The sweeping changes to secondary school streaming by Education Minister Ong Ye Kung in Parliament caught many by surprise. Some parents have given their thumbs-up, but they still have questions about how the new system will work.

Parents we asked generally say that the secondary school streaming changes are a good move by the Education Ministry (MOE). But others were concerned the new changes would be confusing.

What do Singaporean parents really think about the new MOE streaming changes?

Tjin Lee, who has two children aged 5 and 3, is ecstatic. “It’s time to put competitive parenting to rest in an age of digital disruption and let children shine in their own way, with focus on their strengths instead of pressuring them for the sake of getting good grades or simply topping a class. It’s been a long time coming,” she says.

It’s a fitting opinion from one of the co-founders of Life Beyond Grades, an initiative started by Tjin and other parents, who are fighting to broaden the government’s definition of academic success.

Wei Xian Chin, who has a 5-year-old son, is not as enthusiastic.

“I think changing the name is somewhat better but it still does not change the segregation of the stream just a nicer ways to put it. Truth is, not every kid has the bandwidth to maintain the standard of other subjects when the level of difficulty is increased for the subject that he or she is good at.

“It takes parents’ courage to let your child explore and take that step forward, especially when your child is taking mostly G1 subjects. Assuming it’s something the child can choose. If they just forcefully stream then there has to be some recourse if the child end up doing worse overall,” she laments.

Additionally, the mother-of-one is wary of how this change will impact educators who already put in long hours at in the classroom, and will possibly be facing an even higher workload once subject-based banding in fully implemented.

“I wonder how they will change the way they incentivise the teachers and principals though? I think that would have bigger impact on the actual implementation,” she asserts.

Still, most educators have embraced the proposed change.

An teacher we spoke to who declined to be named said: “Without the streaming in secondary school, there’s more freedom for students to choose their preferred subjects. It will also improve their self-worth and that in itself is a motivating factor to strive hard.”

Mrs Reshma Alwani, 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 her 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.”

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 right) 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. “I wasn’t prepared because I didn’t know about this programme. I wondered if I would be able to make friends in class,” says the Sec 3 student.

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.

“The pace was suitable for me, but I faced problems with communicating. I didn’t know anyone I could ask for help from, and I didn’t dare to ask questions in class,” she admits.

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.


How Secondary Schools Reshape Classes Without Streaming


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. “I was so happy I cried because I was recognised for my efforts. It was an honour,” she confesses.

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.

“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,” she says.

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 left), said it is important to ensure that students are adapting well to the new environment.

“At the end of the day, it is not about the grades, we want to give them a chance to pursue their interests. 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,” says the mentor.

(A version of this article first appeared on The New Paper / Additional reporting by Natalya Molok)