People for Education claims streaming limits the flexibility high school students need.
It was not until Grade 12 that Dimal Kaci realized he could not go to university.
When Kaci was in middle school, his family moved from Albania to the GTA, and they lacked a firm grasp of the Ontario high school system. Kaci was put into the applied stream when he entered high school, and years later he is still dealing with the consequences.
In April, a report from advocacy group People for Education argued that the applied streaming system needs changes in order to help people like Kaci.
“We had a much simpler idea of the way high school worked, because back home you just do high school and then you go to university; there are no colleges like we have here,” Kaci told Torontoist in an interview. He explains that no matter the courses you take in Albania, you can attend university.
The report released by People for Education finds that Grade 8 is too young for students to choose between applied and academic courses in the Ontario public school system, and that more flexibility should be worked into the system.
“I didn’t understand the difference between them in Grade 9,” Kaci said in reference to applied and academic courses. “I did not choose my courses, they were chosen for me.”
For admission to York University and the University of Toronto, incoming first-years from Ontario schools require a combination of six university or university/college courses. Students who took only college courses in grade 11 and 12 would not be able to apply to university until they are 20 and considered a “mature student.”
In order for students to take university-track courses in Grades 11 and 12, they also need to pass academic courses in grades 9 and 10.
One of Kaci’s old classmates, Nigel Daley, recalls that the difference between applied and academic courses was based more on individual intelligence rather than post-secondary plans.
“I don’t think 13 and 14-year-olds are mature enough to make decisions that greatly impact their future,” Daley notes. “Throughout high school my interests changed drastically, and I went through at least four potential career options before settling on social work. If everyone was bound to their initial career idea, I would be well on my way to becoming Spiderman.”
Esther Fine, a professor at York University and alternative education specialist, spent years working with Grade 8 students helping them choose the right high school that fit their needs. She argues that small, community schools are the answer.
“Kids can go to the kind of school that’s right for them at that time, and then they can move on or move over. They can change their minds and grow up,” she states. “No one knows who they are going to be when they are 15 when they are 13.”
According to People for Education’s report, only 21 per cent of students taking applied math in grade nine went to college, and only 3 per cent went to university.
Fine says in response to the question of why the transition between middle school and high school is so difficult for the education system to get right, “I think it’s puberty and no one knows what to do with it,” she laughs. “It’s not only the children that don’t know, the adults don’t either.”
Kaci is now eight years out of secondary school, and he finds himself in a very tough position because of the classes he does not remember choosing in grade 8. Ideally, Kaci would like to pursue computers and go into video-game design, but finds he does not fulfill the admissions requirements for these programs.
“You don’t have to take Grade 11 or 12 math to graduate,” Kaci said. “But you can’t do anything even slightly technical, like nursing or business or anything with computers, without it. It leaves me in a difficult position now, where I have to take adult school or do a standardized test.”
People for Education’s report argues in favour of those in Kaci’s situation.
“…[S]tudents are expected to make decisions before they have any experience with high school life and the opportunities that are available to them,” the report states. “Perhaps most importantly, evidence indicates that grade 8 is simply too early to require course decisions that could be potentially binding.”
With over 900 high schools in Ontario, more than 145,000 incoming grade-nine students are affected by these provincial policies every year.