Synergy when able students are put together

Having been educated in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s, I agree with all that last Friday's article ("How not to dismantle a meritocratic system") says about the British education system and the defects in its reforms.

The abolition of streaming satisfied the wishes of the egalitarian left (it was a Labour government that "reformed" the system) but harmed the very students it was promoted to benefit: Many struggled or were unable to reach their potential.

Different students have different abilities, and streaming is a practical recognition of that.

When the most able students are put together, in schools or classes, there is synergy: A group of able students will lift their individual abilities more than they would if they were single students in mixed schools or classes.

There has been discussion recently about some schools becoming "elite"; and regrets expressed that their student bodies do not have the social mix of earlier generations. But isn't that to be expected in a country that has developed as far and as fast as Singapore?

In earlier times, the middle class was very small, society as a whole was less stratified, and the student bodies reflected that.

It would doubtless be very unpopular, but the single most useful step towards equality of opportunity in education would be the abolition of many of the preferences for entry into primary schools, and particularly those for children of alumni.

The Singapore education system is a world-class one. If there are reforms, please don't make the mistakes of the British.

Philip Roberts

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2015, with the headline 'Synergy when able students are put together'. Print Edition | Subscribe