Playing smoke and mirrors with our children’s future

di Joe Volpe del July 8, 2020

TORONTO - One can only imagine that the announcement of end “streaming” must have been designed by some communications firm tasked with devising a message for the sole purpose of creating a distraction. And we genuinely thought that Minister Lecce had started to show some encouraging signs on the Education file.

“Streaming” was an issue in the educational system since I was in school – a million years ago. In the 1960s, the Province built a series of schools along Bloor St. to house, no I mean to “educate”, kids leaving grade eight but, not being sixteen years of age, unable to find gainful employment because labour laws prevented the hiring of under-sixteens. They were given the most rudimentary of “life/work skills” so that they could eventually function more or less productively in a work environment. In Toronto, they represented about 15% of the student population. Race meant something else then.

A further 25%-30% ended up in the secondary schools’ system (Commercial and Industrial Arts/Tech schools). By the early Seventies, the first group was referred to as Applied/Basic and the second as graduates from General level programs with a career path through Community Colleges. The Advance level students “qualified” to take courses designed to lead to University level programs.

Minister Lecce has not explained what has changed. Since former Premier Mike Harris began tinkering with the Education system in the mid-nineties, the essential problems have remained the same. To his credit, he wanted a system that regarded children and students with “success” as well as prepared them for the workplace.

The System no longer prepares students for the Trades in numbers sufficient to satisfy market demand. It is an equally woefully inadequate supplier for the burgeoning service economy.

Part of the reason is that our culture has not placed value, merit and equal dignity on careers or jobs whose employees do not have a University degree. The real problem is the failure of “the system” to equip its future citizens with the skill sets required to make choices. This is not an empty ideological position. Children do not make those decisions on their own.

The Provincial EQAO tests measuring children’s performance in mathematics and language skills become benchmarks of self-fulfilling promises of “failure”. The number and percentages of elementary school students who cannot meet the provincial standard is similar to those who cannot measure up in grade six and subsequently in grade nine.

When they all end up in grade nine, not all students are conversant with the mathematical and linguistics skills required at that grade level. It is not a consequence of ideology, class, or pigmentation politics. That is why there is an “assessment” – to determine what may be best for the child.

Parents often associate their children’s “failure to cope with the system” with the “failure of the system to deliver” for their children. If they can, they choose “another system”. Alternatively, they try to influence “how” the system addresses the future social/economic needs of their children.

For example, there is a boom in the expansion of French immersion schools, not because there are more Francophones flooding our schools, but because parents choose to send their children to schools that they perceive to be more rigorous in their demands and their attention to the children in their care.

By the time the child arrives at High school, it may be too late. Streaming, even by any other name, is a consequence rather than a cause of a child’s success.

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