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06 Mar 2019
Ministry of Education
Feedback View - 473
Remove streaming in secondary school

I agree with the decision of the minister for education to remove streaming in secondary school from 2024. This will get rid of the label of the students according to the normal or express stream. 

He will introduce the subject banding system to replace the streams. I agree with this approach. It is likely to work well for most students. It will however not be a perfect system. There is no perfect system anyway for the complicated subject of educating our future people and workforce.

The subject banding system was adopted five decades ago, when I was in secondary school. At secondary 3, we were streamed into the science or arts stream. Other schools had the technical stream. We received a common certificate after completing the secondary education.

We are going back to a system that worked reasonably well in the past. It was proven to be a good approach in many countries, including olden day Singapore.

The minister Ong Ye Kung will get credit for making this significant change. With the help of the mainstream media, he will receive accolades.

The media will not mention that the previous education ministers, Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Heng Swee Keat, missed the opportunity to make their mark.

It will also not mention the fact that this it took over three decades for the PAP government to recognize the obvious flaw of the streaming system in giving a negative brand for the normal stream students that stuck with them for a lifetime. Many career teachers must have brought up this feedback over decades, but they were probably ignored.

We did however observe the spectacle of several members of parliament, with past experience in teaching, extol the benefits of the subject based approach. And this was done just before the announcement of the this impending change of the education policy. This coincidence was so obvious that someone like me, who does not believe in the conspiracy theory, had noticed it.

I am hopeful that this change will become successful and that Ong Ye Kung will get the credit for making this bold decision. It will give him the credentials to be a future prime minister. I wish him well.

However, may I suggest to the minister that this is only one flaw of our education system. It may not be the biggest flaw. 

What, in my view, is a bigger flaw? 

It is the elitist approach in our education system. It comprised of the gifted education program and the prestigious scholarships that ensure the winners to get a privileged position in their career and for life.  It is a system of privilege (also called meritocracy or natural aristocracy) that has benefited two generations of our political and civil service leaders.

It is not likely that these privileged people will see the flaw in the system that has benefited them so well. It is also a system that failed to recognize some obvious flaws for several decades.  

The education system showed some of the flaws. What about the low birth rate? What about the high cost of living and the grotesque inequality? What about the cynicism and distrust in the government?

If any future leader, Ong Ye Kung or others, can deal with these other challenging issues well, perhaps Singapore will have a bright future after all.

Tan Kin Lian

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