After 40 years, the Ministry of Education has announced that it is removing the Secondary School Streaming programs in 2024.
In his speech on Tuesday, March 5, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said that a full subject-based banding replaces the system. That causes both excitements among the children and anxiety from the parents.
What is Full Subject-Based Banding?
Let us explain: the full subject-based banding will divide subjects into three levels to make it easier for students to study their interests. It will be applied to all Secondary 1 student from 2024 onwards. But, 25 schools will be the first to pilot the new program in 2020 based on their capability and their readiness.
After students take their Primary School Leaving Examinations, their results would then be used to determine which subject levels they can take.
The subjects will be divided into three levels:
- G1 (General 1) is the new version of the Technical syllabus
- G2 (General 2) is the new version of the Normal Academic syllabus
- G3 (General 3) is the new version of the Express syllabus
Students will be allowed to change the subject levels he is taking after Secondary 1, especially if he had performed well in other subjects. Students will also be allowed to take lower level subjects if his current course load is too rigid.
The school will track the progress of each student with the help of guidelines and examinations. Once students reach Secondary 4, they will take a new examination that is like the current GCE exams.
When they graduate, they will receive uniform certificates and effectively remove streaming levels. These certificates will identify the subjects taken and the standard band. It will also have the names of Cambridge and Singapore.
Aside from the new program, the government will also be launching a new post-secondary program by 2028 to support the new system. Looks like we, parents have to gear up for plenty of changes down the road!
Why Change the System?
The announcement was made a day after 5 MPs advocated a new system for Secondary school students to replace streaming.
Several reasons were raised to explain why subject-based banding is better than streaming.
1) Students learn better and in their own speed
Although streaming was used to reduce dropout rates in the country, there are disadvantages in following the system at a young age.
Streaming does not consider how students learn each subject and how fast they can master it.
Each student has their own pace when it comes to different subjects. It may take a while for them to master certain concepts, while others will need extra guidance. It is not a guarantee that they will be able to keep up with their subjects if they are in the Express stream.
With subject-based banding, students can learn at their own speed and do a curriculum based on their strengths and preferences.
Before the announcement, students taking the Normal stream can enrol up to 2 advance subjects when they reach Secondary 3. But, they must pass the subjects with flying colours when they were in Secondary 1 and 2.
2) The “Normal” Label
The “Normal” and “Express” syllabus used in the current system also affects the student’s confidence.
For students taking the “Normal” route, they often feel resigned that they cannot improve further. They also lose interest in learning more about other topics not included in their syllabus.
Being in the normal syllabus also reduces the chance for students to move within the system. They may also find it difficult to get into the careers they want based on the subjects they took.
With the new education system, the government hopes students can condition learning from a “differentiated curriculum” and not feel stigmatized.
3) Improving student relations
The new subject-based banding system would also prove beneficial in terms of student relations.
Since students are no longer separated based on their selected curriculum, they could now meet with their peers from other bands. Children do not have to worry about being judged by their peers and they can concentrate on their work.
It is the hope of the government that the new system would influence schools to group students in another way.
4) Changing environment influences the focus of education
With the advent of the digital age, it is very easy to get information. But, it does not help people develop the right skills they need in the future.
Through the new system, students will be able to continue learning at their own pace and pursue the subjects they love while exchanging ideas with peers at different intellectual level.
Is It Enough?
Now that we have discussed the pros, we should point out the cons as well. Some parents believe that there are still problems with the new system that must be addressed.
1) Determining Student’s Bands
With the new system, it creates uncertainty for some parents on how schools will decide when students can move to a different level.
Will schools use one major exam? Will it be based on several exams? Will the Cambridge-Singapore certification be recognised worldwide and by other reputable schools overseas?
As this is a huge move towards an all-rounded education, there are plenty of questions in parents’ minds. Until those questions are answered, there will always be doubt in the application of the new change.
2) Students studying in schools offering G3 subjects
Another worry raised by parents is for students who are going to schools that only offer G3 subjects. Some parents have been forced to transfer their kids to another school because the school only offer Express-stream subjects.
Although the move was ok, some parents prefer it if their child were given the chance to change streams. They also prefer it if their child remains in one secondary school.
Some children may even find the move emotionally draining, especially if they could not find the right school to transfer to. Some schools do not accept transfer students because of their subject level or academic calendar.
Considering the nature of this new system, students will be given a choice on how they want their career to grow. They will also be able to discover their potential with the system easily, as well as meet their peers and see them as equals.
The ministry hopes that the system will help promote a better learning environment for the future generation and show that students can shape their own future. I see this as a positive change although there may be gaps in the new system, which given time will allow the ministry to collect feedbacks to close those gaps.
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