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Ontario

Choosing academic or applied courses gets failing grade from parent group

By Kelly Pedro, The London Free Press

Grade 8 pupils are too young to choose between academic and applied courses in high school, a parent advocacy group says.

Grade 8 pupils are too young to choose between academic and applied courses in high school, a parent advocacy group says.

LONDON, Ont. -- Thousands of Grade 8 students will soon choose between taking academic or applied courses in high school next September, but a parent advocacy group is pushing the province to hold off on forcing young teens to make those types of choices.

The early division is detrimental, especially for those who come from disadvantaged families, said Annie Kidder, executive director People for Education.

The group released a report Monday detailing how dividing students between two streams in Grade 9 is harmful.

"Most 13-year-olds don't have a long-term view," Kidder said. "A lot of them think, 'I'm just going to take applied because it's easier'."

Because the decisions are so crucial to the rest of a student's time in high school and beyond, People for Education is pushing the government to group students in one general curriculum until Grade 9 or 10 and then let them choose a stream.

Along with that, students should take courses in learning skills and be taught the importance of perseverance and hard work, People for Education says.

Kidder said Ontario should follow the lead of Poland, which delayed the streaming of students by a year. The country boosted math scores and moved up in international education rankings, passing Ontario.

"Choosing when you're 13 is too young and not good for students' chances of success," she said.

Until the province decides whether to hold off forcing students to choose between applied and academic courses, schools and school boards should do more to ensure families understand the impact of such an important decision, Kidder said.

"Parents worry about their kids going to high school because they're going to be on their own and go out for lunch... They should be much more worried about the fact that they're going to high school and they're having to make these decisions about courses that are really going to have a long-term impact."

Kidder has an ally in London District Catholic school board trustee Linda Steel.

She said as a parent it was a challenge helping her daughters pick the courses that offered them the greatest flexibility later on.

"I think we're putting a huge amount of pressure on young people."

Those decisions can be even harder for parents who struggle with English as a second language, Steel said.

Ontario officially did away with dividing high school students between the academic and applied streams in 1999.

Though theoretically students can mix and match between the two, the data shows students who take Grade 9 applied math, for example, take most of their high school courses in applied.

"So they in fact end up in a stream, rather than a mixture of applied and academic," Kidder said.

The decision is an important one because some research suggests students in applied courses are less likely to graduate. Only 59% of students in the Toronto District school board who took applied math graduated from high school and most never apply to college.

According to provincial math testing results, only 44% of students in applied courses pass and just over half of applied students pass the high school literacy test.

Steel said she thinks school boards should have dedicated information nights for parents -- with translators on hand -- to help them understand their options involving courses.

Parents should stay involved in course selection in high school and make appointments with the guidance counsellor to understand a student's end game, she said.

kelly.pedro@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/KellyatLFPress

 

Fact Box

THE ISSUE

- Students in Grade 8 are deciding now if they will take applied or academic courses next year in high school

- the major difference between applied and academic courses is that academic courses prepare students for university

- the advocacy group People for Education says high school students should take a general curriculum for at least a year before deciding what type of courses to take

 

Poll

Do you think high school students should take a general curriculum in Grade 9?


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