SHSM: Specialist High Skills Major or Specifically Hurting Student Mindsets?

For those of you immediately wondering what in the world is this Jillien referring to, let me first clarify that “SHSM” stands for Specialist High Skills Major.

“Ah . . . yes . . . those”

The Ministry of Education implemented SHSMs as options for high school students; depending on the school that you attend and the SHSMs that the school offers, students have the opportunity to take one of these programs in order to specialize in course content of their own interests. By enrolling in a SHSM – the health and wellness SHSM for example – a student’s high school course schedule is modified to accommodate for courses and real-life experience in the health and wellness field. According to the Ministry of Education SHSM website, these programs allow students “to identify, explore and refine their career goals and make informed choices about their next steps after secondary school”.

Here is a quick promotional video (call it a commercial) – from one school board on the Specialist High Skills Major program: 

And HERE is a fact sheet on SHSM components, benefits and opportunities from the Ministry of Education: 

SHSM Fact Sheet

I never was part of these programs, but based on this information there is no hiding the fact that they seem great! If students know what they want to pursue after high school or are simply looking to fill their high school courses with content that interests them, then being part of a Specialist High Skills Major program certainly seems like a prime opportunity.


I have to be honest. When I was in high school I was not a fan of these programs. I have a reason for this dislike. I felt as though my school marketed themselves using merely these SHSM students. What was so great about my high school? According to any form of promotion, the Health and Wellness SHSM is what made it so great. The best athletes of the school are enrolled in this SHSM (and posted on the front of every promotional brochure and online page). The Specialist High Skills Major program, and those who took part in it, simply DEFINED my school.

And this is problematic. 

I do not want to argue that SHSMs are a problem because I really do not think that is the case. SHSMs provide INCREDIBLE opportunities to advance BOTH student engagement and success in school. The Windsor Essex Catholic District School Board even notes a 15% increase in their high school graduation rates within 10 years after the implementation of SHSMs! So, SHSMs themselves, at least for me, are not the issue. Rather, it is the way in which these SHSMs are advertised and distributed that needs improvement.


SHSMs should CERTAINLY be advertised and highlighted; this is the only way that students will feel encouraged to take part in them. However, these advertisements cannot overrule the legitimacy of other high school courses or pathways. Just because students do not choose to involve themselves in a SHSM does not mean that their high school education should be declared any less valuable or rewarding!


Okay, so let us say that SHSMs are a beneficial opportunity for high school students to participate in. Now, let us say that a student wants to take part in the mining SHSM at their school.

Oops. . . they cannot.

Their school does not offer the SHSM. 

Access is an incredible issue. In areas with a greater population of students, there are greater opportunities for SHSM participation. While my school only offered a handful of SHSMs, the list of SHSM opportunities in the Toronto school boards are complete. I feel like I keep coming back to this issue in my blogs, but WHY should students who live in urban regions be given more opportunities? This difference is simply unfair.

I think that the issue of access can certainly be eliminated. Every community should offer each possible SHSM somewhere in their region; a large high school does not necessarily have to offer each and every SHSM, nor does a small school. Rather, schools can each centralize on a particular SHSM, and rural areas should be given some means of online access to the SHSMs that are not directly accessible in order to ensure that all students are treated equitably. As an article from the Bradford Times Newspaper mentions, SHSMs are all about giving students the opportunity to have hands-on experience and become a part of the real working world; sitting in a classroom does not need to take place, so accessibility should not be as big of an issue as it currently is.

I would love to know if anyone has been a part of a SHSM in high school; what was it like, and was it worth it? 

Thank you for reading!


5 thoughts on “SHSM: Specialist High Skills Major or Specifically Hurting Student Mindsets?

  1. Hey!
    I personally did not take part in the SHSM in high school. However, I did have some friends that did. They found that it benefited them for their respective career paths. The only negative thing came from one friend who changed her mind about what she wanted to do. Unfortunately, she felt as though she had taken up too much of her previous credits with the SHSM courses and did not have the prerequisites for different courses on another path. In my city, students who wanted to take certain classes that were not offered at their school would be bused to another high school where they did hold those courses for one or two periods per day and then would return to their regular school for other classes. This would help eliminate the availability issue in cities with more than one high school. However, if there is only one school, it would still be a problem. I hope that a solution is found so every student has the opportunity to pursue what they want!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey Jillien,

    I enjoy the conversation of SMS courses. When I was in high school I went to an all French high school and so we did not have the opportunity to have these classes, and I do not think that many of the schools in my school offer them either (because they are statistically smaller than the English or immersion schools). I do however know a couple schools near me who do offer them and I only know a couple people who have done these types of courses and who have really enjoyed them. For me, the issue is the same as for you, accessibility. I have no problem offering these to students, however, I believe that all students should have the same opportunity, and I feel like until that happens, I am not sure if I agree with offering these courses to only specific schools.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi, it is amazing that Canada have the “Specialist High Skills Major”, which I never heard when I was in China, and China do not have such thing to help the student to develop social experience, which is the thing I really want to have when I was in high school. And yes, I think it will be helpful for students to know what they can do and what they will like to do after high school. And for your question, about the fairness of SHSM opportunities in the different city, I think it is not fair, but sometimes things depend on the community and the society if the society does not have that much opportunity for students, then for sure, the SHSM list will be less. Not sure if I’m wrong, it is only my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. hey!
    I found your article on SHSM courses to be interesting however as many other students my question remains… what happens when students change their mind?
    We didn’t have many of these at my school which is why I’m a bit torn on the concept.
    In post-secondary alone, I see a lot of children changing their mind on their programs and future career paths which are why I find the benefits are there, however, there is an equal level of nonbeneficial aspects to add to it also!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I completely agree with you. My one friend actually changed her mind in the midst of her Sports and Healthy Active Living SHSM, but she just ended up finishing it off in order to obtain the certificate. It is unfortunate that this result is often the case considering she could have taken courses geared towards her new interests, but then again it is always a personal choice!


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