It’s in the news. The Minister for Education, Mr Ong Ye Kung, detailed in Parliament on 5 Mar 2019 on nationwide plans to phase out Streaming for Secondary Schools. This came after observations of positive outcomes from practices of 2 pioneering Secondary schools – Boon Lay Secondary School and Edgefield Secondary School. Boon Lay Secondary School placed students from the same Co-Curriculum Activities (CCA) in the same class, rather than organizing them by their academic capabilities. This means they do not have an Express class or Normal Technical class, but there are NCC class, Band class, etc. Edgefield Secondary School organized their students randomly, and had students of different academic capabilities in one class.
Class Divide Conversations in Singapore
Recently, a documentary by Channel News Asia “Regardless of Class” brought to light the divide among students in Secondary schools because of how they are labelled and socially separated due to different academic capabilities – to the extent they would find it awkward to communicate with each other even if they were put together in the same setting. This documentary hit a raw nerve in many Singaporeans, and opened a can of worms. In the light of this, it seems like Mr Ong Ye Kung has stepped up to deal with this can of worms. He has made a commendable and bold move, not underestimating the potential challenges that may come with such a move. It is, however, a necessary move.
Subject-Based Banding and the Common Examination
One critical aspect of the changes in Secondary School is the removal of O’Levels and N’Levels examination. There will be one common examination that all students will take. On the certificate, the students’ subject band will show up beside the grade. G1 will be a Normal Technical standard, G2 a Normal Academic standard and G3 an Express standard. The Ministry of Education will work with Cambridge to implement this.
Variety of Teaching Methods
Not every student understands concepts the same way. There are many ways to teach, and a good Math & Science tutor should be able to adapt his teaching style to his student’s learning needs. It could be about using some creativity to help a student memorize a certain formula or some trigonometry equations; it could be about explaining how models work in problem sums, a good tutor comes empowered with tricks up his sleeves to help his student get it.
Operationally, schools will have students of all standards in one form class. They will attend the general lessons like Physical Education, Character & Citizenship Education, Art, etc together. However, when it’s time for academic lessons like English, Math, Science, the students will break from their form classes and join the class of their level. This will ensure that students will continue to
receive teaching that is appropriate for the levels they are in.
The magic happens when they return to their form classes for more relaxing activities – they form meaningful friendships regardless of their academic standards. From their frequent interactions with each other, they can help and encourage each other when they study together, example during recess time or after school hours. Form class bonding activities like class performances can help those who may not be most academically inclined to stand out with their singing capabilities or impressive dance moves. Students learn to appreciate each other’s strengths beyond the academics, and hence become less judgmental of each other. They get to learn a variety of skills from each other. There is a general appreciation that every individual has something to contribute. Such a value inculcated in students will definitely have a positive impact on society when the students grow up.
A Future-Ready Workforce
These recent years, the Singapore Government has been pushing out Smart Nation initiatives, and vigorously growing and encouraging digital talents. We see more coding classes thriving, even for kids as young as 5 years old! Parents who want their children to be future-ready envision them earning high salaries with
their coding capabilities.
Is this truly the way to future-proof our children?
What happens when machine learning out-smart human learning? When machines start to code on their own? Do we really need children who can code or who can solve differentiation questions? It is indeed beneficial to rethink how we view education as a society. What should education be about, and should we focus so much on academics? What makes a truly future-ready workforce?
The removal of Secondary School Streaming is a timely educational reform for Singapore. It downplays the focus on academic success, and encourages more empathy, connection and teamwork among students. Machines cannot show empathy, and cannot connect with other humans. These traits that our students develop in school will make them irreplaceable by machines. In fact, if they build their confidence on academic success only, they will only be disappointed by the new demands of the future workplace. They will never be able to perform better than machines. The future workplace need soft skills more than ever. Students who grow up in ivory towers will lack the EQ required to thrive and contribute constructively in the future workplace. If tutor strictly follows an assessment book / guide book to teach
For every new policy implemented on a national level, there will be uncertainties of all forms, and there will be criticisms. No policy can please everyone, and no policy can work for everyone. On a national level, this current change is a good change. It addresses some big elephants in the room. While it comes with potential challenges, it is for the policy makers to navigate the challenges and overcome them as they come. There may be unintended outcomes no one has anticipated. We really never know.
Therefore, the role of education returns to the parents. We ought to ask ourselves – what do we want our children to learn? How should we nurture them? Different parents enter parenthood with different values, and have different expectations for their children. There is no way the country can help each parent educate his child according to his own expectations. We need to take charge of our child’s education, regardless of changes in the system.
By the end of the day, it is definitely beneficial to encourage a love for learning in our children, regardless of the curriculum. The world is changing too fast for our children to learn first, then apply after 5 years. Whatever they learn in school will be different by the time they graduate. So, rather than focusing on the subjects themselves, it is better to focus on our children’s attitudes towards learning and school. Lifelong learning is still the answer to a better future for everyone.