Thursday, 19 January 2012

Public support for ITE students 'a show of respect for others'

By Melissa Pang, The Straits Times, 19 Jan 2012

When a junior college student wrote to the media complaining that too much money was being spent on youngsters at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), he was immediately accused of elitism.

The 17-year-old's letter argued that 'our brightest students... should get the best facilities', prompting a storm of criticism online.

On Wednesday, Minister of State for Education Lawrence Wong said the fact that so many citizens reacted shows that Singaporeans value respect for others.

But the episode also highlights the work that needs to be done to mould young people's characters.

Mr Wong was responding to a question about elitism in schools by Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC).

The minister said the letter had 'sparked off a lively debate', with many Singaporeans coming forward to defend ITE students and make the case for why they deserve quality facilities.

'The public reaction shows that many of our people share the value of respect and care for others,' said Mr Wong.

'In particular, this episode highlights the importance of schools and community to continue working together to mould the character and values of our youth.'

Dr Intan asked what can be done to instil positive values in students segregated into different academic streams.

Mr Wong replied that the Education Ministry's approach has always been to help all children develop to their full potential and encourage social mobility. He said there is recognition that 'every child is different and that learning needs and abilities are different'.

That is why there are 'multiple pathways catered to the different abilities and needs of students'.

Mr Wong stressed that no one academic track is superior to another. 'That should not be the mindset,' he said. 'We should embrace all of these different learning pathways and as each person embarking on a particular pathway achieves success, we should embrace that broader definition of success in our society.'

Ms Denise Phua (Moulmein-Kallang GRC) suggested that the ministry consider pilot schemes that would allow children of varying academic abilities to interact during periods such as recess. This way, they could learn to mix from a young age, she said.

Mr Wong replied that he was open to exploring the idea, but most schools already allow children to interact in this way. He added that some students need special attention, and therefore benefit from a dedicated approach.

Non-Constituency MP Yee Jenn Yong asked whether more Normal (Technical) classes could be introduced in regular schools so students on this path can remain in the same school as children of other abilities.

Mr Wong replied that although there have been positive initial findings on how students fared at special schools, there are no plans to build more of them as they are still new.

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