You might have heard that Education Minister Ong Ye Kung and the Ministry of Education (MOE) have revamped the streaming system for secondary school education.
With the expansion of Full Subject Based Banding (SBB) and the consolidation of O and N-Levels into a single national examination and certification system, education in Singapore will soon look very different.
Change to the system by 2024
Here's the short version of what's changed:
- No more streaming. Students will take subjects across three bands, G1, G2 and G3, which map to Normal (Technical), Normal (Academic) and O-Level respectively.
- SBB will be expanded to include humanities subjects like Geography, History and Literature in addition to English, Mathematics, Science and Mother Tongue.
- The current N-Level and O-Level exam and certification system will be consolidated into a single national certification.
MOE hopes these changes, introduced progressively across a number of years, will encourage interaction between students of different abilities and help them to learn at their own pace.
It's natural to have some questions about how this thing will work out, so here are some answers for your worried parent / child / teacher / school principal / civil servant.
How does this change the admission process to post secondary education institutions e.g. JCs, Polys, ITE?
Admission to these institutions today already recognise students who take out-of-stream subjects.
Some secondary schools have already implemented SBB for subjects like English and Mathematics.
MOE will conduct a study on how best to adjust admissions to account for full SBB. Refinements to admission criteria will be announced at a later date.
My kid is doing well, if he's in a class with students of different abilities, will he be disadvantaged?
Firstly, congratulations that your kid is succeeding.
But there's no need to worry. For each SBB subject, he will be taught in a class based on ability levels.
Students in that class will access the lessons at the same level, whether G1, G2 or G3, so they can learn at their own pace.
Students will still be sorted into different form classes for day-to-day learning, but when it's time for Mathematics or English or other SBB subjects, they will go to separate classes according to their abilities.
Wait, if there's no more streaming, how will student classes be grouped?
Without streaming, there's no automatic grouping of form classes by academic level.
But this just means that schools can get creative. Today, some schools are already experimenting by grouping students into form classes according to different criteria, like their CCAs.
They will take certain lessons as a form class, like PE.
But as mentioned, they will split up and go to separate classes for SBB subjects.
This will help encourage students to interact with students with different abilities and backgrounds, and hopefully reduce stigmatisation and labelling.
How will teachers cope?
The introduction of full SBB will indeed lead to a "slight increase" in the teaching load.
But MOE avers that schools have come up with ways to make it sustainable.
Schools may band classes for timetabling together so that SBB kids can join students taking subjects at a more demanding level.
Teachers can also tap onto the Student Learning Space, an online learning portal, to provide support for SBB students.
MOE has also pledged to support teachers themselves with additional resources and professional development to help them manage their new charges.
Hang on, the three subject bands (G1, G2, G3) seems awfully similar to the old streaming system. Why do it in the first place?
According to MOE, the transition from Primary 6 to Secondary 1 is "significant", and they want to ensure that students take on subjects according to their ability.
But past Secondary 1, students can make use of SBB to take more subjects at a level best suited to their strengths, while also giving them the opportunity to mix with students from different backgrounds.
That means the subjects a student takes in Secondary 1 might not be the same as the ones he will take at Secondary 4. It depends on their ability and choices.
Finally, the new differentiated banding system will help ensure that their cohort represents a good mix of students with differing abilities.
Top image by Rachel Ng.