Lately, many students have been focusing on analysing the existing link between interns and the work done in the setting of their practical training. Many came to the conclusion that they endure an exploitative situation due to the non-recognition of their value as workers, which increases their precarious state. Internships are usually depicted as a simple training leading inevitably to a paid job, justifying the absence of wages. However, the question of remuneration is just a single part of the problem. The internships’ evaluation in education itself generates consequences linked to its’ arbitrary and unjust dimensions. Thus, in addition to our demand for paid internships, it is our responsibility to question the current evaluation process in order to improve the conditions in which the internships take place.

A subjective evaluation

How is one to evaluate two students who are completing internships in completely different backgrounds, and fairly[1]? In teaching, for example, it is obvious that one first-cycle internship in a private school and a second-cycle one in a regular program within a poor neighborhood doesn’t represent the same challenges. Furthermore, the people responsible for the evaluation aren’t the same for all interns since each student is guided by a different associate teacher. This person’s job is to welcome the intern in their class and to accompany them along their path by providing regular feedback in order to foster professional development. They are often the only reference for the internship supervisor, representing the link between the university and the internship environment, since they see the intern only for some hours throughout the entire work experience. In brief, it is the supervisor who’s in charge of emitting the final grade to the department of education, but it is the associate teacher who, in reality, holds considerably more weight in the evaluation. This significant power greatly influences the intern’s experience. For instance, it could become difficult, even risky for an intern to stand their ground in front of an associate teacher practicing pedagogic and educational methods different from theirs. Even so, the internship should be an occasion to apply the strategies learned through their university education and to actualize them. That is, at least, the rhetoric that universities provide when they present internships, whereas the reality is quite different. This relationship of subordination favors the emergence of situations of abuse reported by some colleagues. Rather than rely on the good faith and the kindness of the evaluators, we should implement mechanisms that prevent the appearance of such situations.

Grade revision: truly effective?

If the student wishes to request a grade revision, the situation is only worsening as the outcome of the process doesn’t appear to have any impact on previous evaluations. At UQO, the procedure comes down to a first reevaluation by the same person who gave the internship’s final grade, followed by the formation of a comity leaning over the question again if the student is appealing the decision. Nonetheless, the comity doesn’t have the necessary resources to properly review the evaluation of the internship since it wasn’t present during its realization. The whole represents a financial charge of 80$ for the student, which is almost equivalent to an eight-hour of work on minimum wage! Moreover, taking into account the fact that the department isn’t shouting the existence of the grade revision program from the rooftops, few students know about it and use it to challenge the evaluators’ judgement.

Bad grades cause ills

Unfair evaluations and difficult internship situations may indeed have an influence on the professional development and the well-being of students. In fact, according to a survey conducted by the CRIS-UQO[2], 38.4% of respondents stated that they had or should have reached out for psychological support because of their internship. According to us, the weight of their evaluations could be one of the factors at play. Thus, these various scenarios have negative repercussions, such as mental and physical health disorders (anxiety, depression, weight loss, low self-esteem, etc.) and cast doubt on interns’ professional choices. Thereby, in addition to creating barriers with regards to the teachings of an internship and an admission to a master’s program, evaluations can have serious repercussions that influence the student’s own teaching and assessment skills, thus creating a vicious cycle fraught with consequences.

Reorganize evaluations to give more autonomy!

To remedy these problems, replacing the literal notation (from A+ to E), which correspond to numeric values used to calculate the overall average, with a passing or failing grade would address some injustices mentioned above. This should also be accompanied by constructive comments that build on the strengths and challenges of the student, as it is currently done at UQO. Generally, these comments are useful for the students’ consolidation of their learnings in an internship environment. In this way, by articulating the observations concerning the interns’ practices, the student would more easily be able to give and take the criticism that they deem (ir)relevant according to their vision of education. Including the students’ vision in the evaluation process would also be beneficial, considering that they are the ones concerned by the education of interns. This would ensure that more people would be involved in the evaluation, thereby limiting the associate teacher’s power. Next, why not include in the internship placement process a discussion between the students and the future associate teacher so that they can choose one another mutually? It would then be possible to avoid potential ideological conflicts and allow interns to choose the mentor with whom they wish to pursue their professional and personal development.

All these propositions also aim to give more professional autonomy to interns who are currently subject, on one hand, to the associate teacher’s authority, and, on the other hand, to the university’s evaluation process, which is mainly based on the perception of the former. For decades, professional autonomy has been deemed indispensable and ardently defended by unions and education unionists. So, why shouldn’t interns be entitled to them? Having the opportunity to make one’s own decisions is a formative act in itself. In the case of interns, this power to act would allow them to build themselves intellectually in addition to learning how to manage the various professional responsibilities that will come back to them and to promote an awareness of exploitative relationships to which they are subjected.

Wages for interns, and a renewal of the evaluation process?

All in all, the internships’ evaluation in a professional environment should without a doubt be reevaluated since its’ inequitable, arbitrary and restrictive dimensions constitute an obstacle to the interns’ personal and professional development, as well as access to their chosen professions. Not only they must conform to the evaluators’ expectations, but also to the ministerial imperatives. In fact, teachers and students are required to have mandatory ministerial examinations. In theory, high school teachers are free to provide teaching and evaluation as they see fit as long as the objectives set by the government are respected. In practice, it instead conditions their students to the standards set by the exams required for the obtention of a high school diploma. This leads us to demand a change in practices currently in place for the evaluation of learnings throughout the school system.

The evaluating processes, which are derived from the market logic of the capitalist system, promotes competition, obedience and social stratification. They contribute to the industrial model of the school (factory-school) which reproduce a docile labor force, as well as the existing social hierarchies within society. In the same order of ideas, by paying the internships and modifying the evaluation process, the interns’ material and legal conditions would be improved. However, internships are only the most visible part of the free work that is done by students. By demanding recognition of the work and skills of students, one recognizes that studying is an intellectual job that deserves much more than contempt, misery and indebtedness. A student wage would be a means of fighting against the exploitative relations that currently govern the school system and which also transcends all social institutions. This is why fighting for a student wage is a crucial step in order to combat student precariousness and social relations of power so as to make them more egalitarian.

Nicholas Bourdon with the collaboration of Mircea Adamoiu
Translation by Ronny Nou-Khlot

This article was published in the Winter 2018 issue of the english edition of CUTE Magazine.
To learn more about the struggle for the full recognition of student work, to discuss or contribute to it, we can contact us via the CUTE Campagne sur le travail étudiant page or the SWUC – Student Work Unitary Committee page.

  1. This text is greatly inspired by the internships’ evaluation in education at Université du Québec en Outaouais (UQO) and the author’s personal experience at the bachelor’s level in secondary education. It must be understood that the reality may differ from one university to another even if the formula is often similar. ↩︎

  2. Committee for paid internships at UQO (Comité pour la rémunération des internats et des stages de l’Université du Québec. ↩︎