About Streaming and Why Private Schools Don't Have It


In the Ontario public school education system, there exists a phenomenon from 1999 known as "streaming", which you will most likely already know about even if you have never heard the term. "Streaming" is the division of grade 8 students entering the same high school into two distinct course types: applied and academic. At first glance all students look to be enrolled in the same survey courses with the same title (e.g. English and Science) but due to the differentiating course codes students will be taught a different curriculum by different teachers in different classrooms and will never mix with their fellow students within these core subjects. The implications of enrolling in either academic English or applied English are great: students enrolled in applied courses will never be able to apply to university because they are not taking the "correct" English course to qualify. This means all applied students are designated as college- or work-bound after receiving their high school diploma.

In a 2015 People for Education report, Dr. Alan Sears, a leading scholar in citizenship education, shared the findings of his review of grades 9 and 10 history and geography curricula in relation to citizenship education in Ontario. According to the report: "he found substantial differences between applied and academic courses, raising concerns about key content differences between the academic and applied courses".

Now, the existence of two course types is not an issue in itself if college or work is the ultimate end goal of the student and the best fit for their future. What many people are beginning to take issue with is when this critical, life-changing decision is being made: by students in grade 8. What is significant to note from the report is that recent research by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) indicates that "rather than being connected to students’ interests and career aspirations, students’ placements in either academic or applied courses are more closely tied to achievement in grade 8".

So, what is the takeaway? There is international evidence against separating students early in secondary school. Many people consider streaming to be a serious flaw in our public education system. At the very least, requiring students to make this huge decision in grade 8—before undergoing relevant growth and maturity—that will lock them in to a set program is a dangerous setup. Many students could be set on pathways that will not align with career and life goals that only truly emerge as they enter and advance through secondary school. This hefty decision in grade 8 is either influenced by students' parents (which can be a pro if the child is not prepared to make this decision or a con if it results in them having no say in their future), OR is left up to the discretion of the child entirely.

This is why choosing a registered IB school for your child is a great alternative. At St. Jude's Academy, for example, there is no streaming: there is only the IB Diploma Program. As an international program, it follows a model of proven success to put children on the path to university or great careers. The IB Diploma Program is inclusive and does not segregate children into two different education camps. It also allows students to make their monumental life decision at the right time in their life. In their final year, they can choose whether to enter university, college, or the workforce with an IB diploma in hand.

Sources: Hamlin, D. and Cameron, D. (2015). Applied or Academic: High Impact Decisions for Ontario Students. People for Education. Toronto: April 13, 2015.

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