They were once directed to take applied courses. Now they say ending the discriminatory practice of streaming is ‘long overdue’

Credit due to the Ford government for ending this long standing practice. While likely well-intentioned, like so many good intentions, bias (explicit and implicit) along with implementation, resulted in systemic discrimination and racism;

By the time she reached the end of Grade 8, Toluwanimi Oseivhi had no doubt whatsoever about what stream she would pick for high school. Her marks were excellent, she knew which courses she loved, and her parents who immigrated from Nigeria “definitely” expected her to go to university.

So she picked all academic courses and, to her total shock and bemusement, her teacher told her she had to take applied classes instead.

“She actually changed the forms and put down all applied courses,” said Oseivhi, recalling it was “demoralizing” to be told she was not equipped to handle academic courses despite her efforts and great performance.

“To have that choice made for me, it made me feel small especially as a child of immigrants. But it’s also motivational. It builds your confidence and the desire to do better and prove everyone wrong.”

With her insistence and the advocacy of her parents who were also educators, Oseivhi ended up getting into the academic stream. She graduated high school in 2009, enrolled at the University of Toronto and later got a master’s degree in education from York University.

Oseivhi called the Grade 9 streaming system, which on Monday the Ontario government announced will be cancelled, discriminatory toward students from both poor and racialized communities.

“I do know that it does happen to a lot of Black and brown kids in the system,” she said.

Ontario is the only province in Canada that still divides students into the hands-on “applied” or university/college-track “academic” streams starting in Grade 9, a practice Education Minister Stephen Lecce called systemic and racist. He said the practice needs to end in order to give racialized students “a fair chance at success.”

For years education advocates have called the streaming system into question, pointing out that Black and Indigenous students as well as those from low-income neighbourhoods are overrepresented in the applied stream. Being left out of the academic stream impacts many of these students and limits their options for post-secondary education.

In 2015, People for Education, a Toronto-based advocacy and research group, published a report that was critical of the streaming system. The report indicated that Grade 8 was too early for kids to be deciding on courses that are potentially going to determine their life careers, and recommended delaying such decisions until later in high school.

People for Education’s executive director Annie Kidder told the Star the province’s decision to scrap the streaming system is a step in the right direction, but just one in the process of understanding systemic racism and its different facets. Government needs to look at practices that need to continue to change in order to give children a fair opportunity to excel in their education.

“We need to look at ourselves and understand how unconscious bias can have an impact on other people,” she said, noting society should have the same high expectations of its students regardless of their families’ income or racial backgrounds.

“When you divide students, when you group students apart from each other, it has a disproportionate effect on students who were already disadvantaged.”

Bernisha Thomas knows first hand how being streamed into applied or academic courses “has little to do” with a student’s ability to excel in those subjects. She grew up in Scarborough and at 14 when she finished Grade 8 and it was time to choose her high school courses, she remembers being told that academic was for those going to university while applied was for those going to college and into the workforce.

“I didn’t even know what that meant. I had no idea what I wanted to do,” Thomas said. She said she was a straight-A student and was confused when it was decided for her to go into the applied stream, where she was often sent into the resource class for extra help.

“It made me question myself. It made me think that I was not as smart as I always thought I was heading into high school.”

She said streaming is a form of discrimination because students who are sent into the general/applied track instead of the academic/advanced one are “made to feel like subpar or average, that there’s nothing really special about you.”

Thomas said she ultimately ended up going to Centennial College afterwards, simply because she was made to believe that maybe university would be too hard for her. She took a project management program, where one of her general education diploma teachers once told her she should be in university instead.

“It was the first time since high school that somebody had told me I was good enough and capable enough,” she said.

Years later, it was quite telling to her when her son was at the same stage in Grade 8 to make the choice and the school decided to put him into the applied stream and send him to the resource class for extra help.

“My son never needed extra help,” Thomas said, noting her son just finished his first year in college, studying marketing. He also applied and has been accepted into a joint college and university program at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.

“I’ve really never seen any change in the school system between when I went and when he went until this week when they announced they’re getting rid of streaming. It’s long overdue.”

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: