The sweeping changes to secondary school streaming by Education Minister Ong Ye Kung in Parliament caught many by surprise. Parents have given their thumbs-up, but they still have questions about how the new system will work.
Parents who spoke to The Straits Times says that the secondary school streaming changes are a good move by the Education Ministry (MOE). Some add that it has potential to help reduce stigmatisation.
Mum was judged for being in Normal stream
Mrs Dadina Ong recalls her own experience of being “branded as Normal” after the Primary School Leaving Examination.
The 42-year-old describes it a scary experience.
“Everyone started judging and that shocked me,” she says. She managed to get into the Express stream after Secondary 1. Later, she became a bank treasurer after getting a diploma in business in a polytechnic and a degree from an overseas university.
She is glad her son, who is in Primary 1, will grow up in a different system.
“This Normal and Express split is not necessary. It will be more relaxed now,” she says.
Mrs Reshma Alwani, a housewife who has a daughter in Primary 1, welcomes the chance for her child to be in classrooms with those from other bands.
“We shouldn’t be afraid to let them sit with others who score less in an exam. Instead, focus on their own learning ability… In fact when everyone is just as good or better than you, it can also be intimidating,” she says.
Like other parents, she also has concerns, such as how schools decide when students get to move across subject bands.
Will it still be based on a single exam, she asks?
“Sometimes the child is nervous or unwell on exam day and that can affect their performance,” she says.
What about kids in schools that offer higher-level subjects?
Another worry was what will happen to students who go to schools that offer mainly higher-level G3 subjects.
Diane Wee recalls how daughter was posted to an all Express-stream school last year but had to transfer to another school after “dropping” to the N(A) stream.
While the move has benefited her child, she would have preferred if her child could have changed streams and yet stay at her first secondary school.
Changing streams was already emotionally trying for her daughter, and it was made tougher by having to find another school.
The 44-year-old housewife says: “Changing schools was inconvenient as we had to hunt around for another that could admit her in Sec 2. Most schools we approached told us to just apply and wait.”
Watch this video to see how secondary schools reshape classes without streaming (article continues below video).
Subject-based banding: How one student did it
Although she could not qualify for the Express stream, she did extremely well for mathematics and Chinese.
When Low Jie Ying (pictured above) applied to Paya Lebar Methodist Girls’ School (Secondary), she was placed in the Normal (Academic) stream but was offered mathematics and Chinese at the Express level under the subject-based banding (SBB) scheme.
But it was not a smooth-sailing journey when she started.
The Secondary 3 student, who was from Paya Lebar Methodist Girls’ School (Primary), told The New Paper: “I wasn’t prepared because I didn’t know about this programme. I wondered if I would be able to make friends in class.”
But she wanted to work on her strengths, so she took up the offer and became the only student from the N(A) stream to join an Express class at Sec 1.
She also had a problem adapting to the shorter time during exams.
But she soon improved and started faring better than some Express students, so much so that she began helping some of them in their school work.
“I can deepen my knowledge at the pace I like, and it makes me more confident because I can challenge myself,” says Jie Ying.
At the end of Sec 2, she was given the offer to transfer to the Express stream as she did well for her year-end exams.
She says: “I was so happy I cried because I was recognised for my efforts. It was an honour.”
However, Jie Ying declined the offer as she was worried that she would not be able to keep up in her weaker English and literature subjects at the Express level.
She says: “The decision was clear-cut: Going to Express would mean additional stress, and I want to take time to understand the concepts taught.
“I know how I learn best so my parents fully supported my decision.”
When the school joined the SBB scheme in 2017, more than half of N(A) and Normal (Technical) students were offered the scheme.
Mrs Koh Mei Chin, a mathematics SBB mentor at PLMGS (Secondary) (pictured above), said it is important to ensure that students are adapting well to the new environment.
“Their emotional well-being is one of the things teachers look out for.
“Each student is given a buddy to help them integrate well into the class.”
A version of this article first appeared in The New Paper.
Photos: ST & TNP