Abolishing Streaming In Secondary Schools: Netizens React

On 4 March 2019, several elected members of parliament beseeched the Ministry of Education to eliminate streaming entirely in secondary schools and instead replace it with subject-based banding, proffering that "evergreen" template of a rationale about how sorting students into classes based solely on academic ability only served to dent individual self-esteem. (As if subject-based banding wasn't merely a stale repackaging of the current state of affairs, but hey that's besides the point here)

A day later, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung officially announced that indeed streaming shall become a thing of the past by 2024. In his own words, this is what he said about the new assessment system: "For secondary schools, we will use G1, G2 or G3. G stands for "General". G1 will roughly correspond to today's N(T) standard, G2 to N(A) standard, and G3 to Express standard. Singapore and Cambridge will co-brand this new certificate, as both are strong international brand names in education, which will enhance the recognition and value of the certificate."

Wow talk about efficiency, bloody impressive. Even Harry Potter probably couldn't pull the wand out of his ass that fast to do battle with Lord Voldemort. Nor that extra large plate of chicken rice eaten for supper last night sliding down the entire length of the alimentary canal. Round of applause for the government in suddenly becoming astonishingly receptive to feedback.......*[coughs] General Election looming [coughs]*

Surely enough, the local internet erupted. Some lauded Mr Ong for getting things done on his watch, others expressed skepticism about whether anything had really changed. One popular opposition political figure even went as far as accusing the Education Minister of plagiarizing his party's idea. Ah well. We sifted through the online chatter and compiled a collection of interesting opinions (from Reddit Singapore and Facebook) which hopefully provides a reasonable snapshot of public sentiment:

Mr Chee Soon Juan of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) is clearly displeased. Credit: Chee Soon Juan's Facebook Page

By Twrd4321 (Reddit Singapore):

"Those MPs must be clairvoyant to be able to say streaming must be abolished only for the education minister to do exactly that the next day.

It’s a good move, though I would wanna know in greater detail the changes surrounding admissions into polytechnics and JCs."

By hellosugar (Reddit Singapore):

"The PAP do it for the theatrics especially when an upcoming election is just around the corner. They plan it this way to make themselves look efficient, to show that the MPs are really hardworking and the government is very responsive to feedback.

We already do not air Singapore's parliamentary proceedings live on television unlike UK and other liberal democracies, therefore when SPH and Mediacorp's CNA report on a certain parliamentary discussion topic and the government announces new plans immediately at the snap of a finger, it is almost certain that everything was deliberately planned to win hearts."

Basically the incumbent MPs want you to know this: "Hey look at us - we are extremely productive, so please vote for the PAP in GE2019 yo".

By MerRyanSG (Reddit Singapore):

"MOE is really nimble and flexible; its openess to feedback is astounding.

Yesterday many MPs proposed abolishing streaming altogether and today detailed plans were laid out!"

By kopipeng (Reddit Singapore):

"If the Education Ministry is attempting to mirror the way the 'A' Levels are presently structured, I reckon students who offer lower level subjects (G1/2) might end up being severely disadvantaged in terms of their maximum possible "rank points" scored. If a G1 and G2 subject are being separately weighted 1/3 and 2/3 two-thirds of the G3 equivalent respectively(taking guidance from the manner in which the UAP is calculated in junior colleges) then technically wouldn't a student purely offering G1 subjects be able to score only at most a third of what a student who offers purely G3 does? Wouldn't it therefore be more demoralizing for the pure G1/G2 students to know their possible ceiling of achievement hang far lower compared to their pure G3 student counterparts?

I'm pretty sure secondary schools will have "prequisite" subject combinations to make it easier to plan class timetables, for example 7G3, 4G3/3G2 not unlike JC 3H2/1H1 minimum requirements, in this vein wouldn't the announced changes be equivalent to a superficial deletion of the streaming label without actually performing a thorough overhaul of the system?

It also appears to me students will sit for the national examinations when they enter secondary four, so what will become of the present 5 year programme for Normal Academic (NA) students?

If anything, the pre-U admissions process looks set to become more complicated. In addition to rank point/IGP criterion there will be subject level requirements as far as enrolling in a specific course is concerned. Say for example, perhaps a minimum pass in G2 level Maths is mandatory for pursuing an engineering-related course in polytechnic; yet unfortunately the aspiring student happened to offer Maths at the G1 level despite having being examined at the G2 level for all his other subjects, does that translate to an outright disqualification without any possible recourse?"

By triface1 (Reddit Singapore):

"I think this is a step in the right direction. No longer will students be disproportionately penalized just because they are weak in only one or two subjects.

On the other hand, if the Education Ministry is striving to remedy the stratification issue... then meh. Elitism will never truly go away as long as elitist mindsets are encouraged by parents and seniors. Read: a student offering 7 G3 subjects thumbing his nose at someone offering 7 G2 subjects.

I personally feel the new system would make it more difficult to forge lasting friendships. With the current system, you'd face the same set of folks daily because everyone is assigned to the same class. Fast forward to the future it's probably more akin to studying in a university; kids will end up with more friends but aren't able to establish deep, meaningful connections."

By sgslang (Reddit Singapore):

"Excellent move. While I forsee some parents will pressure their kids to offer all subjects at the G2 or G3 level, at least the new system promotes social mixing and allows kids to learn at their own pace."

By Depaysant (Reddit Singapore):

"Damn I am jealous. I think this is a great plan and is likely to benefit so many more students. Personally I can relate to things. I was by far stronger in English + Literature compared to my NA peers, and had to literally beg the school to allow me to offer English Literature at the 'O' Levels... I ended up being the only student in my entire NA cohort to do so. Even while I was a student in the Express stream, there was a huge gulf in ability between myself and my classmates in different subjects (I was always in the top 10-15% in English... and near the very bottom in Maths).

Permitting more nuanced competition between peers without having the Express/NA/NT labels slapped on them will certainly contribute to engendering a more conducive, less judgmental learning environment for all."

By slaiyfer (Reddit Singapore):

"What a farce of a proposal when it's already been long decided."

By Aman Mesh Shahab (Facebook):

"In the end, the students themselves will still be sorted out for further studies at ITEs, polytechnics and junior colleges based on their grades so what exactly is the point? I think the current system works fine. If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

By Francis Oen (Facebook):

" I wonder how many G1 and G2 students RI will take in? .. Or will 'some' schools only have G3 students while others end up with G1/G2 students... Same same but different name..."

By Priscilla Tan (Facebook):

"Finally, this makes more sense (albeit a 5-year wait to materialise). So what happens to those kids (and adults) who were stigmatised, marginalised and wasted one extra precious year on the callous streaming exercise? A real-life scenario: Boy scored A1 in English in the 'N' Levels and met the criteria for Polytechnic Foundation Programme (PFP), BUT because his 5th subject (MT) was graded a 4, he was ineligible for the programme. What has MT got to do with a polytechnic programme? So he carried on with the 5th year in secondary school (which his primary school is not affiliated to) for the 'O' Levels. His peers who came from affiliated primary schools had PSLE T-scores worse than him, yet still successfully enrolled in the same secondary school's Express stream."

By Catherine Dee (Facebook):

"Well done Mr Ong for abolishing streaming. Hope you can do the same for the PSLE too."

By Jimmy Beany (Facebook):

"No difference when parents and even the government itself are obsessed with academic excellence, comparing results all the way from PSLE T-scores to whether you graduated from a reputable university with honours. Most non-gradable achievements are swept aside. If the core issue is not addressed, all these superficial changes does nothing for Singapore society as a whole. Parents and students will still find themselves labelled and stratified."

By Chua Kim (Facebook):

"..problematic "solution" IMO,either the smart ones end up turning stupid, or the stupid ones grow smarter. Certainly, the already smart ones will not become any smarter. I am also sure, some good students will rot in the process. And bad ones, well, they will remain bad. At the end of the day, a school's academic track record and brand name will still feature among key considerations of both discerning parents and students deciding on which institution to attend. The school shall thus continue striving its hardest to score well in the reputation department and needless to say, more teachers are expected to go crazy."

By Yan Tan (Facebook):

"Ong Ye Kung has done quite a bit since taking on the education portfolio and there have been many good changes made. Keep it up sir!"

By Ryan Goh (Facebook):

"Ong Ye Kung is a minister who is genuinely working his ass off, unlike others who are only good at yakking away (and wasting plenty of taxpayers' monies) yet produce zero tangible results."

Concluding with an epic reply by Jeff Jieff on Facebook:

Carefully harvested and edited for clarity by the Czar (Site Founder)

Dated 5 March 2019


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