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The Sacred Cow Is Dead!

The recent announcement by the Education Minister – Mr Ong Ye Kung to abolish the controversial 40-year old streaming policy is a consequential one. In a nutshell, the streaming policy was instituted in 1979 and students, upon taking the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) were categorised into the Normal (Technical), Normal (Academic) and Express streams. Students in the first two streams were designated to study subjects that were less rigorous than those studied by students in the Express stream. This policy was however defended as it was designed to meet the needs of Singapore’s industrialising economy and reduce high dropout rates amongst students from the 1970s to 1990s.  Today, Singapore is a first-world country with its own unique set of new challenges. While streaming policy has achieved its objectives of creating an educated and skilled workforce, it has also led to the crystallisation of demeaning stereotypes tainting certain segments of our students. For far too long, students in the Normal streams have been perceived by the society at large as ‘less capable’ or ‘ not academically inclined’ in comparison to their peers in the Express stream. Most importantly, such a policy has cemented the unintentional self-inferiorisation and hierarchisation of our students into groups of people marked solely by their intellectual capacities. Clearly, such a policy has no place in an evolving Singapore society, which we now aspire to make more inclusive and compassionate.

Moving forward, streaming policy will be replaced by a full-subject banding system, which will allow students to take up subjects at higher or lower levels based on their strengths, not according to their academic streams. As students will be able to take up subjects of different combinations, schools can group students in many ways, not just according to their abilities. This will produce greater social integration and foster a healthy culture of helping one another. Interestingly, national examinations such as ‘N’ and ‘O’ levels will be combined into a single national exam with a standard education certificate. The Ministry of Education will implement this banding system in 25 schools next year and gradually apply it to all secondary schools, in 2024, which marks the demise of streaming! As a former Normal Academic student and an aspiring History and Social Studies teacher, one of my profound hopes is to see my students learn with great enthusiasm and notto think that they are ‘less dignified’ than their peers just because of differing academic standing. Every student is an asset to our Singapore society, and should be valued and moulded in the best possible way. On that note, our future generations of students can now mingle with one another swimmingly and see themselves on an equal footing – untainted by nasty stereotypes, for we have killed the sacred cow!

Firdaus Hair

5 March 2019

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