Deferring the stream line decision best for students

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An education lobby group, People for Education, claims that their research, as well as past studies done by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, suggest that splitting up high school students into two academic streams contributes to lower grades for children of lower income families.

When students enter grade nine, they must either select applied or academic stream; the academic stream adds theory and abstract problems to basic concepts covered in the applied courses.

People for Education states the obvious and reports that students in applied courses did worse on test scores, graduation and post-secondary education. In essence, students who take more challenging courses are more likely to succeed and attend a post-secondary institution. This all makes sense and is already acknowledged by students and teachers because of its rooting in common sense.

The OECD has recommended that the duel-stream student break up be pushed back to upper high school years. The recommendation is sound as students are ill equipped to make a decision with such long-term impact. The fact that decisions made in the summer after grade eight can impact your life is a problem in itself, but that is a systemic problem for another day.

However, students deciding on academic streams after two years of high school experience have a slightly better sense of their capabilities, interests and post-secondary goals.

The article featuring the OECD recommendations includes the perspective of parents looking out for their children. Far removed from high school and the current system, parents are not knowledgeable enough about the difference in neither courses nor the impact of the decision.

Parents will push their children into challenges they cannot face and will also hold their children back for easier workloads. Neither approach works. The decision should be left up to the student and teachers who have interacted in an educational environment for two years, after the student has an understanding of the high school system.

The applied and academic streams also impact student self-esteem and self-identification. Students in the streams will have trouble switching, particularly if switching from applied to academic courses.

Students in applied courses will also be identified as being less intelligent or ambitious than those in the academic courses. Finally, students in applied classes are pre-destined for college whereas academic classes are required for university admission.

This decision cannot be made in grade nine and until the change is made, high schools should be working towards encouraging some experimentation in a variety of courses because students inevitably limit their futures.

When I entered grade nine I had no idea what my interests were academically and certainly no insight into what kind of post-secondary education I hoped to receive.

The decision to pursue university was made by society and luckily it all worked out, but if I had narrowed by options by taking applied courses to ease my workload and transition into high school, I may have suffered long-term.

The important aspect to this that educators and lobby groups must understand is that the vast majority are only slightly more enlightened in grade eleven. If students make an informed decision, it will contribute to self-esteem, confidence and a sense of purpose.

If you decide you want to go to college and the applied stream is best for your learning style then that can explain your decision. However, without the time to understand yourself and what you want, the streamlines are reduced to “stupid” and “smart” or “lazy” and “motivated.”

The system itself is problematic and our options should not be narrowed at such a young age. For the purposes of this issue specifically, it is clear that the academic and applied streamlining should be pushed back two years to allow for a more informed decision.

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