TORONTO — Ontario is doing away with an educational practice long criticized for disproportionately targeting high school students from racialized backgrounds, the provincial government said Monday.

Streaming, which asks students to choose between pursuing academic or applied courses upon entering the secondary-school system, has drawn criticism at home and abroad for entrenching inequity into the province’s education system.

The province also plans to end school suspensions for students in junior kindergarten to Grade 3.

The Education Ministry did not immediately provide details on the policy shift or the rationale behind it, but Premier Doug Ford said it was intended to bring Ontario’s education in line with the rest of the country while ending a discriminatory practice.

“We’re the only province in the entire country that does this, and it’s really not fair to certain groups of students,” Ford said at a news conference.

Ford said the practice of streaming was “almost stigmatizing” for students pursuing the applied track of study, which traditionally does not allow participants to graduate with the qualifications necessary to pursue university studies.

Ford said about 50 per cent of Ontario’s Black students wind up in the applied stream, a number much lower than the rest of the student population.

Several published academic papers have raised concerns about streaming and its effects on students from a range of marginalized communities.

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The United Nations also sounded the alarm in a 2017 report from its Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent. The report addressed what it described as ongoing, institutionalized racism in the education system and its long-lasting consequences.

“Race-based stereotypes about African Canadian students’ scholastic ability have had a devastating impact,” the report read, noting Black students were more likely to be directed away from academic streams. “The quality of education received and the outcome of their educational experiences affects the employment and income potential of African Canadians.”

Ford pointed to another frequently raised concern about the practice, noting students are being asked to make choices with life-long ramifications too early on their educational paths. 

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“You’re asking a 14-year-old child to make a decision in Grade 9 about their high school career and post-secondary schools that they’re going to,” he said. “I just don’t think it’s right. It’s a broken system.”

Even without details in place, praise poured in for the preliminary announcement.

People for Education, a group that advocates for an inclusive public education system in Ontario, said academics and advocates have been calling for an end to streaming for years.

″(The practice) closes doors for thousands of students — more likely to be Black or Indigenous (or who) attend school in lower income neighbourhoods,” the group said in a tweet where it went on to describe the government’s plan as “good news.”

Ontario Green party Leader Mike Schreiner also offered words of approval.

“I support any decision to end discriminatory practices and build anti-racism into the fabric of our school system,” he said in a statement. “I am glad the education system is being re-evaluated through an anti-racist perspective so that we do a better job of closing the gaps between students.”

Ford suggested more details on the move away from streaming would be released later in the week, though no specific date was immediately provided.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 6, 2020.