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This study will seek to address the concept of streaming for the new economy by addressing the positive and negative effects of streaming as well as its implication on the education sector. Streaming within the field of education refers to how students are grouped or separated based on their academic ability and knowledge level skills.
Streaming which is otherwise known as tracking in the United States, involves teachers and school administrators assigning various classes to the school population by examining the overall academic accomplishment of individual students in the school curriculum and categorising their achievements in terms of below average, normal and above average,.
Through streaming, students with similar learning capabilities are taught within classes that foster the same learning techniques and academic ability. This type of tracking is usually done for younger students who are in middle school or junior high while the tracking done for older students is mostly based on the subjects that the students are taught within the classroom (Taylor and Krahn 103).
According to Taylor and Krahn (104), students who have been placed in academically advanced streams or tracks cover subjects such as higher mathematics, foreign language studies such as French, Spanish or German classes and literary works. Students who have been placed in lower academic tracks cover the more technical aspects of learning where they acquire vocational skills such as carpentry, welding, bookkeeping or typing skills.
Streaming differs from ability grouping where the scale and permanence of tracking students is of a long-term and permanent nature while that of ability grouping is often short-term in nature as it never lasts longer than a normal school year. Ability groups are usually small and informal groups set up by classroom facilitators and teachers during certain lessons so that students are able to help each other when it comes to difficult classroom assignments (Hyland 65).
An example of ability groups within the classroom setting is when a Maths teacher decides to separate students into various groups based on their learning capabilities and levels. Students who did not understand the previous classroom lesson might be placed in one group while those who are ready to learn new class material might be placed in another group.
The instructor might decide to take on a new ability group in the next Mathematics lesson where he/she groups students who have a higher academic capability with those who have a low capability of grasping new concepts.
Advantages of Streaming/Tracking
Streamed classes are beneficial for most teachers when it comes to coordinating their lessons where they are able to design lessons that will meet the specific learning abilities of every student within the class stream. Streaming ensures that students who are gifted are able to obtain positive results in their academic work especially if they are placed within streams that have been designed for gifted and talented students.
Streaming also ensures that students with a higher intellectual capacity are able to learn within the same classroom environment as those who possess similar learning capabilities. This is beneficial for these students (top performers) as it allows them to be adequately challenged while at the same time utilising the intellectual potential of their peers to achieve academic success (Hyland 65).
Streaming is also beneficial to students as it measures a student’s abilities on the same level of learning thereby reducing cases of low self-esteem for students who are poor academic achievers and have been placed in high performing classrooms. Streaming also reduces the incidence of teachers, instructors or students comparing their educational achievements with those of their peers who have a higher learning capability.
Taylor and Krahn (104) note that since high self-esteem is directly related to the academic achievement of students, it leads to the academic success of students in their educational pursuits.
Students who learn within tracks are also able to improve on their learning strategies where learning together with students who possess the same academic ability ensures that they are able to move forward in their course work.
Placing low performing children together in tracked classes ensures that they are able to improve on their performance as the class instructors are able to develop programs that will emphasize the academic growth of students. It also encourages low performing students to participate in class activities as they don’t face any intimidation from their peers who perform well academically (Hyland 66).
Disadvantages of Streaming
One negative aspect of streaming/tracking is that it tends to categorise students in terms of their status within the society. Children from low-income backgrounds might be placed in the low track classes while those from upper-income families might be put in the upper-track classrooms which in the end leads to a disproportionate placement of students in class streams that do not reflect their learning capabilities.
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Several researchers have highlighted the fact that tracking or streaming leads to cases of disproportionate placement where students from poor or minority backgrounds are placed in the lower track classes. There is also the disproportionate placement of teachers within the streamed classes where the most experienced teachers are appointed to teach the high track classes while teachers who have limited or no experience are usually assigned to teach in the low track classes.
High status teachers therefore provide quality education and learning strategies to the high track students which increases their chances of educational success while low status teachers provide education that is average given that they possess poor organization and teaching skills (Hyland 66).
Another negative effect of streaming is that the curricula used in the low and high stream classes is varied and different where the lessons taught in the low-track classes lack any form of engagement and comprehensiveness in the course material. This puts the lower stream students at a disadvantage especially when it comes to competing for college admission with their higher track counterparts who have the necessary skills and knowledge needed by most colleges and universities.
Based on studies conducted by researchers such as Oakes, Billings, Lucas and Rios, high-track teachers used course material that required extensive critical thinking skills on the part of the students while the low-track teachers borrowed most of their course material from workbooks and teaching aids which made it difficult for them to provide useful practical applications of the course content to their students (Hyland 68).
Because of the minimal experience low-track teachers have when it comes to educational matters, cases of indiscipline are more common in these classes when compared to those in high track classes which are limited and infrequent. Studies have revealed that students in the low stream classes present behavioural concerns to their teachers and instructors.
These behavioural concerns stem from the apparent segregation or separation from their colleagues who have high performing intellectual capabilities and also the perceptions the school administration has of them which is that of low performers. Teachers who deal with low performing students are faced with the challenge of dealing with such behavioural concerns as well as self esteem issues which might plague many of the students in these classes.
Lower and upper stream tracking also affects the type of relationships that exist between students within the school environment. Students who belong to the same class track are more than likely to develop certain perceptions and attitudes against students from the upper track classes.
Based on studies conducted by Gamoran in 1992 on tracking and school relationships, students from lower track course groups are more than likely to form acquaintances with their peers who are in the similar course group than establish connections with other pupils from who happen to not be in the same course group like them (Taylor and Krahn 106).
Tracking also leads to stigmatization especially for the low-track students who are already viewed as underachievers by their peers within the school context. Stigmatization poses a negative impact on the academic performance of students which further erodes their confidence in the achievement of academic goals and objectives.
According to Hyland (68), students who were in both the lower and upper track classes lacked any form of dialogue with their class instructors when compared to students who were taught in integrative classrooms that fostered an environment for discussion. The reasons given for this is that track teachers impose a certain mindset in their students where they stimulate the academic performance of their students for either a positive or negative outcome.
Implications of Streaming
The major implication of tracking is the quality of education that is offered to students who have been placed in the low and high track classes. The question of who benefits the most from streaming exercises arises especially when the level of education offered in both streams is different.
This discussion has been able to ascertain that students from lower track classes receive sub par curricula content when compared to students from the higher track classes. Streamed classes also create a segregated school environment where students are separated or categorised based on their learning capabilities and also their social status within the general society. This type of educational imbalance according to Hyland (65) creates streaming structures that foster inequality and limit opportunities for the lower track students.
Based on the advantages and disadvantages of streaming, the implications of this concept on the education of students’ results in a change in their educational outcomes based on the type of streams or track classes the students have been assigned to. Streaming or tracking makes it difficult for students to assess equal educational opportunities as high performing students are given better educational content when compared to the low performing students.
The implications of streaming within the educational system means that the goals and objectives set by most institutions of learning will not be met especially in the event a school has established its foundation with the goal of providing equitable education for all students. Schools have to adjust their educational structures so that they can be able to accommodate both high and low track schools while at the same time ensuring the quality of education within the school has not been compromised or lowered in any way.
How Streaming Works in the Educational System
The form that streaming takes within the educational context usually depends on the level of schooling that the student population has. For example in the elementary level, students are streamed according to their learning abilities and potential. Students who are termed as slow or disabled learners are placed in special educational streams where their learning disabilities will be met.
Students who are in the secondary level are streamed based on the various types of courses available as well as the different levels of courses that they can undertake. Generally, students at the more advanced stages of learning usually select different levels of course subjects and they also choose different course options that will meet their learning capabilities (Davies and Guppy 275)
The decisions that affect the distribution of students within the streams or tracks are usually made at the school district level. Administrators usually encourage students to make their own decisions with regards to which streams they would like to join based on their previous course grades as well as advice from the class instructors.
This according to Oakes et al (482) means that the streaming process within schools is a largely informal process that originates from a need by students and teachers to achieve academic excellence through increasing their learning capabilities and potential. The authors however highlight the fact that streaming within educational institutions might vary from one school to another and the process itself might not even reflect the educational policies and goals of the school.
The aspects that are considered when conducting the streaming or tracking process include hegemony and individualism where hegemony refers to the process of domination acquired through the consent of the general population from the consent of the dominant class. Hegemony is demonstrated in the tracked classrooms where knowledge is organized and presented in a different way between the lower and upper tracked classes.
The curriculum according to hegemony is usually arranged and transmitted to students according to their learning capabilities and potential. Individualism refers to how the learning process places some restrictions and limitations on what a student can achieve during learning. Upper and lower track classes demonstrate varied levels of individualism where course instructors assign various types of assignments or classroom tasks to their students based on their learning capabilities (Wotherspoon 130).
Davies, Scott and Guppy, Neil. “The schooled society: an introduction to the sociology of Education. Toronto, Canada: Oxford University Press, 2006.
Hyland, Nora. “De-tracking in the social studies: a path to a more democratic education?” .Theory into Practice, 45.1 (2006): 64-71.
Oakes, Jeannie, Amy Stuart Wells and Makeba Jones. “De-tracking: the social construction of ability, cultural politics and resistance to reform. Teachers College Record, 98 (1997):482-510
Taylor, Alison and Krahn, Harvey. “Streaming in/ for the new economy”. Canadian perspectives on the sociology of education. Ed. Levine Rasky Toronto, Canada: Oxford University Press, 2009. 103-123
Wotherspoon, Terry. The sociology of education in Canada: critical perspectives. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1998.