Streaming in Education: Good for Students or is it time to take a pass?


Academic equity is an objective that our schooling systems are supposed to hold. Activities that advocate the benefits of diversity and inclusion for culturally diverse groups should spearhead conversations, particularly within institutions known for systemic racism. A near-rampant policy like streaming in education doesn't help.


In fact, there’s one word that perfectly describes academic streaming: labelling. When learners are categorized into groups based on their supposed intelligence, there's no other word to describe the arrangement.





On one side, proponents of de-streaming in education argue that educators benefit more than the students, and students/learners who are streamed to lesser classes (that restrict their abilities or opportunities) end up with the mental organization that they are unintelligent. Already this is a condescending arrangement. The unintended consequence is sub-par academic performance; and for those students in the lesser category who perform well, the big question is: are they really intelligent or living a mirage (caused by their streaming).


However, the advocates of streaming in education say students with similar abilities are best organized into a category that depicts their ability. That is students with high aptitude in one spot, and students with lesser aptitude in the other spot. The notion here is: learning can be done at a similar pace for all students, which helps the school achieve its objective, a study says.


But what do researchers say? Is streaming good for students? Should we be worried about unintended consequences?



Let’s Understand Academic Streaming


To understand de-streaming in education, it is vital to lay the foundation of what streaming means. Let’s illustrate with a simple example.


Imagine a classroom of secondary students. This group is likely composed of people who have a higher aptitude for learning, and those with relatively lesser aptitude. The teacher’s responsibility is to help all the students attain success in their subjects. The competition to excel exists for everyone. The standard for everyone here is you must work hard to excel. The teacher in charge effectively invents new ways for carrying every student along in learning.


Now imagine something happens, say, a new policy, and students have to be divided into two groups based on their abilities – Normal Students, and A-grade students. Now, we have two classes, one with particularly exceptional students who are using the standard curriculum, and the other less intelligent students using a curriculum suited to their level of intellect. A physical depiction for the quote birds of the same feather flocks together.



Why is academic streaming bad?





If you did not follow that example closely, it may be hard to see the negative effects of streaming. But look again and you’ll probably observe how streaming reduces the motivation to learn for students, creates an environment where teachers only need to do the bare minimum, and where students progress to discover and maximize their potential is stifled (from a “subsidized” curricula).


Research into academic streaming generally suggests that a student’s ability to learn is affected negatively and that the impact lasts long. While students in the "better" set are primed to be more competitive, the other set of students gradually become complacent and lack the grit required to take on more intensive learning endeavours.


You may be surprised to discover streaming in education was racially motivated. Academic streaming in Canada has existed for more than a century. The streaming policy was created when people believed the culturally diverse immigrants were lazy, slow, and not suited for the intellectual rigours and camaraderie found in the classroom. According to an article in cbc.ca, which described streaming as "rankism", the streaming practice has overstayed its welcome and wasn't even necessary in the first place.


The ongoing conversation about education de-streaming in Ontario pulled a lot of positive comments especially for people of colour. For Amil Ali who experienced the harshness of de-streaming, it’s an outstanding objective by the government. According to him, [destreaming is] necessary to improving Black student [academic] achievement.”



How Can We Join this Campaign?


Streaming generally affects a certain group of students more than others. According to this report on the state of streaming in Ontario, people of colour are at a disadvantage.


In July 2020, the Minister for Education in Ontario announced the possible elimination of academic streaming across Grade 9 Mathematics in 2021. That is Math will officially become a de-streamed course in the province. The news met the happy faces of educators and students.


A de-streamed academic curriculum increases the dividends of academic pursuit for everyone involved. From benefits like increased employability rate to social mobility and better income, its long-term benefits are not far-fetched, even towards improving diversity and inclusion in education.


What are your thoughts about streaming in Education? Are you for or against?


Find out how Tough Convos can help your classroom embrace diversity and inclusion using a suitable and bespoke approach that achieves results by booking a call with us. We are perpetually in the fight for equity and support campaigns that uphold the human rights of all. We’d love to create a custom conversation for your team!