Choosing education stream in Grade 8 is premature

By Pat Watson Wednesday February 26 2014 in Opinion
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So Kameisha and LeShawn are not interested in school and we wonder why, considering that the path to a meaningful career rests for the most part on a solid educational foundation.


That meaningful career is not just about a salary; it is also about one’s sense of self-worth and prospects for a good life, which also means good health and social status. Thus, the importance of that solid educational foundation cannot be overstated. It may be the case that for a few it is not critical, but for most, it certainly is.


Success in educational pursuit is predicated on a complex arrangement of family support, support from the system of education, and personal motivation. This latter, however, may very well be dependent on the first two.


The high school dropout rate, and the lower literacy rate that is a significant issue for racialized minorities in this city, are therefore matters of concern as so many of these students eventually end up as the next generation of working poor or even worse, in the underclass, facing sporadic employment and all the associated social and health concerns.


That is why the latest report from education advocacy group, People for Education (PFE), needs to be taken seriously. The report, “Choosing Courses for High School”, points out that students in Grade 8 are being made to select their high school program based on two streams, applied or academic, and that those choices will affect the outcome of their working lives.


Applied courses will stream a student towards, at best, a college education, while academic courses will stream a student towards university or professional schools, such as law or medicine.


It has to be pointed out that, these days, given the rise of the Technical Age and the demand for people with technical skills, advancement to learning institutions offering hard skills can be of tremendous benefit.


But it is the psychological stamp that students bear as they are assessed by their Grade 8 teachers as not being capable of handling academic stream courses that sets the stage for higher rates of failure. If students are not experiencing any measure of success, they are less motivated to keep trying.


The problem can be that sometimes the tools for assessment available to teachers are not holistic enough in their application to take into account all aspects of the student’s individual environment. A student may be shy and not speaking in class for reasons other than learning capability. But if assessment tools are limited in that sense, the real reasons for shyness in the classroom can be misinterpreted. The other matter is that a student may have lower aptitude in one area of learning but not in another. To stream a student based on a limited assessment tool will lead to the student being directed to select the less appropriate stream, whether applied or academic.


This streaming issue in the high school setting was a matter of controversy in the recent past when it became clear that there was a distinct pattern of students from racialized and low-income families making up the majority of students in applied stream courses. Now the same thing is happening, but earlier.


PFE argues that it is not reasonable to ask a student at age 12 to make a decision about where they are headed in the future in terms of learning streams and, eventually, career choices. There are certainly a few young people who know from a very early age where they want to head in life regarding career choice. But, for most young people, it takes time to discover where their interests and aptitudes really lie.


What are we to conclude when the very apparatus that society has in place to facilitate the true aptitudes of students in the right places for the good of all does not do everything possible to fulfill that key responsibility?


We know that education authorities talk a good game. But when we look at the world around us, the outcomes tell a different story.

A note on stacking the deck…


Now that the race for mayor of Toronto has filled out on the Conservative side, with former TTC chair, Councillor Karen Stintz (Ward 16, Eglinton-Lawrence) and lawyer, radio personality and former leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party John Tory registering on Monday to run, it will be interesting to see who will step forward from the left. But, if all the high profile players are Conservatives, then the issue of vote splitting falls away and it will simply be a matter of which personality voters most prefer.

Pat Watson is the author of the e-book In Through A Coloured Lens. Twitter@patprose.

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