all fronts at the same time, the school could become the fulcrum of motivation among the students. 

Adoption of recognized teaching practices, proactivity in order to encourage the formation of positive circles of friends, proposal of mobilizing projects, rapid and targeted interventions, collaboration with parents and the community; school teams must engage in rigorous procedures, which are inspired by the world of research and which take into account protective factors deemed to be effective.

The constant and permanent application of these practices can become a powerful vector of perseverance. Nevertheless, it is always necessary to take into account the realities specific to each environment, in order to respect the particularities of each; every detail can make a difference, as we have seen several times in this dossier.

The current pandemic situation adds a risk factor to the equation and its effects on students are still relatively unknown. The importance of maintaining a strong teacher / student bond, particularly through feedback, is already emerging as a key factor in maintaining motivation. 

In conclusion, let us remember that any school environment must be dynamic and stimulating, that it must aim for the highest level of student engagement by the application of various recognized practices, coupled with corresponding “tailor-made” interventions. to its reality.

Please note! The English translation of this text is automated - Errors (sometimes hilarious!) can creep in! ;)