If a child is struggling, put her in a lower stream where she can learn at a more comfortable pace. It seems logical, but research shows that these perceived benefits are not that clear cut.
Almost no research has been done on streaming in South African schools. However, international research shows that it hinders the slower students as they feel stigmatised and excluded, and lose motivation to improve their school marks.
The kids who struggle the most tend to be allocated the least qualified, least experienced and least motivated teachers. Teachers of these classes make two errors: first, they do not make demands of the kids, believing them to be incapable of improving, and secondly they often do not cover the entire syllabus, resulting in the learners falling very far behind year after year, and finally dropping out.
The best students are not markedly improved through streaming either. Although there is a definite trend that the top students get the best, most qualified and most experienced teachers, these students are not considerably aided by having this exclusive access. They will succeed given almost any circumstances.
There is some evidence that medium kids benefit but no more so than if you reduced class size. That would be a much better way of improving the standards of learner’s grades.
Most teachers would agree that teaching a group of learners with similar ability levels is much easier and they feel a sense of progress more readily than in a mixed group. But perhaps they may not be aware of the psychological impact streaming has on the children in the long term.
Streaming usually occurs in English, maths and science as these are traditionally considered the ultimate tests of a person’s intelligence.
Research on streaming in South Africa would entail tracking children for a number of years, as a result the cost and time restraints are significant and have prevented any research being done in this area to date. However, it would be very useful to track children who are being streamed to know what the South African realities are and whether they are any different to international results.
On that note: gender streaming is said to have had a useful impact on girls’ success in maths and science in African schools!
Also notable is that white children who have had access to resources (books, internet, educated parents who can assist them with homework, no chores at home etc) which allow them to succeed in the school environment might legitimately get streamed into a top class based on their marks.
And then the black, more economically disadvantaged learners may be getting worse marks, based on lack of resources at home, second language teaching etc and thus get streamed into a lower class.
This may appear racially motivated but what if the principal allocates the best teacher to the worst students? This is in the best interests of the child so is it wrong? It is indeed a murky area is it not?
Is streaming a good thing for learners?