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No more streaming at sec schools: Some cheer, but concerns remain

SINGAPORE — The move by the Ministry of Education (MOE) to completely do away with streaming in secondary schools by 2024 and to replace it with subject-based banding was largely met with praise from academics, parents and teachers.

No more streaming at sec schools: Some cheer, but concerns remain

Analysts said that just because streaming is removed, it is not going to completely eradicate the labels and stigma that students get.

SINGAPORE — The move by the Ministry of Education (MOE) to completely do away with streaming in secondary schools by 2024 and to replace it with subject-based banding was largely met with praise from academics, parents and teachers.

However, the academics warned that the announcement will not be an overnight solution to counter the effects of students being labelled and stigmatised, with one saying that society has to adjust its attitudes in tandem with the changes.

Still, these measures will go some way in nudging people in the right direction, those interviewed by TODAY said.

On Tuesday (March 5), MOE said that it will be scrapping the streaming system, which has been around for four decades, by 2024.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said at the parliamentary debate on his ministry’s budget that from 2027, students will no longer sit for the GCE O-Level or N-Level examinations, but will take a common national examination and certification.

WHAT PARENTS SAY

Pupils who are in Primary 2 today will be the first to go through a streaming-free secondary school education.

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Their parents, such as brand manager Shirana Tahale, welcomed the move.

Calling it a “refreshing change”, the 37-year-old, whose two children are in Primary 1 and 2 this year, said: “It seems more tailored to the students’ individual subject needs.”

Ms Elin Soo, 33, said: “Labelling and stigmatisation will decrease for sure.”

The sales director, who has two daughters in Primary 1 and Kindergarten 1, added: “Parents will also not need to stress their kids over weaker subjects just to get them to keep up. (Better-performing) students will be able to learn better and slower students are given more time.”

IT manager Lynette Ho, 35, whose son is now in Primary 2, said that if the present system remains, her son may be “moved to a lower stream” in secondary school if he did not do well in certain subjects, but with the new curriculum, he would be able to take a mix of higher- and lower-level subjects.

There are still concerns, though, even if the move is well-intended, the parents said.

Ms Tahale said that the changes might not fully eliminate the labelling that students get, especially since the type of school they go to is also a form of label.

Another 37-year-old, a housewife who wanted to be known only as Mrs Oh, said: “Parents and peers will definitely find ways to compare the performance of students. If a (child) takes more foundational (G1) subjects than others, will he or she still face the same discrimination that streaming brings?”

Under the new subject-based banding system, each subject will be classified into three levels: General 1 (G1), General 2 (G2), and General 3 (G3).

They will replace the Normal (Technical), Normal (Academic) and Express streams that exist today.

Students can then take subjects at different levels according to their abilities.

WHAT ACADEMICS AND TEACHERS SAY

Analysts said that just because streaming is removed, it is not going to completely eradicate the labels and stigma that students get. The change in attitude towards students who are different learners is not going to come overnight.

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Associate Professor Jason Tan from the National Institute of Education (NIE) said that Tuesday’s announcements “is implicit recognition that streaming tended to be rather crude… (in the sense that) it was not sufficiently refined”.

“It tells us that many of (the students) were unnecessarily pigeonholed,” Assoc Prof Tan added.

He told TODAY that the latest changes are a “logical progression” of the series of measures that MOE has rolled out over the past two decades or so.

It already reformed streaming at the primary school level and pushed out subject-based banding at some secondary schools, before a full roll-out for this new banding system by 2023.

Dr Timothy Chan, director of SIM Global Education's academic division, said that subject-based banding “provides flexibility” for students, who would otherwise be stuck in “fixed streams”.

Dr Chan said that at the macro level, such a move is in line with pedagogical developments and “falls rightly into the ability-driven landscape” in education now.

NIE’s Assoc Prof Tan is concerned that “there will be a replacement of one kind of stigma (associated with streaming) with another kind” — that of subject combinations that students take in school.

This might lead to a scenario where parents, or students, compare how many higher-level subjects they take, or aim for the “maximum number of G3 (higher-level) subjects”, he added.

He noted that it would still be “a competitive education system” and that the choice of subject bands “will have consequences for progression to post-secondary options”.

Another point that Assoc Prof Tan raised was the small number of secondary schools that only have Express stream classes. The changes will not affect them directly, but “in the context of ‘Every School a Good School’” that MOE emphasises, he wondered if there could be room to “move away from the idea that top-end schools are deemed better”.

Dr Chan said that another challenge that could arise would be administrative in nature.

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“If you allow the fluidity (in the system), then there will be an impact on teaching resources.”

A teacher from Ang Mo Kio Secondary School, who requested anonymity as he is not allowed to speak to the media, said that removing streaming will reduce but not eliminate stigmatisation.

“Some of the elements relating to admission to secondary schools and also in the subject-based banding system are still mapped to the three streams. So, there is still categorisation in a way.

“Notwithstanding that, I think MOE is trying to blur the lines even more than before and that is a good thing. This goes a long way in reducing stigma, but I don’t think the stigma will be removed completely even with this major move.”

For the changes to have the intended effect, Assoc Prof Tan from NIE said that it has to “take place in tandem with a review of social attitudes”, especially because the latest changes were not mere “structural changes”.

“(It) needs to be accompanied by a change in social attitudes among a variety of stakeholders,” he added.

WHAT MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT SAY

Members of Parliament (MPs) who have long lobbied for streaming to be abolished cheered MOE’s move on Tuesday.

Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar, MP for Ang Mo Kio Group Representation Constituency (GRC), told TODAY that she was “overjoyed and grateful”.

“As I said in my speech (on Monday), streaming has served its purpose... Now we need to cater for ability-driven and inclusive education.”

Dr Intan was among four MPs who, on Monday, called on the MOE to scrap streaming, saying that the practice affects students' self-esteem and limits their potential.

Jalan Besar GRC MP Denise Phua, who is also chairperson of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, said that the “wise and bold move… is a long time coming, but finally a sacred cow slain”.

“(This) will reap multi-fold benefits. (It) removes the unhealthy stigma of labelling, paves the way for social mixing beyond academic profiling, yet retains academic rigour through subject-based banding,” Ms Phua said.

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