Sunday 29 December 2019

IP schools draw students from large number of primary schools: Education Minister Ong Ye Kung

We'll continue to strive for better social mixing in schools: Ong Ye Kung
By Jolene Ang, The Straits Times, 28 Dec 2019

The social mix of students in Integrated Programme (IP) schools is actually better than that in non-IP schools, said Education Minister Ong Ye Kung yesterday.

The IP, offered by select schools, is a six-year secondary and junior college education programme that targets higher-performing students. Those in the programme are allowed to bypass the O levels for a direct route to the A levels or other qualifications.

"When I first asked myself (if the mix would be better or worse in IP schools), my instinctive answer was worse, because that is how we have always perceived IP schools - more exclusive, less diverse," Mr Ong said.

He was speaking at the Appointment and Appreciation Ceremony for Principals at Shangri-La Hotel, where 40 new school principals received their letters of appointment.

Mr Ong said that one indicator of the social mix is the number of primary schools that a secondary school's students come from, as a higher number means a larger catchment and, thus, a better mix.

A guide the Ministry of Education (MOE) uses is that every 100 Secondary 1 students in a school should come from 20 or more primary schools.

In 2004, 13 per cent of non-IP schools exceeded the guide's standards. This has jumped to 51 per cent as of this year.

In comparison, of the 17 IP schools that take in students at Secondary 1, 43 per cent exceeded the guide in 2004. This year, 88 per cent, or 15 schools, hit that target.

Hwa Chong Institution's Secondary 1 students came from 88 primary schools in 2014, and 100 this year. Over at Raffles Institution, the number jumped from 93 to 103, while for Raffles Girls' School, it went from 82 to 107.

One explanation for this, Mr Ong said, is that parents are increasingly prepared to send their children to neighbourhood primary schools, leading to a more diverse mix for IP schools.

MOE said the number of primary schools a secondary school's students come from is just one of the indicators of social inclusivity. This is important as it means that students from the secondary schools are mixing with peers with diverse experiences. Other indicators could include socio-economic status and housing type composition of students in the school.

Education economist Kelvin Seah from the National University of Singapore said: "It is natural for IP schools to be the ones attracting students from a large number of primary schools simply because these schools are among the most popular and coveted. But the question is whether these students are also socio-economically more diverse."

Indicators of such diversity could include the proportion of students living in three-room flats or smaller, or the spread of household income among students in a school.

Said Mr Ong: "Better social mixing in school is something we will continue to strive for." He noted that the phasing out of streaming, replaced by full subject-based banding in secondary schools, will help.

"We must not leave social mixing to chance. We need to make it an intentional effort, to design experiences for students so that social mixing informs and shapes their perspectives in and out of school."

Principals have a responsibility to shape school ethos and practices, he added.

The appointment of the 40 new principals is part of MOE's annual reshuffle exercise that "allows schools to benefit from new perspectives, and enables experienced principals to bring and share best practices across schools".

There are 21 first-time principals, while the other 19 are current principals and MOE headquarters officers assuming new principalship appointments.

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