Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Streaming into Normal and Express in secondary schools to stop in 2024; to be replaced by full subject-based banding

Subject-Based Banding (SBB) to replace streaming in schools
Students can take up subjects at higher or lower levels, and graduate with common cert
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Mar 2019

Forty years after streaming was introduced in secondary schools, the Ministry of Education has taken the momentous step to do away with the Normal (Technical), Normal (Academic) and Express streams.

In their place will be full subject-based banding, in which students take subjects, at a higher or lower level, based on their strengths.


The ministry will start full subject-based banding in about 25 schools next year, and apply it to all secondary schools by 2024.

All Secondary 1 students in the 2024 batch will take subjects at three levels - G1, G2 or G3, with G standing for "General". G1 will roughly correspond to today's N(T) standard, G2 to N(A) standard and G3 to Express standard.



Through their time in school, and as they further develop their strengths and interests, they will be able to take a combination of subjects across different bands.

When they reach Sec 4 in 2027, the students will take a common examination and graduate with a common secondary school certificate which will be co-branded by Singapore and Cambridge.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said: "With full subject-based banding implemented, form classes reorganised across the board and a combined secondary education certificate, we would have effectively merged Express, N(A) and N(T) streams into a single course. The Express, N(A) and N(T) streams, and their labels, will therefore be phased out.

"So, from three education streams, we will now have 'one secondary education, many subject bands'. We will no longer have fishes swimming down three separate streams, but one broad river, with each fish negotiating its own journey."



With students taking up subjects of varying combinations, the ministry hopes schools will group students in different ways and not just academic abilities. This will bring more social mixing and encourage students to help one another.

Explaining why the ministry was doing away with the Normal-Express divide, Mr Ong said that streaming was introduced 40 years ago during an "efficiency-driven phase" to cut down on student dropout rates.

Attrition rates have come down from about a third of every cohort in the 1970s to less than 1 per cent now. At the same time, the ministry recognises that there are downsides to streaming, said Mr Ong.

"Entering a stream that is considered 'lower' can carry a certain stigma that becomes fulfilling or self-limiting. Students can develop a mindset where they tell themselves, 'I am only a Normal stream student, so this is as good as I can be'," he said, pointing out how, over the years, several MPs have brought up these pernicious effects of streaming.



This point was also highlighted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a Facebook post yesterday, when he said that streaming has some drawbacks: "It lacks flexibility, and students in the slower streams may become demotivated. Banding overcomes these difficulties, while enabling each student to learn at the pace which suits their aptitude and level, depending on the subject."

Mr Ong said that while there are some students who are very strong in every academic subject, most have uneven strengths, and even specific weaknesses. "It is just the way humans are. The challenge of our education system is to cater to that."

But the move to do away with streams is not the culling of a sacred cow, but rather an incremental move, he added.

Over the years, subject-based banding was gradually extended, and Normal stream students who took higher-level subjects have performed comparably to their Express counterparts.



Mr Ong said the ministry has been grappling with this trade-off - between customisation and stigmatisation - adding that changes should be thought through in education.

He said: "We should never stay frozen for a long period, only to make sudden big changes years later. So, any change analogous to the slaughtering of any animal is most likely a bad idea."

He ended his speech by saying that in making this change, the ministry was guided by the belief "that no child's fate is fixed, and in an environment that encourages growth and development, and promotes holistic education, they will fulfil their potential to be sons and daughters of Singapore whom we are proud of".
















Streaming into Normal and Express in secondary schools to stop in 2024: 8 things to know
The Straits Times, 5 Mar 2019

The Ministry of Education (MOE) will do away with the Normal (Technical), Normal (Academic) and Express streams in secondary schools by 2024.

Instead, there will be full subject-based banding, in which students will take up subjects at higher or lower levels, based on their strengths.



The ministry will start full subject-based banding in about 25 schools next year and progressively apply it to all secondary schools, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said in Parliament on Tuesday (March 5) during the debate on the ministry's budget.

Here is what you need to know:

1. WILL SCHOOLS CONTINUE TO ORGANISE STUDENTS INTO FORM CLASSES BASED ON ACADEMIC BANDS?

With full subject-based banding, students will take each subject at a level suited to their ability. The ministry said it expects to see more students taking combinations of subjects at different levels, unlike today where most students take subjects at the level of their "stream". This gives schools a chance to reconstitute their form classes in different ways.

Doing so will allow students of different backgrounds to grow and learn together, form deeper friendships and work well together. The pilot schools will be trying out new ways of organising students in both form and subject classes. Best practices can be adopted by more schools later on.


2. IF MY CHILD IS DOING WELL ACADEMICALLY, WILL HE OR SHE BE DISADVANTAGED NOW THAT THE FORM CLASS HAS STUDENTS OF DIFFERENT ABILITIES?

Students doing well academically will not be disadvantaged, said MOE.

For each subject, students will be taught in subject classes based on their ability levels. Students in the same subject class are already assessed to be able to study that subject at the same level, whether G1, G2 or G3 - so there will not be a major gap in learning abilities.

Within the same class, teachers will also further differentiate their teaching to meet the needs of the class, which is no different from today. Each student will still be challenged to learn based on his or her individual pace.



3. HOW WILL THE SECONDARY SCHOOL POSTING SYSTEM CHANGE?

Mr Ong said MOE has decided that it is better not to disrupt the current posting system. This means that secondary schools should continue to admit students across three PSLE scoring bands, even though the streams have been merged.

"PSLE still serves as a useful initial gauge of the subject bands that each student is most suited for at the beginning of Sec 1. So students admitted in the first PSLE scoring band will initially take mostly G1 subjects, those in the second PSLE scoring band will take mostly G2 subjects, and those in the third take mostly G3 subjects. Admitting students across three PSLE score bands will allow schools to offer subjects of all bands," said Mr Ong.


Once they enter secondary school, the students can discover and further develop their strengths and interests, and full subject-based banding will allow them to take a combination of subjects across different bands.

There is also an important social consideration, he explained.

"Admitting students from different PSLE scoring bands into the same secondary school will ensure that our students get to make friends from diverse backgrounds. Indeed, one of the key objectives of education is forging a cohesive society."


4. IF STUDENTS CAN CUSTOMISE THEIR EDUCATION UNDER FULL SUBJECT-BASED BANDING, WHY DO WE STILL NEED TO POST STUDENTS INTO SECONDARY SCHOOLS ACROSS THREE SCORING BANDS, WHICH SEEMS SIMILAR TO STREAMING?

The transition from Primary 6 to Sec 1 is significant for all students. Thus, it is important to ensure that students learn successfully by taking subjects suited to their learning pace and needs, said MOE.

Students' PSLE scores still serve as a useful gauge of the pace of learning that students are most suited for at the beginning of Sec 1. But this is just at the point of admission to Sec 1 to match the suite of subjects to the students' ability then.

Beyond Sec 1, with full subject-based banding, students will be able to take more subjects at a different or more demanding level, depending on how well they do for those subjects. It will also give students more opportunities to interact and forge friendships with peers from different backgrounds.



5. WILL THERE STILL BE SEC 5?

By 2024, all students enrolling into Sec 1 will go through a four-year curriculum for all subject bands.

"At the end of Sec 4, in 2027, these students will attain the common certificate with various subject permutations - six G3 subjects and one G2 subject, or five G3 and two G2, or two G3, three G2 and one G1, and so on," said Mr Ong.

"This will require us to undertake a review of our post-secondary posting system, so that students taking a combination of G1, G2 and G3 subjects can be fairly considered for ITE, polytechnics and JCs. Our review will recognise students' particular strengths that make them suitable for specific post-secondary courses."

As 2024 is a few years away, Mr Ong said the ministry will use this time to undertake this review.

MOE will also explore other alternatives to a fifth year in secondary schools, which may be like the Polytechnic Foundation Programme that helps students who have completed their secondary school education enter polytechnics or JCs.


6. ARE TEACHERS ABLE TO MANAGE THE TEACHING LOAD AND GIVE EVERY STUDENT THE ATTENTION HE OR SHE NEEDS?

While the introduction of subject-based banding has led to a slight increase in the overall teaching load, schools have successfully piloted new measures to implement the banding system in a way that is both effective and sustainable.

For example, schools may band classes for timetabling together, so that subject-based banding students can join subject classes at the more demanding level.

Schools also leverage the Student Learning Space to provide bridging support to subject-based banding students. This ensures teachers do not work significantly longer hours and can perform at their best.

Still, teachers may have to use different teaching styles to engage the students from different scoring bands. Teachers are trained to handle diversity within their classes and to bring out the best in every child.

MOE will continue to support teachers by providing them with resources and additional professional development to help them manage the wider range of students with full subject-based banding.


7. HOW WILL ADMISSION TO POST-SECONDARY EDUCATION INSTITUTIONS CHANGE UNDER FULL SUBJECT-BASED BANDING?

Admission to these institutions already recognises the efforts of students who take out-of-stream subjects.

MOE will conduct a longer-term study on how admission to these institutions should be adjusted to complement the roll-out of full subject-based banding, to achieve the best educational outcomes for students. Refinements to the admission criteria for JCs, polytechnics and the ITE will be announced separately later.


8. WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO SPECIALISED SCHOOLS LIKE SPECTRA AND CREST?

Spectra and Crest currently take in only N(T) students.

Schools with specialised programmes, such as NUS High School, the School of Science and Technology, and Integrated Programme schools, take in only Express students.

Will MOE mandate that they take in students across three PSLE bands? Mr Ong said there is value in having certain schools with specialised programmes.

"Every education system in the world will have schools that cater specifically to different segments of learners, such as those with high academic ability, strengths in specific areas, or who prefer a more technical education," he said.



But he admitted that the downside is the lack of mixing in these more specialised schools.

He said they must make a special effort to recruit students from all backgrounds, including through Direct School Admissions.

"They will have to ensure that students participate actively in inter-school mixing opportunities, such as combined schools CCAs, Outward Bound School camps, and Values-in-Action projects. I can see many of the principals from the specialised schools working very hard to do better in this aspect."

At the same time, there is also scope for these specialised schools to offer more subject options. Spectra and Crest, he said, should offer more N(A) compared to today, and could possibly also offer a few Express-level subjects.

"Similarly, in time, it will also make sense for the schools that take in only Express students to offer some subjects at the N(A) or N(T) level," said Mr Ong. "After all, customisation of education, and catering more flexibly to the varied interests and abilities of students, will benefit them."

















MOE FY2019 Committee of Supply Debate

Parliament: Streaming helped reduce school dropout rates, says Ong Ye Kung
Social stratification would have been worse without it, but the system also had downsides
By Amelia Teng, Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Mar 2019

There have been concerns about the Normal stream and its negative side effects, but without streaming, social stratification would have worsened, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said yesterday.

In the early years of Singapore's independence in the 1970s, a third of every cohort dropped out of school. Today, the figure is less than 1 per cent. "So, I urge members not to casually juxtapose social stratification with streaming. Without reducing attrition through streaming, social stratification would have been far worse," said Mr Ong.

The Normal (Technical) stream, which was introduced in 1994, contributed significantly to this outcome, he said, adding: "Till today, we are still benefiting from the legacy of the 'efficiency-driven' education system."



Streaming was introduced from the 1980s to arrest the high school attrition rate, he said. "We were concerned about the huge number of dropouts who could not read or write at the end of primary school. We had to move away from a one-size-fits-all education system because if students could not catch up with their lessons, and did not understand what was taught, they would lose interest and drop out."

There are many pupils who in fact prefer a stream which allows them to study at a more comfortable pace, and they gain confidence from being a "bigger fish in a smaller pond", he added.

Still, there are downsides to streaming, said Mr Ong, including stigmatisation, and over the years there have been significant changes to the streaming system, such as how streaming was phased out in primary schools by 2008, and the introduction of subject-based banding since the mid-2000s.

"We are now ready to take a further, major move," said Mr Ong. This includes the roll-out of full subject-based banding starting next year, and then the end of streaming in 2024, when Secondary 1 students will take a combination of subjects at different levels - G1, G2 and G3.



Saying he was confident that the new system will benefit many students, he drew from his own childhood experience growing up in a Chinese-speaking family and struggling with his English throughout school.

He said that in hindsight, he could have been helped by the Learning Support Programme which is now available to primary school children who are lagging. And in secondary school, he would have been better off taking up English at a lower level to build his language skills at a slower pace.

He told Parliament that he entered Primary 1 without being able to speak or read much English. It was only in Primary 3 that he figured out phonics and started reading by himself.

"My late mother, a Chinese teacher, tried to teach me, but her English was very limited. Then some time in Primary 3, I had a eureka moment. I figured out that if 'b-a-r' reads 'bar', and 'b-e-r' reads 'ber', 'b-a-r-b-e-r' put together is barber, the guy who cuts my hair. In other words, I figured out phonics," he said.



"If I were in primary school today, I would probably have been put into a Learning Support Programme, which would have done me good. In secondary school, it would also have been better for me to be placed in a less demanding band for English, which would give me time to pick up the basics, and then upgrade to the more demanding band if I could meet the standards. I should have done G2 or G1 English."

He said, like him, most students have uneven strengths, and specific weaknesses.

"It is just the way humans are. The challenge of our education system is to cater to that.

"That is the central purpose of this change.... The school system will become far more flexible than today, so that we can customise learning to the student, to give them time to blossom at different points in their lives, while anchoring the belief that we can grow and get better."

















PM Lee Hsien Loong's Facebook post on education
The Straits Times, 6 Mar 2019

Our education system is widely admired. However, that doesn't mean we will stop trying to improve it!

During the Committee of Supply (debate) in Parliament today, Ong Ye Kung announced that secondary school streaming will be phased out by 2024. In its place, Ministry of Education, Singapore is implementing subject-based banding.

Secondary students will be able to study subjects at the appropriate band, depending on whether they are strong or weak in that subject. The N-and O-Level exams will be replaced by a new common national exam. Students will take individual papers at different levels, matching the bands.

MOE introduced streaming 40 years ago. The system has enabled students of different abilities to learn at their own pace. It has helped nearly every student to complete secondary school, and most to go on to post-secondary education.



But streaming has some drawbacks - it lacks flexibility, and students in the slower streams may become demotivated. Banding overcomes these difficulties, while enabling each student to learn at the pace which suits their aptitude and level, depending on the subject.

Glad to see the lively exchange of views in Parliament about streaming yesterday.

We take education very seriously, and will listen to all ideas to make it better. We must acknowledge that children differ enormously in their abilities and interests.

Schools should tailor the education they offer to the students' varying needs and talents.

At the same time, they should create opportunities for students to interact with one another across different races and social backgrounds so that they grow up at ease with one another and share a sense of identity, mutual responsibility and nationhood.

PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG











 





End of Normal, Express streaming: How PSLE score will decide subject levels in Sec 1 from 2024
MOE explains how revamped PSLE scores work
New scoring bands to be implemented in 2021 will determine pupil's choice of G1, G2 or G3
By Amelia Teng, Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 Mar 2019

With streaming being abolished and replaced by full subject-based banding from 2024, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has explained how a pupil's Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) score will decide the subject levels he or she can take at the start of Secondary 1.

The 2024 Sec 1 batch will be assessed under a new PSLE scoring system which will be used from 2021. Under this revamped system, pupils will be graded using wider scoring bands ranging from Achievement Level (AL) 1 to AL8, with AL1 being the best.

The bands for English, Maths, Science and Mother Tongue will then be added up, with the best score being four, and the lowest 32.


MOE told The Straits Times that pupils with a PSLE score of four to 20 will be offered all G3 subjects - which is equivalent to the current Express course - when streaming is abolished.

Those with a score of 26 to 30 will be given a suite of G1 subjects, which is comparable to today's Normal (Technical) stream.

Pupils who get a score of between 21 and 25 could take subjects across a range of levels. Those with a score of 21 to 22 will have a mix of G3 and G2 subjects, those with 23 or 24 points will take G2 subjects, while those who score 25 will take a spread of G2 and G1 subjects. G2 is equivalent to the Normal (Academic) stream.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung had announced in Parliament on Tuesday that the Express and Normal streams would be phased out by 2024 and be replaced with the G1, G2 and G3 subject bands. While reducing the stigma of being streamed as "Normal", the new system will allow students to learn at their own pace, while recognising their different strengths.

A student taking G2 English at Sec 1, for instance, will be able to move up to G3 as he or she gets better in the subject - a point stressed by MOE when it highlighted that how a student fares at the PSLE will not constrain the choice of subjects and their levels of difficulty.

"Unlike the current approach where the course that a student is posted to in Sec 1 determines the bulk of his subject offerings throughout his secondary education, full subject-based banding will allow students to progressively take subjects at more demanding levels... as they discover their strengths and interests, and take on a combination of subjects across different levels over time," MOE explained.

At the same time, MOE said PSLE scores "will continue to serve as a good initial gauge of the pace of learning that our students are most suited for at the beginning of Sec 1".



As for Integrated Programme schools, which allow better-performing students to skip the O levels and go straight to the A levels or International Baccalaureate, they will retain the autonomy to customise their curriculum to fit their students' needs.

Subject-based banding will largely not be implemented in these schools as their curriculum is designed differently, said an MOE spokesman, and they do not offer the national secondary curriculum leading to the N or O levels.

However, these schools have the flexibility to offer subjects at less demanding levels if students can benefit from them, said the ministry.











End of streaming: Worries over mixing with Normal students may drive parents to chase IP schools
Concern over social mixing may drive parents to target IP and G3-only schools
By Amelia Teng, Education Correspondent and Jolene Ang, The Sunday Times, 10 Mar 2019

Most Singaporeans have cheered the latest move to scrap streaming and improve social mixing in secondary schools, but some have voiced concerns that a seemingly privileged group of schools have been left out of the picture.

The Integrated Programme (IP) schools, which allow students to skip the O levels and go straight to their A levels or International Baccalaureate, along with schools which take in only Express stream students, will be largely untouched by the changes.

Specialised schools, such as Crest Secondary and Spectra Secondary, which cater to Normal (Technical) students, will also remain.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung had announced last Tuesday that the Express, Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical) streams would be phased out by 2024, and be replaced with full subject-based banding, where students study subjects at varying difficulty levels.

They will take subjects at three levels: G3, which corresponds to today's Express stream, G2 to the N(A) stream and G1 to the N(T) stream.

In time to come, Mr Ong said more secondary schools will adopt flexible ways of grouping their students. They could have students of different levels of abilities in the same form class, or organise classes by students' co-curricular activities.

This has already been done at two schools, Edgefield Secondary and Boon Lay Secondary.

In Edgefield, for instance, in a class of 40 students, there would be about 25 from Express, 10 from N(A) and five from N(T).

As Mr Ong noted in his speech on Tuesday, a few parents had expressed concern about this arrangement, saying that they would not have sent their children to the school had they known that their children would be mixed with those of other streams.

Even outside Edgefield, parents shared this apprehension.

Housewife Wendy Chan, who has a Secondary 2 daughter in an all-Express school, and sons in Primary 5 and Primary 6, said she would prefer if her children did not mix with those in the Normal stream.

Ms Chan, 48, explained: "It's because of their upbringing - their mindset and values may not be in tandem with what I agree with. It's not so much about their academic performance."



National University of Singapore economics lecturer Kelvin Seah said social mixing in school is important, but some parents might prefer that their children are surrounded by peers of the same abilities.

"The change will likely prompt parents, especially those of decent academic performers, to seek out admissions into IP schools and those that cater only to G3 students more fiercely, so that their children will be able to avoid mixing with peers that take some of the subjects taught at the G1 or G2 levels."

He added: "In fact, I expect the number of children looking to enrol in IP and single-stream schools to grow with the change."

There are 17 IP schools, including popular ones such as Raffles Institution and Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), as well as a handful of schools which take in just Express stream students. These include Crescent Girls' School and Anglican High School.

National Institute of Education lecturer Jason Tan said parents hope and believe that the peer influence in IP schools will benefit their children. "They think the students are more hardworking and the standards are higher, and their children will be more focused.

"The thinking that Normal stream students are a bad influence is a stereotype, but the parents would rather not find out if this is true; they would rather not take the risk," he said.

"They're afraid of possible adverse consequences on their own child's behaviour and motivation."

The Education Ministry had said IP schools will retain the autonomy to customise their curriculum to fit their students' needs.

It said subject-based banding will largely not be implemented in these schools as their curriculum is designed differently and they do not offer the national secondary curriculum leading to the N or O levels.

However, these schools have the flexibility to offer subjects at less demanding levels if students can benefit from them, said the ministry.

Observers such as MPs Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) and Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC), who both sit on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, said there is value in retaining such schools.

Said Dr Intan: "Ideally, all schools will be fully integrated and do not make distinctions among students of different abilities.

"However, we also do not want to swing to the extreme of making all of our schools similar. What we want is to have different pathways and options for our students to choose their education journey, but at the same time to improve opportunities for all."

Mr Ang added: "However, these schools need to work harder to create opportunities for their students to mix with other schools."

Mr Ong had also told Parliament on Tuesday that the downside to these streaming changes would be the lack of mixing in the specialised schools.

"These schools have to make a special effort to recruit students from all backgrounds wisely, using their Direct School Admissions," he said, referring to the scheme in which students can use non-academic talents or achievements to gain entry into a school.

They must also ensure that students have sufficient inter-school mixing opportunities, such as combining school co-curricular activities, Outward Bound Singapore camps or Values in Action projects, he added.

Housewife Sossiah Samat, 50, who has a Secondary 3 son in N(A) and Secondary 4 daughter in Express, welcomed these changes that would blur the lines between streams. She said: "It's good that they will not be 'divided' by Normal and Express (labels).

"Some parents who have children in the Express stream tend to look down on those in the Normal stream. Hopefully, this will change."

Mrs Dadina Ong, 42, has a son in Primary 1. She was formerly from the N(A) stream and believes that "it does matter who you mix with", though she added that the gaps between Normal and Express students are much smaller now.

"If you mix with eagles, you will soar. But the upbringing helps (to bridge the gap)... and academics is not everything," said Mrs Ong, who had eventually gone on to be a bank treasurer. She is now a housewife.

Alternatives that place less emphasis on academic excellence, such as the Singapore Sports School, had not yet been set up in her time.

"The teachers didn't groom those weak in academics in other aspects," she said.

She added that her son is playful and finds it hard to focus, so his academic results may not be the best.

"But I engage him in other things such as jujitsu. At least he has that exposure - he can learn to focus there and excel. This gives him confidence, which I hope he can apply to his studies."

A secondary school teacher, who declined to be named, said: "A lot of parents have concerns about peer influence, but they have never thought that their children must be taught to mix with the right people in any environment they are in.

"Within both the Normal and Express streams, there are kids who are lazy and others who are hardworking... It goes back to the kind of values you've inculcated in your child."





End of streaming: Why full roll-out of move only in 2024
By Jolene Ang, The Straits Times, 7 Mar 2019

The challenges of replacing the Normal and Express streams with full subject-based banding should not be underestimated, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said in Parliament on Tuesday.

His ministry will pilot full subject-based banding in about 25 secondary schools next year and progressively apply it to all schools, with streaming to end in 2024, he added.

He went on to explain: "Implementing full subject-based banding will be a multi-year transition.

"We should not underestimate the challenge of this move. There are major operational challenges, such as timetabling. Schools will need time to learn, adapt and innovate," he said during the debate on his ministry's budget.



For instance, Edgefield Secondary School - where each Secondary 1 class is made up of students from different streams - had to go through more than 100 permutations of the timetable before coming up with the final version.

In drawing it up, the school had to consider such factors as the availability of classrooms and teachers, and ensuring the students' school hours are not extended and teachers' workload not increased significantly.

Edgefield principal Lee Peck Ping also said in an earlier interview with The Straits Times that the school had tried to "allocate venues close to each other to minimise students' walking distance and to maximise curriculum time".

Mr Ong further explained in a video released by the Education Ministry on Tuesday that this latest change is "far more complicated" than the removal of the EM1, EM2 and EM3 streams in primary schools in 2008.



"What we are doing today for secondary schools is informed by (that) experience... We are doing a similar effort now, but it is far more complicated because there are many more subjects," he said.

"We introduced subject-based banding (in secondary schools) as a pilot in 2014. In 2018, we extended it across the system.

"Today, in 2019, we will take further steps that will eventually - by 2024 - merge all three streams into one course. And within each course, (there will be) many subject bands."





















No more Normal, Express streaming: Parents applaud move by MOE
They say move can reduce stigmatisation and let students learn at own pace
By Jolene Ang, The Straits Times, 6 Mar 2019

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung's announcement yesterday in Parliament on doing away with the Normal and Express streams in secondary schools by 2024 was met with approval from the House and from parents as well.

Parents who spoke to The Straits Times said that this is a good move by the Education Ministry, with some adding that it has the potential to help reduce stigmatisation.

Mrs Dadina Ong recalled her own experience of being "branded as Normal" after the Primary School Leaving Examination.

The 42-year-old described it as a scary experience. "Everyone started judging, and that shocked me," said Mrs Ong.

She managed to get into the Express stream after Secondary 1, and went on to be a bank treasurer after getting a diploma in business in a polytechnic and a degree from an overseas university.

She is glad her Primary 1 son will grow up in a different system.

"This Normal and Express split is not necessary. It will be more relaxed now," she said, adding that it might even encourage some people to have more children. "It is fun studying when there are no high demands and expectations."



Housewife Reshma Alwani, who has a daughter in Pri 1, welcomed the chance for her child to be in classrooms with students from other bands.

"We shouldn't be afraid to let them sit with others who score less in an exam. Instead, focus on their own learning ability," she said.

"In fact, when everyone is just as good or better than you, it can also be intimidating."

But she, like other parents, also had concerns, such as how schools decide when students get to move across subject bands.

Will it still be based on a single exam, she asked?

"Sometimes, the child is nervous or unwell on exam day, and that can affect the performance," she said.

Another worry was what will happen to students who go to schools which offer mainly higher-level G3 subjects. From 2024, starting with those entering Sec 1, students will take subjects at three levels - G1, G2 and G3, with G standing for "General".

G1 will roughly correspond to today's Normal (Technical) standard, G2 to Normal (Academic) standard and G3 to Express standard.



Housewife Diane Wee, 44, recalled how her daughter, who is now in Sec 2, was posted to an all-Express stream school last year, but had to transfer to another school after "dropping" to the N(A) stream.

"In a way, it is good. In her new school, the class size is smaller and she can learn at her own pace.

"I can see that she is doing a lot better than at the first school, where she was struggling," said Madam Wee.

But she would have preferred it if her child could have changed streams and yet stay at her first secondary school. Changing streams was already emotionally trying for her daughter, and it was made tougher by having to find another school.

Madam Wee said: "Changing schools was inconvenient as we had to hunt around for another that could admit her in Sec 2. Most schools we approached told us to just apply and wait."

Mr Ong said in Parliament yesterday that "in time, it will also make sense for the schools that take in only Express students to offer some subjects at the N(A) or N(T) level".

"After all, customisation of education, and catering more flexibly to the varied interests and abilities of students, will benefit them," he said.

These schools also have to make a special effort to recruit students from all backgrounds, and ensure that students have sufficient inter-school mixing opportunities, he added.












Building friendships across streams at Edgefield Secondary
By Amelia Teng, Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Mar 2019

With the Ministry of Education's removal of the Normal stream label, more classes in future may not be organised along academic tracks.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung yesterday cited the example of Edgefield Secondary School, which took the pioneering step of reshaping its form classes so that students - no matter their stream - can build friendships with each other.

Since January, each Secondary 1 class has been made up of students from different streams.

Classmates take about half of their lessons such as physical education, art and music together, while for academic subjects like mathematics and science, they break into groups by their assigned streams: Express, Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical).



Mr Ong said most students told him they were happy with their new classes, and their parents felt the arrangement was better.

But he also heard from the school principal, Mr Lee Peck Ping, that a handful of parents were concerned the new approach might slow down learning in class.

"Peck Ping painstakingly explained how subject-based banding works, what students are learning as a form class, and how classes for academic subjects are still banded based on the learning abilities of the students," he said.

"He told me a very small number of parents were still worried and felt that had they known, they would not have sent their child to Edgefield," he said, adding that he understands their concerns.

"But Edgefield Secondary was making the right trade-off, to develop students both academically and socially," Mr Ong said.

By 2024, more schools will adopt such innovative ways of organising their form classes.

Mr Lee told The Straits Times that the school decided to reorganise its classes to help students interact more naturally.



Under subject-based banding, nearly 60 per cent of its Sec 1 and 2 students from the Normal (Academic) stream take at least one Express level subject. Nearly all of its Normal (Technical) students take at least one higher-level subject.

The students have grown in confidence and self-esteem, but some said they do not feel a sense of belonging to the Express classes, he noted. This is because students tend to stay separate from each other as they come from different classes.

The school went through more than 100 permutations of the timetable before coming up with the final version. It considered factors such as the availability of classrooms and teachers, and ensuring that students' school hours are not extended.

Ms Alfieana Alphonso, a form teacher of a Sec 1 class, said: "Lesson planning can be challenging and it requires teachers to really know their students and their strengths well."

She added that teachers differentiate their teaching subtly, for instance, by providing different worksheets in a single classroom.

"Secondary school isn't just about academic achievement," she said. "It is also about building memories and experiences with others from different streams."

Sec 1 Express student Muhd Abid Muhamad Zahid, 12, said: "We have more friends, and we don't look down on each other.

"I am not so good in science, so my N(A) friend will help me when we do work in the library together.

His classmate Heidi Loh, a Normal (Academic) student, said: "No one really cares about which streams we come from. I take Chinese at Express level and I don't feel different from the Express students because we are in the same class."

Sec 1 Normal (Technical) student Javier Peh, 12, goes for recess and chit-chats with friends from other streams. They also play and help each other with school work. He also takes mathematics, Chinese and English at the Normal (Academic) level.

"If you are a true friend, you shouldn't go to an N(T) student and say you are less... you would be supportive and keep helping them to do better in exams," he said.










Streaming in secondary schools to stop: Boon Lay students benefit from form classes organised by CCAs
By Jolene Ang, The Straits Times, 6 Mar 2019

Boon Lay Secondary School has been dividing classes by their students' co-curricular activities (CCAs) since 2017. And Education Minister Ong Ye Kung found out first-hand the impact this "unorthodox" system is having on its students when he visited the school.

In Parliament yesterday, he recalled how students explained that they looked forward to attending morning assembly, cutting back on late-coming and absenteeism rates, because they get to meet friends and seniors from their CCA groups.

"One student told me, 'Now, I can pour my heart out to my seniors every morning before assembly, even if it is for 10 minutes. But to do that, I must come to school, and come on time,' " said Mr Ong. Another student told him how in the past, a teacher might admonish a noisy class by asking 4N(T) to keep quiet.

"All the other Normal (Technical) students immediately felt like they were singled out," said Mr Ong. "Now, the teacher would say, 'NCC, keep quiet!', and the Normal stream students would feel okay." NCC stands for National Cadet Corps.

"The Ministry of Education will need to study their results further, but there is now a genuine belief that the social environment of the school can positively influence a student's academic behaviour and performance," he said.



Boon Lay Secondary students attend assembly sessions and Character and Citizenship Education lessons together with their CCA mates, regardless of streams.

Classes are further grouped into three clusters: uniformed groups, performing arts, and sports and clubs. Students attend camps and overseas trips with their clusters, which encourages mixing for students in gender-or ethnicity-specific CCAs, such as The Boys' Brigade and Malay dance.

However, students still attend classes in teaching groups that are differentiated by stream, based on subject-based banding.

Boon Lay principal Tan Chor Pang said: "Teaching groups offer more flexibility because they can be formed in any way we want. The groups are not their identity. They are merely classes they go to because they take a certain subject combination."

This means that students' subject combinations can be fluid, and they can take out-of-stream subjects easily. And because teaching groups are not fixed form classes, it is easier for the student to integrate into the class. "We differentiate identity and affiliation from teaching and learning," said Mr Tan.

Secondary 4 Normal (Technical) student Hafiz B Immran, who is in NCC, said he used to mix with only students in his stream before classes were reorganised - partly because he was shy, but also because he was afraid others would look down on him.

"Now, I have worked with people from the other streams. We gain knowledge and build character and leadership together. I think this has really helped me step out of my comfort zone," said Hafiz, 16.

English and social studies teacher Josephine Tan, 31, who is in charge of the choir students, said that unlike traditional form classes which change every one to two years, the CCA-centric classes allow her to follow her students throughout their time in the school.

"We, as teachers, can understand them a lot better and give them a holistic education, not based only on academics, but also on their development and growth on a personal level," said Ms Tan.











Some GEP schools have introduced mixed form classes
By Amelia Teng, Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Mar 2019

Some primary schools offering the Gifted Education Programme (GEP) have taken steps to widen the social circles of these pupils, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said yesterday.

Rosyth, Nanyang and Nan Hua have introduced form classes that have a mix of pupils this year from both GEP and non-GEP classes, he noted in his response to Ms Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC), who had asked how the Education Ministry ensured students interacted with their peers in other streams.

"There is merit to having students who are gifted academically to also mix with students who are taking subjects at G1, or former Normal, level," she said.

Mr Ong announced yesterday that the Normal (Technical), Normal (Academic) and Express streams will end by 2024 and be replaced by subjects at three levels: G1, G2 and G3.

He said that in the three GEP schools, pupils spend a specified amount of time in their mixed form classes, but attend GEP classes for academic subjects such as Science and English.

"So, changes are already happening. We note your point, it is exactly the same balance that we are trying to optimise, and we will continue to work on it," he added.

Mr Ong also said there was value in having diversity in the education system, with schools that focus on different abilities, like the School of the Arts (Sota) and schools such as Crest Secondary and Spectra Secondary, which specialise in preparing students at the Normal (Technical) level.

Responding to Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC), he said the Singapore Sports School already takes in students from all academic levels.

Sota, on the other hand, accepts mainly students from the Ex-press stream because it offers the relatively more rigorous International Baccalaureate (IB) programme, he said.

"We want to make sure the student can keep up, and not end up not coping and losing confidence totally," he said. Mr Ong noted that Sota may have to relook its admission policies when the three streams are merged.

What is most important is that most schools "in the middle" have diversity in their schools, which is what his ministry hopes to achieve, he added.











Taking away labels will shore up students' confidence
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Mar 2019

At long last, the Education Ministry has taken the step to do away with the Normal-Express divide in secondary schools.

What will take its place is subject-based banding, where over four years in secondary school, students will take a combination of subjects at different levels according to their strengths.

At the end of the fourth year, they will sit a new common exam. They will leave school with a certificate that will list the subjects they took, at which level and the grades they attained.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said this change had been several years in the making, the way it should be done in education - figuring out what needs to change next, planning it out, and implementing at a pace that takes into account the trade-offs, complexities and the immense impact it will have on students.

But taking away labels, especially Normal (Technical) and Normal (Academic), is a significant step - a recognition of the fact that students' ability levels are not fixed. Rather, they have varying and diverse strengths.

We should also welcome the fact that students for a large part of the school day - when doing physical education, their co-curricular activities, music, design and technology, art - will be assigned to mixed-ability classes.



Research shows that systemic streaming not only affects how students learn, but also how teachers teach. And it is the students classed as less able who lose out.

Evidence from years of research suggests that while streaming benefits higher-attaining students, it has a negative effect on middle and lower attainers.

A British study released last year showed that teachers use different techniques with students in lower-ability groups, teaching a narrower curriculum and avoiding more complex areas for fear of overstretching them.

The result is that lower-ability students are less likely to develop into independent learners, said the researchers from UCL Institute of Education, Nottingham University and King's College London.

This is similar to what is espoused by labelling theory, which says that students' attainment level is, at least to some degree, a result of the interaction between the teacher and the pupil, rather than just being about their ability.

A classic study which supports the self-fulfilling prophecy theory was done by Harvard psychologist Robert Rosenthal in an elementary school in California.

He selected a random sample of 20 per cent of the student population and informed teachers that these students could be expected to achieve rapid intellectual development.

He tested all students at the beginning of the experiment for IQ, and again after one year, and found that the randomly selected "spurter" group had, on average, gained more IQ than the other 80 per cent, who the teachers believed to be "average".

Professor Rosenthal speculated that the teachers had passed on their higher expectations to students, which had produced a self-fulfilling prophecy. "If teachers had been led to expect greater gains in IQ, then increasingly, those kids gained more IQ," he said of his finding.

But just how do teachers' expectations lead to gains in IQ?

Further studies done by Prof Rosenthal showed that a teacher's expectations affect his interactions with the students he teaches in many ways.

Teachers give the students who they expect to succeed more time to answer questions, more specific feedback and more approval. Even their body language is different - they consistently nod and smile at those kids more.

So, MOE's move to do away with the Express and Normal stream labels and to introduce full subject-based banding will go a long way in benefiting our students.

As Mr Ong said, this change will help us to customise education for students, while minimising the effect of labelling and stigmatisation.

Educators and policymakers have to act on their belief in the growth mindset when it comes to learning and that a child has diverse strengths and talents.

As Mr Ong said, all schools must provide an environment that encourages growth and development to bring out the full potential of their students.





















MPs urge MOE to abolish Normal, Express streaming
'Normal' label hurts students' confidence and motivation, they say, calling for expansion of subject-based banding
By Amelia Teng, Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 5 Mar 2019

It is time to move away from streaming children into Normal and Express tracks. That was the call from several MPs yesterday as the debate on the Education Ministry's budget kicked off.

Urging the ministry to abolish academic streaming, they said it has led to Normal stream students losing motivation and confidence, with two MPs giving real-life examples of students limiting their own potential because of the label.

Instead of streaming, which has been in place for about 40 years, they suggested expanding subject-based banding to all students, allowing everyone to share classrooms but learn at their own pace.

Subject-based banding, which last year was expanded to all secondary schools, currently lets Normal stream students take higher-level subjects, including those from the Express stream, if they are strong in those subjects.

While streaming allows students to learn at their own pace, Normal stream students often feel discouraged by the "Normal" label placed on them, and lose self-esteem and confidence, MPs said yesterday.

Describing streaming as a "sacred cow" that needs to be slain, Ms Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC), who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, highlighted the 2002 Jack Neo film I Not Stupid, which revolved around the lives and struggles of three pupils in the EM3 academic stream, which was for those who were academically weakest.



Last year, a video documentary called Regardless Of Class, hosted by Senior Minister of State Janil Puthucheary, reaffirmed the differences between students from different streams, she added.

Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC), a former secondary school teacher who has long called for streaming to be abolished, said: "It is time for us to move on and recognise that academic streaming places self-limiting beliefs on students who think they are only as good as the stream they are in."

Drawing from his past experiences as a science relief teacher 30 years ago, Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) said that Normal stream students had a sense of "resigned acceptance and defeat", especially when he tried to teach them topics that were beyond their syllabus.

"As a young and idealistic teacher at that time, I tried to interest the students in science no matter which streams they were from. Even when certain sections were not supposed to be taught to the Normal stream students, I went on to teach them as it was interesting," he said.

"However, the Normal stream students were quick to dismiss most of what was in their textbooks. They said, 'We are taking the reduced syllabus, no need to learn'."

Mr Charles Chong (Punggol East) said streaming can create a "class divide" between students who are deemed by the education system to be academically able and those who are less so.

Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC), who last week called for streaming to be scrapped, again urged MOE to address concerns about social stratification due to streaming.

All five MPs who spoke on streaming called for subject-based banding to replace it, allowing students to take a combination of subjects at different difficulty levels, but without clear-cut labels such as "Normal".

"Some of us excel in languages, others excel in mathematics or the sciences, while others excel in sports or the arts," said Dr Intan, who also suggested that graduation certificates should no longer indicate if students took the N levels or O levels.

Ms Phua said: "Doing away with streaming does not equate to putting everyone in the same class for every subject, ignoring the need for each to learn at their own pace and method. Far from it."

In 2008, MOE scrapped streaming in primary schools and replaced it with subject-based banding, which allows pupils to take a combination of subjects at either Standard or Foundation level.

Mr Ang said: "Clearly, (the success of) subject-based banding has shown that sometimes we pigeon-hole and stream our young too early."
















Streaming may end, but will parents' behaviour change?
Beware the unintended effects of having subject-based banding, if parents shy away from schools that group students into mixed-ability classes
By Kelvin Seah Kah Cheng, Published The Straits Times, 7 Mar 2019

From 2024, streaming in secondary schools will come to an end.

In its place will come subject-based banding, where students take subjects taught at one of three difficulty levels, based on their abilities and strengths. They are the G3 level (corresponding to today's Express stream); G2 level (corresponding to today's Normal Academic stream), and G1 level (corresponding to today's Normal Technical stream).

At the end of four years in secondary school, students will take a common national examination and graduate with a common certificate, which will show the subjects taken and the levels at which they were learnt. Gone will be the days where students walk down three separate paths and where each student learns all the subjects at a pace designed for a particular path.

MERITS OF SUBJECT-BASED BANDING

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung explained that the move was intended to preserve the benefits of customising education according to the learning pace of students, but yet minimise the downsides associated with labelling and stigmatisation of students assigned to the less demanding streams.

The new subject-based banding scheme is certainly superior to streaming. As Mr Ong noted, people have different strengths and it would be naive to think that a person will be equally strong or equally weak in every subject. The new scheme recognises that an individual's strengths can be heterogeneous across subjects and allows each student to pursue each subject at a pace that is suitable for him.

Under today's streaming, some students in the Express stream might find some subjects unmanageable because they are weak in them, but nevertheless have to pursue the subjects at the Express level, while students in the Normal stream may find some subjects too easy because, even though they have a flair for them, they are compelled to pursue the subjects at a less demanding level. Because curricula will be better tailored to suit each individual, the new scheme is likely to enhance student learning.



UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES?

A more critical question is whether the new scheme will have unintended adverse consequences.

Indeed, one of the objectives of the recent move is to allow more opportunities for students with different backgrounds and academic abilities to mix in the same classrooms. But how likely will this goal be met?

To answer this, it is essential to recognise that the move will likely prompt certain parents to alter their behaviours. Parents know that peers matter. How an individual behaves, learns and thinks is heavily influenced by his peers.

This suggests that if schools were to take steps to reorganise classes, by mixing students of varying abilities together, we might expect to see parents of higher-performing children flee these schools and try to seek entry into single-stream schools (those that accept only G3 stream students, such as Integrated Programme schools) more fiercely.

That is, if parents believe that interacting with lower-performing children will influence their children adversely, we would expect to see them avoiding schools that encourage mixed-background learning environments.

At the moment, most schools organise learning within a form class, where students are usually grouped based on academic ability. Parents therefore know that if their child is in an Express class, his classmates would also be Express stream students. This serves to lessen concerns over mixing and some parents may, as a result, not mind placing their children in schools that cater to children from all three streams - Express, Normal Academic, and Normal Technical - knowing that classes will ultimately be separated by stream.



With the changes, however, some overly concerned parents may now feel a need to switch their children out of such schools, to avoid the possibility of having them mix with lower-performing peers. Ironically, we might have a situation where the better-performing children and the poorer-performing ones end up clustering separately in certain schools, increasing polarisation and reducing diversity.

There is already anecdotal evidence that such concerns are real. As Mr Ong noted, some parents had told the principal of Edgefield Secondary School that they would not have sent their children to the school had they known that their children would be mixed with children of other streams in subjects like physical education, art and music.

What if classes were organised by subject bands instead? This way, each student will attend a different class in each subject based on his ability. If so, the problem, though reduced, is still likely to persist.

To see why, consider a student who reads seven subjects at the most demanding level - G3. If classes were organised by subject ability, this student would be placed in a mathematics class with other students who also read maths at the G3 level.



However, some of these peers may also be reading other subjects at lower levels. Again, this might prompt overly concerned parents to try harder for schools that cater exclusively to students reading all subjects at the G3 level. In other words, we may see more strategic sorting of children by academic ability and socio-economic status, especially in G3-only schools, in the future.

While it is understandable that parents may exhibit such behaviour, it is important that they also recognise the value in having their children work well with others, regardless of background. After all, soft skills, including the ability to communicate with others and to lead teams comprising people of different backgrounds, are likely to feature importantly in the future economy. Parents should therefore be cognisant of the value of social mixing when picking schools.

Mr Ong also noted that principals of specialised schools, such as those for only Express stream students, "have to make a special effort to recruit students from all backgrounds, wisely, using their Direct School Admissions".

Whether the changes produce the intended benefits of encouraging social mixing within schools ultimately boils down to how parents will respond to the policy change. It would be timely for policymakers to anticipate these responses and to pre-emptively address them before the scheme officially comes into effect in 2024.

Kelvin Seah Kah Cheng is a lecturer in the Department of Economics, National University of Singapore. His research focuses on the economics of education.











Why they proposed streaming in schools 40 years ago
Two members of Goh Keng Swee's team look back to 40 years ago when they proposed making streaming key to the then new education system
By Amelia Teng, Education Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 17 Mar 2019

They were known by different names: system engineers, the "daring dozen" or the "Goh" team.

Their mission in 1978 was to fix a broken education system, where students were dropping out of school with low levels of literacy and having trouble even staying in secondary school.

After studying the problems in Singapore's schools, the study team of 12 - mostly in their late 20s and 30s - led by then Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Goh Keng Swee, concluded that streaming was the solution.

Despite a heated debate over four days in Parliament in March 1979, the team's recommendations were accepted and swiftly adopted in the same year.

The new education system - detailed in the landmark 1979 report that is now part of the National Archives - that the group of 12 thinkers designed has been central to Singapore's education over the years.

The Goh Keng Swee report, as it was known, had recommended that students learn at their own pace, and a child's academic ability be assessed at Primary 3.

But 40 years later, the streaming system that the Goh team, many of whom were trained engineers, had put in place is coming to an end, with the Education Ministry's announcement on March 5 that secondary schools will no longer have the Normal and Express tracks in 2024.

Primary schools had already done away with streaming since 2008.

EDUCATION IN THE EARLY YEARS

Professor Lim Siong Guan, 72, who was part of the Goh team, tells Insight that the New Education report "had the same motivation as education has always had in Singapore, which is to help each child be the best he or she can be according to their talents and abilities".

The professor with the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, who was head of the civil service from September 1999 to March 2005, says that the percentage of students going on to secondary school after the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) had been relatively low.

In the 1970s, a third of every Primary 1 cohort did not make the cut for secondary school. Failure rates were high, at 41 per cent for PSLE candidates and 40 per cent for O-level candidates in 1976.

Part of the problem was that pupils were promoted without much consideration of whether they were ready for the next level.

Children of varying abilities were going through the same rigid education programme. In school, most of them were learning English and Mandarin, which they did not speak at home. Back then, most families were speaking dialects.

Studies in 1975 also showed that at least 25 per cent to 33 per cent of Primary 6 pupils did not meet minimum literacy and numeracy standards.

Ms Low Sin Leng, 67, who was also part of Dr Goh's team, says: "We were focusing on what was wrong with our system and what we could do better. Attrition was one of the things that shocked us.

"The principle is that not everyone has the same level of capability, and if you push all of them through the same system, the weaker pupils would not be able to keep up and the gap will become harder to close over time.

"The education system at that time did not give such pupils an opportunity to learn something else, and hence they dropped out. We felt this was unacceptable and could not go on."



THE NEED FOR STREAMING

Explaining the work that the team did, Prof Lim says: "The particular context of Dr Goh's study was to increase the number of students who go on from primary school to secondary school, and to do this in a way which can be handled by the resources of school buildings and teachers.

"The goal was to make sure that students were taught at a level most suited to their learning ability.

"Streaming was a logical way to do this if we reckon that the 'total learning ability' of the child is reflected in the 'total examination results' the child has been able to get."

Prof Lim was 32 years old when the report was released in 1979 and the principal private secretary to founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

One of their key recommendations was that the less academically able pupils would be streamed to the Extended or Monolingual stream, where they could complete their primary education in seven or eight years.

The pupils who fared better would go to the Normal track and finish primary school in six years.

Similarly, the team proposed that weaker students be placed on a five-year track to complete their O levels and, at the end of Secondary 4, take an examination to decide if they could make the cut for Sec 5.

Ms Low, who was 27 and had just given birth to her first son in June 1978, the same year she was asked to be part of Dr Goh's team, says the group's main task was to gather feedback from educators on the ground, study the problems and come up with recommendations.

A President's Scholar and Colombo Plan Scholar, Ms Low had been working as an engineer for a few years at the then Radio and Television Singapore, the predecessor of Mediacorp, before she was selected to join the team.

They interviewed and consulted more than 260 education officials, principals and teachers, and referred to about 120 studies and reports from the Education Ministry (MOE) for their work. They also conducted 58 studies on their own where data was not available.

Ms Low, who is now chairman of the board of Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, recalls: "The work was very intense. We were stationed at Mindef's headquarters at Dempsey because Dr Goh was then the Defence Minister. There were nights we worked through 2am to 3am."

In February 1979, their report was submitted to PM Lee, and in March, the paper was presented in Parliament during MOE's budget debate.

"We all sat on the top floor in Parliament. I remember there were a lot of objections and the report was heavily contested," says Ms Low.

"To be fair, our report also stated that the education system must allow for lateral transfers, and there must not be any hurdles for students, though this is not as easy to implement," she adds.

Some MPs like Dr Koh Lip Lin, Mr Eugene Yap and Mr Sha'ari Tadin cautioned against the idea of streaming, warning that it would disadvantage late bloomers and lead to a serious psychological impact on students streamed into the academically inferior tracks.

Ms Low, who was with MOE for about seven years and started its computer service branch, says: "I was disappointed when some teachers who were posted to teach the Monolingual stream said they themselves were demoted. I thought they would feel that they were doing a good thing by helping the weakest students."

CHANGING TIMES

Both Prof Lim and Ms Low feel that the latest changes to the education system are a step in the right direction, although they think that the idea of streaming is still very much alive today. Instead of the Normal and Express streams, students will take a combination of subjects at different difficulty levels.

Prof Lim says: "With the experience gained over the years, and the achievement of virtually all students who can benefit from secondary school education in fact doing so, it is logical that the next step is to go on to banding.

"If we look at the effect of banding, we can even say that it is 'streaming' taken to its logical conclusion of 'streaming' by individual subject rather than by individual student."

The new approach will mean more complexities in time-tabling and teacher and student assignments, adds Prof Lim. "Today, we are certainly much better able to cope with such complexity than at the time of the New Education report some 40 years ago."

Ms Low says: "Society has changed. We are in a different league altogether, in terms of the languages that children speak, their parents' education level and how enlightened they are."

The attrition rate has fallen to less than 1 per cent today, down from a third of every cohort four decades ago. Still, what has not changed is that children must be taught according to their abilities, she adds, and MOE has been gradually fine-tuning the system over the years.

"Overall, I still think Singapore's education system has been a successful one. It has earned praises from many other countries," she says.

"No system is perfect. Streaming was necessary in the past, but removing the stigma associated with it is a good thing."





If not for streaming, many might not have made it through school, says principal
By Jolene Ang, The Sunday Times, 17 Mar 2019

If not for streaming, things might have turned out differently for many of Mr Tan Chor Pang's former students.

Mr Tan, 59, is the principal of Boon Lay Secondary School and has been an educator for the past 35 years. In that time, he has taught students from the Normal (Technical), Normal (Academic) and Express streams.

He tells Insight: "The N(A) and N(T) streams were good; if the curriculum and exams had not been adjusted, many students (in the earlier years) might not have been able to move on from secondary school."

Mr Tan's first posting, in 1984, was to Pasir Panjang Secondary School (which has since closed), where he taught mathematics. He still keeps in touch with some of his students, even meeting them occasionally, and many have carved out a successful path for themselves, he says.

Recalling what it was like teaching an N(T) class, Mr Tan says: "It was a challenge - we're talking about a different strata of students. They were difficult to engage, they were hyperactive, talkative and many had learning challenges that went undetected."

For instance, one of his former N(T) students discovered he was dyslexic only years after he had left school, when his son was diagnosed with the condition.

But he never minded teaching weaker children. "I felt like I could make a big contribution... It's also the Normal students who remember you and try to keep in touch after graduation - they feel you made a difference in their lives."

He remembers a student by the name of Jason Chua, whom he met in 2009 during his time as principal at Millennia Institute (MI).

Mr Chua was a former N(T) student who was posted to the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), but instead chose to sit the O levels as a private candidate.

He eventually made it to MI, which offers a three-year A-level programme, and to the Singapore Management University where he read law.

Mr Chua, 29, who graduated just last year, tells Insight: "Being in N(T) usually means a confirmed route to ITE... It's relatively difficult for people to shine."

He attributes his success on an "unconventional path" in part to the educators he met - like Mr Tan, who would go out of his way to ask how he was coping in school, and teachers who gave him encouragement.

Mr Tan notes that while the streaming system has been heavily criticised for playing a role in exacerbating social stratification, students like Mr Chua show that it was possible to break out of streams.

"The limiting factors were more their own mindsets and societal expectations," he says.





End of streaming in schools: Will it help more students make it to poly and university?
Subject-based banding will help Normal stream students make it to higher education and level up, and go some way in reducing social stratification, say experts
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 17 Mar 2019

What are the chances of a Normal (Technical) or Normal (Academic) stream student making it to a local university?

Not too good, going by the figures released by the Education Ministry (MOE) in Parliament last year in response to Member of Parliament Louis Ng.

From 2015 to 2017, of the graduates from the six local universities, about 1 per cent (one in 100) had come from the N(T) route and 5 per cent from the N(A) route. The rest - 94 per cent - came from the Express stream.

There is a higher chance of Normal stream students making it to the polytechnics, though.

Of those who graduate yearly from the five polytechnics, 5 per cent are from the N(T) stream, 35 per cent from the N(A) stream and the remaining 60 per cent from the Express stream.

Another set of figures released by MOE, however, paints a more upbeat picture, showing that more students from the Normal streams in secondary school have made the cut for higher education in the last decade.

Figures show that more than 10 per cent of Secondary 1 N(A) students move on to publicly funded universities, up from 5 per cent 10 years ago. For those in the N(T) stream, for students who are the weakest academically, more than 20 per cent have made it to at least polytechnic diploma courses, up from 15 per cent a decade ago.

When it released the figures, MOE attributed the better outcomes to streaming, which it said has helped students learn at a pace suited for them by customising teaching and learning approaches.

So, with the move to subject-based banding, can Singaporeans expect to see more Normal stream students level up and make it to the polytechnics and universities?






WHAT THE MOVE INVOLVES

Earlier this month, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung announced that from 2024, streaming in secondary schools will come to an end.

In its place will come subject-based banding, where students take subjects taught at one of three difficulty levels, based on their abilities and strengths. These are the G3 level, which corresponds to today's Express stream; G2 level, to the N(A) stream; and G1 level, to the N(T) stream.

At the end of four years in secondary school, students will take a common national examination and graduate with a common certificate, which will show the subjects taken and the levels at which they were learnt.

Gone will be the days where students walk down three separate paths and where each student learns all the subjects at a pace designed for a particular path.

The Sunday Times spoke to education experts, MPs who had argued against streaming, and parents on what outcomes they expect with the changes.

All are generally for the move towards subject-based banding and expect Normal stream students to do better and be able to access more higher education opportunities.

Mr Ng says that when MOE released the figures showing only 6 per cent of university graduates coming from the Normal stream, it struck him as being rather low.

The Nee Soon GRC MP, who made an impassioned plea in Parliament recently to do away with streaming, had pointed out the fact that Normal stream students tend to have a lower socio-economic status - from 2014 to last year, 69 per cent of secondary school students who received financial help from MOE were in the Normal stream.

He tells Insight that the low percentage of Normal stream students heading to university shows that there is very little mobility in Singapore's education system.

"We need to make sure that students who may not do well initially in their education journey can still have a chance in the later part of their education journey," he says.

National University of Singapore economist Kelvin Seah has called for tracking of the higher education and job prospects of Normal stream students.

He says the old practice of streaming students into tracks is likely to have "disadvantaged" Normal stream students by constraining their life pathways.

For instance, a student placed in the N(T) stream may find it incredibly hard to progress on to a junior college (JC) or a polytechnic subsequently since he or she would still have to spend much time and effort sitting the N(A) levels followed by the O levels.

Also, N(T) students from poorer families who have to support their families financially might understandably opt for the more direct Institute of Technical Education route before entering the workforce, even though they would have liked to have a tertiary education.

"If we observe a sizeable increase in the proportion of Normal stream students attending the JC and polytechnics after the move towards subject-based banding, then this would be indicative (it) helped decrease rigidities within our education system," notes Dr Seah.

Ms Denise Phua, MP for Jalan Besar GRC, who for years has argued against streaming, says the big change is that while in the past, a student could be limited in his choice of subjects due to the stream he was placed in, there is now more flexibility to take subjects based on his strengths.

"This strength-based form of education will likely accord him better results, higher motivation and a better chance to be admitted to a poly or university and faculty of his choice," she says.

A former teacher, Madam Z. Rosihan, 40, who has two children in primary school, says that when she was teaching, she saw first-hand how stigmatisation and labelling affected children.

"Mixing up the classes and allowing kids to take up some subjects at a higher level should boost their confidence. Hence, I expect Normal stream students to go on to do better, and more of them should move on to poly and university."



WHAT ABOUT SOCIAL MIXING?

But when it comes to the question of whether the changes are likely to result in more social mixing and less stratification, both Madam Rosihan and Dr Seah are less optimistic.

The Integrated Programme (IP) schools, which allow students to skip the O levels and go straight to the A levels or International Baccalaureate, along with schools which take in only Express stream students, will be largely untouched by the changes. Mr Ong had explained that "there is value in having certain schools take a whole-school approach to implementing specialised programmes".

Dr Seah argues that at the moment, most schools organise learning within a form class, where students are usually grouped based on academic ability. Parents therefore know that if their child is in an Express class, his classmates are also Express stream students.

"With the changes, however, some overly concerned parents may now feel a need to switch their children out of such schools, to avoid the possibility of having them mix with lower-performing peers," he says.

"Ironically, we might have a situation where the better-performing children and the poorer-performing ones end up clustering separately in certain schools, increasing polarisation and reducing diversity."

He urges parents, though, to change their thinking and recognise that their children may lose out (in terms of learning to interact with people from different walks of life) if they do not mix with students from other backgrounds.

Parent Steven Lai, 40, a businessman, agrees that the changes will worsen stratification in the IP schools.

"The announcement on streaming was the talk of the town. But if you listen to parents, especially from a certain economic bracket, they are even more determined now to get their children into an IP school or all Express stream school. Yes, there will be more social mixing in the neighbourhood schools, but not in the IP schools."

Mr Ng, however, is more optimistic and says it is a good thing that in most schools, students from across the three bands will be mixing more.

"This will not end social stratification but it will definitely help to reduce it," he says, adding that moving forward, MOE should start exploring how this can apply to all schools.

Ms Phua agrees that there will be "knee-jerk reactions" from some parents who define success as doing well academically, or want to have their children mix only with others of the same socio-economic status or academic ability.

But she notes that it is significant that for now, MOE has decided to replace streaming with full subject-based banding.





End of streaming in schools: Subject-based banding gives N(A) student confidence boost
By Jolene Ang, The Sunday Times, 17 Mar 2019

Being able to solve mathematical problems gives Normal (Academic) student Low Jie Ying a sense of satisfaction - and even more so when her Express schoolmates approach her for help.

When she was in Secondary 1, the Paya Lebar Methodist Girls' School student was offered the chance to take mathematics and Chinese at the Express level, under subject-based banding, as she had done well in those subjects in the Primary School Leaving Examination.

Now a Sec 3 student, Jie Ying, 15, tells Insight that she has been consistently scoring As in Maths exams at the Express level.

She says: "Maths classes are easy. I enjoy solving problems and, sometimes, my Express classmates ask me for help.

"They'll text me questions or ask me after school, and I won't hesitate to help."

This has given her a huge confidence boost. "There are no real differences between Express and Normal stream students," she says.

"We each have our own unique personalities, strengths and areas we are not so good at. For maths, I am on a par with the Express stream students and can do just as well as they can.

"I've become more confident and mature in thinking, and I learnt how to manage my time better."



But not everyone can be good at everything, she adds.

English and literature are two of her weaker subjects. So when the school offered her a chance to transfer to the Express stream this year, she turned it down.

She explains: "I like the pace of learning in N(A). The teacher will go through things slowly in class to let us understand better. In Express classes, we learn more things and at a faster pace so it's very difficult - but maths and Chinese are okay."

She was heartened by the Education Ministry's announcement earlier this month that it will be removing the Normal and Express streams in secondary schools.

In place of those streams will be full subject-based banding, which will include humanities subjects such as geography, literature and history, on top of the current offerings of English, mother tongue languages, maths and science. Students can choose subjects at a higher or lower level based on their strengths.

Says Jie Ying: "The removal of Normal and Express streams will be beneficial. (Full subject-based banding) recognises the strength of every student, allowing the students to grow and be developed in the subjects they are strong in."





Streaming was started to tackle high dropout rate: DPM Teo Chee Hean
It ensured kids had an education, progressed to further studies
By Sue-Ann Tan, The Straits Times, 20 Mar 2019

Streaming had its place at a time when half the children in Singapore were dropping out of school, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

He was speaking at the 1000 Enterprises and 1000 Philanthropists for Children-in-Need Appreciation Dinner held yesterday by the Singapore Children's Society at Mandarin Orchard Singapore.

While Mr Teo, a former education minister, supported the move to end streaming now, he noted that it was initially started to tackle the high dropout rates and to ensure that students completed their secondary education.

He said: "If you look back, why did we have streaming in the first place? It was to make sure we can do the best by every child."

Mr Teo recalled that, in his schooldays, half the children did not complete secondary school. Many in the army completed only their Primary 6 certification.

"It was even worse for the women, because... they gave up the opportunity to study so that their brothers could study. It is true for many of this generation in the 1960s."



Mr Teo pointed out that it was then Deputy Prime Minister Goh Keng Swee who helped to introduce streaming as an attempt to give children an opportunity to further their education.

"Now, people are wondering why we called it Express and Normal stream. Normally, people take five years to finish O levels. If you finish in four years, that's quite fast. As a result of (streaming), something like 75 to 80 per cent of students were able to go to secondary school and complete it and go on to polytechnic. That was a huge advance."

The Normal (Technical) stream was then introduced for the remaining 20 per cent to 25 per cent, giving them a way to enter secondary school and progress to post-secondary education at the Institute of Technical Education.

Mr Teo said: "This was a wonderful achievement. I don't think there's any other country in the world with such high graduation rates and low dropout rates from secondary school, and high rates of people going to post-secondary education.

"It keeps many of our students in school and out of trouble. They know they're in secondary school, (they're) motivated to study and know there's a place for them beyond secondary school. They know they can earn, can study something that is relevant to help them find a good job and a place in society."



Mr Teo also lauded the voluntary welfare organisations that helped individuals and students on the ground.

"This, in the end, is what will help make Singapore a better and stronger country because everyone knows they have opportunities and are cared for. They work hard, they do well, they can start their own home and have their own family."











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