12 October 2019
Education Minister Ong Ye Kung announced earlier this year that the Government is doing away with the Normal (Technical), Normal (Academic) and Express streams. From 2024, all secondary students enrolling into Sec 1 will sit for a common examination at the end of Sec 4, but will be allowed to take a mix of subjects at three levels of difficulty G1, G2 and G3, with G3 being the most difficult. This subject-based banding system replaces streaming.
Thanks to meritocracy, a generation or two achieved upward social mobility; they became well-off parents themselves. What their own parents could not afford, they can now pour resources into, such as extra classes, to give their offspring a head start in life. But not everyone can afford such expenditure, and those who can’t risk being left behind in the academic race. A vicious circle takes root and social inequality widens.
Deputy Prime Minister and then Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said in his Budget speech in 2015: “We must become a meritocracy of skills, not a hierarchy of grades earned early in life.”
The scrapping of streaming from 2024 is a good first step. But while rules and processes impact the overall system, for any meaningful change to take place, change has to happen at the individual level.
The best thing that has come out of the latest move to scrap streaming from 2024 is to spark a discussion – at home, in classrooms, coffee shops, WhatsApp groups and workplaces – on these questions: what defines success; what kind of society do we aspire to become; and what new normal we hope to achieve in our education landscape.