Friday, 5 February 2016

Integrated Programme: About 6% of students likely to not finish IP

They switch to O-level track or go elsewhere; MOE says IP may not be the best route for everyone
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 4 Feb 2016

Even as 4,000 primary school leavers entered the Integrated Programme (IP) this year, around 6 per cent, or 240, can be expected to drop out before they complete the six-year programme.

They will switch instead to the O-level track in the IP school, or move to other junior colleges, polytechnics and private institutions.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, the Ministry of Education has revealed that around 6 per cent of students leave the IP before graduation.

MOE based the figures on the cohort of around 3,000 students who entered IP schools in 2008 and would have graduated in 2013.

It also revealed that of those who complete the six years leading to the A levels or the International Baccalaureate exams, less than 5 per cent fail to qualify for local universities.

It declined to give more detailed figures. But putting together the two figures, between 200 and 300 youngsters of the 2008 batch failed to thrive on the programme.

MOE explained that the IP may not be the best route for everyone. "There could be a small number who may not find this to be the most suited to their strengths and learning styles," it said.

The IP started in 2004 at eight schools, including Raffles Institution (RI), Hwa Chong Institution and Raffles Girls' School. It was aimed at the top 10 per cent of students, who were clearly bound for university.

Students skip the O levels and shoot straight for the A levels or International Baccalaureate. This was to provide a seamless secondary and junior college education, giving students the space to develop intellectual curiosity and other talents.

The scheme, especially as it was run at the top-performing secondary schools, became so popular that pupils and parents clamoured to get on board. More schools responded by offering the IP.

Currently 18 schools offer the IP, although those that started the programme later also offer the four-year O-level track and let students transfer from one to the other.

Recognising that not all thrive in the IP, top schools such as RI, Hwa Chong Institution and Nanyang Girls' High started running O-level classes for students who fail to cope.

Those lagging are identified at the end of Secondary 2 and advised to go into the O-level class. A few who do well enough are admitted back into the JC level in the same school. If not, they leave for polytechnics or other JCs.

Most of the 20 students interviewed by The Straits Times who had left brand-name schools offering the IP, or stayed on but fared poorly, said that they were unsure of the merits of the IP. These students were not just those who were taken in because of their sporting or co- curricular achievements. Several had PSLE scores well above 250.

A 22-year-old, who dropped out of the IP and now studies at the private Singapore Institute of Management, said: "I didn't do so well in the A levels, but I am still glad I was in the IP. I felt that I gained in other ways. I am doing well in my degree course, partly because the IP taught me research and analytical skills."

But like several others interviewed, he realised too late that he needed a more structured programme. He said: "I realise now that the IP suits students who have a lot of discipline. Given all that freedom, I sort of drifted."

Two others felt the IP was never for them. Said an 18-year-old who is now in a polytechnic and among the top students in her course: "I was pushed into it because it was a prestigious school.

"I realised it early on, but everyone, including my parents, thought I was crazy for wanting to drop out, so I stayed and wasted quite a few years."

No school, system can guarantee child's success

The Integrated Programme (IP) tries to encourage creative and critical thinking through more independent and exploratory learning instead of the rote-learning that most children are used to in primary school.

But the IP is not for everyone.

The more hands-off approach requires students to be more self-disciplined, to make use of the various opportunities and learn efficient time management.

Senior education correspondent Sandra Davie suggests that all IP schools run concurrent O-level and IP tracks from the start ("The O-level track of shame"; last Thursday).

This is a huge drain on resources and also prevents schools from specialising in just one scheme and improving it.

In any case, students usually want to go to these schools because they want to pursue the IP.

Furthermore, while in theory, students from both streams would be able to mingle and learn from one another, and thereby benefit from the diversity, the fact is that they will be in different classes and engaging in mostly different activities.

Schools have a duty to paint a more sober and realistic picture to potential students and their parents.

Much responsibility lies with parents too.

They have to realise that the IP uses a different pedagogy that may not suit their child.

The child must have some level of academic aptitude and self-discipline in order to thrive in this system.

This does not mean academically weaker students do not benefit and thrive in the IP system; they may struggle initially, but they must have the determination and discipline to trudge on.

Parents should not try to artificially fit their child into a particular school/system through Direct School Admission preparatory classes.

The child would end up having to expend much effort inhis co-curricular activity while, at the same time, trying to get used to a new environment with a different pedagogy.

This may be too draining for the child.

Most importantly, parents must realise that no school or system - be it the IP, O levels or International Baccalaureate - can guarantee that their child will succeed.

Ng Yee Ting
ST Forum, 10 Feb 2016

The O-level track of shame
Time for top IP schools like RI to embrace a dual track
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 4 Feb 2016

Three years ago, I requested information from Raffles Institution on its decision to open an O-level class.

RI, which had for years produced top O-level students, was among the first eight schools to offer the six-year Integrated Programme (IP) when it was launched in 2004. It is known as the "through-train" programme as it allows students to bypass the O levels and aim for the A levels or International Baccalaureate. The scheme was aimed at the top 10 per cent of students who are clearly bound for university. The idea, when it was launched, was to provide a seamless secondary and junior college education, giving students the space to develop intellectual curiosity and other talents.

But, over the years, a small group of RI students failed to thrive on the IP track. They would leave quietly for polytechnics or lesser-ranked junior colleges. Some would go on to sit the A levels, only to perform poorly. Their parents complained that they didn't even have an O-level certificate to fall back on.

So RI finally decided to open an O-level class for them.

However, back then, RI officials turned down my request for information on the move, claiming that the parents of the boys routed to the O-level class did not want their children to be interviewed for the story.

I was surprised to be turned down as, in a previous story, I had already reported on other top IP schools such as Hwa Chong Institution and Dunman High offering the O-level track and that RI was considering the same scheme.

As well, I was told that some of the boys were embarrassed and did not want to be featured in The Straits Times.

It was not just the parents and students. The school officials, too, did not want me to report on the details of the scheme and refused to tell me how many were routed to the track.

I checked RI's website again last week, and failed to find any reference to the O-level track, which leaves me to surmise that the school, which publicises the A-level results of its students, wants to keep mum about its O-level track and the students' results.

A school official, though, confirmed the results reported last month by online site The Middle Ground - only one out of the 10 boys who took the O levels last year did well enough to make it to a junior college. The other nine qualified for polytechnic studies.

It is not just RI keeping silent on its O-level offering. I don't see the other top IP schools, including Hwa Chong Institution and Nanyang Girls' High - which now offer the two routes - mentioning the O-level track or their students' results.

Why has the O-level track become the track of shame at top IP schools?

THE RISE AND RISE OF THE IP Because the IP scheme was run at premier schools like Raffles and Hwa Chong family of schools, soon more pupils and parents clamoured to get on board, and it gave rise to tuition centres specialising in helping top students make the cut-off score for IP schools. Several centres also launched courses to prepare students for the Direct School Admission scheme, which allows all schools, including those offering the IP, to take into account other abilities, such as in sports or arts.

Soon, other top secondary schools which were losing their best students to the IP, also jumped on the IP bandwagon. Currently 18 schools are offering the programme, although the schools that joined the scheme later offer both the O-level and IP track from Secondary 1.

But 12 years after the programme began, policymakers and educators face the prospect of the "through-train" IP having become a runaway train.

This is because of the effects it is having on students and parents' behaviour and the question of whether it still fulfils the original objective - to allow students the space to develop intellectual curiosity and joy for learning.

This is because not all students, however well they do in the PSLE, are suited for the IP.

The Ministry of Education has released some figures to The Straits Times. It said 6 per cent of students leave the IP before graduation. It also revealed that another small number - less than 5 per cent - who go on to sit the A levels or the International Baccalaureate do not do well enough to qualify for local universities.

Indeed, over the last two weeks, I spoke to over 20 students from the top IP schools who failed to thrive when undertaking the IP. None, not a single one of them, wanted to be named.

But they were open about what went wrong with their studies.

Surprisingly, those who fail to thrive on the IP are not just less academic youngsters who were taken on because of their sporting or co-curricular achievements. Several entered IP schools with Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) scores well above 250.

But now in hindsight, quite a few realised that they were not suited for the IP. They needed a more structured programme and needed a major examination, like the O levels, to hunker down and study.

One of them described it as being "academically adrift".

"I liked the IP. I got to do a lot of interesting things, but I also drifted - going from one interesting project to another. It hit me only when I failed my JC1 exams."

That means, annually, between 200 and 300 fail to thrive on the programme.

All this throws up the question of whether it is time for the top IP schools - the likes of RI, Hwa Chong, Nanyang Girls' High and Raffles Girls' Secondary - to openly offer both the IP and O-level track - starting straightaway from Secondary 1. They should also allow students to transfer across the two tracks.

Under the plan quietly offered currently by top IP schools like RI, students who lag behind academically are to be identified at the end of Secondary 2, and prepared for O levels over the next two years. The hope is that they would do well enough in the O levels to stay on in the school. Failing that, they can move on to another JC or a polytechnic.

The majority are students who have excelled in sports and they had made it to the school through the Direct School Admission scheme, which takes into account other abilities of students.

But it is time to be upfront about offering both schemes. RI and the other schools should give full information on both programmes and how the students performed in the final examinations. (Parents who have attended open houses at the top IP schools say they paint a rosy picture by publicising the stellar A-level results of their students. There is no mention of their O-level class, or of those who fail.)

They should also look into deploying teachers who are familiar with the O levels and good at preparing students.

Best of all, having an O-level track at schools like RI is also likely to increase the diversity of its student body. It would lead to a better mix of children entering the top IP schools, not just those with top scores and from privileged backgrounds.

JC syllabuses revamped to keep up with the times
Aim is to get students to apply knowledge to real world, expose them to current content
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 4 Feb 2016

The junior college (JC) syllabus has undergone its first revamp in a decade, affecting the 9,900 or so students who entered JC this year.

The changes in various subjects, from the humanities to sciences and mathematics, aim to get students to apply classroom knowledge to real-world contexts, and get exposed to more current content.

Students will also be tested on skills such as making connections between different topics.

For instance, they will need to draw links between physical and human geography, instead of just learning both fields separately.

For science students, the practical exam, which is worth 20 per cent of their total score, will be taken at the end of the two years of JC, instead of once each year. It is also expected to test a wider range of laboratory skills.

A-level subjects are divided into three tiers - H1, H2 and H3 - with the breadth of content increasing from H1 to H3.

Most students now take three H2 subjects and one H1 content-based subject, which has to be a contrasting subject outside a student's main area of specialisation.

They must also take General Paper, Mother Tongue - except for those who passed Higher Mother Tongue at O levels - and project work.

Most of the changes this year apply to the subjects at the H2 level.

In response to queries, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said the revised syllabuses aim to "strengthen students' interest and mastery of the subject, as well as their ability to think critically and apply their understanding in real-world contexts".

Teachers have been attending training workshops and discussions since last year to familiarise themselves with the changes.

For instance, geography students will learn the subject under three main themes: tropical environment, globalisation and sustainable development, instead of studying the physical and human aspects in isolation.

Ms Sabrina Teo, subject head of geography at Serangoon JC (SRJC), said: "We want students to see how topics relate to wider issues, and not study them in isolation.

"Everything is interconnected. For instance, there are atmospheric processes that contribute to flood impact, but you also need to look at population density, economic losses and management strategies."

For biology, two topics - infectious diseases and climate change - were added for their relevance to both global and local contexts.

Some topics, such as cell division and the control of gene expression, were taken out of the syllabus.

These are already taught in secondary school or are deemed more suitable for studies at the university level.

Mr Muhamad Salahuddin Ibrahim, a lead biology teacher at SRJC, said content has been reorganised so that students can see the links between themes such as genetics and inheritance, and the cell and biomolecules of life.

In mathematics, about 10 per cent of content has been cut to give teachers more time to explore with students how the subject can be applied in the real world.

This could mean learning sampling distributions and hypothesis testing through market research, or applying differential equations to issues such as population growth and radioactive decay.

Madam Loo Choy Fung, head of Nanyang JC's mathematics department, said: "It's good that teachers have more room for exercises in application. We sometimes neglect the application part. But mathematics is applied so widely in real life."

Meridian JC student Glendon Ng, 16, who is taking physics, chemistry and mathematics at the H2 level, said he thinks the changes in curriculum would prepare him better for work.

"Society and jobs are always changing, so memorising content is not going to be enough. We need to learn to apply skills instead," he said. "I don't see science as just a subject; it's more enjoyable to understand how it is relevant to daily life."

No comments:

Post a Comment