GE SPECIAL: LIFE AFTER POLITICS

Intan Azura Mokhtar: Academic glad efforts to phase out streaming paid off

Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar feels her nine years in politics have made her wiser, more empathetic and more grounded.
Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar feels her nine years in politics have made her wiser, more empathetic and more grounded. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

As a former teacher who had taught Normal (Technical) stream students, Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar was pained to see how such academic labels dealt a blow to her students' self-belief.

"With sufficient motivation and opportunities to prove themselves, they did well and could realise their true potential. I did not like how academic streaming tends to pigeonhole the abilities and potential of students," said Dr Intan, 44, who was an Ang Mo Kio GRC MP for two terms.

Since entering politics in 2011, Dr Intan, who was on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, has relentlessly spoken about the need to do away with academic streaming, both in Parliament and in private meetings with office-holders from the Ministry of Education (MOE).

Much progress has been made in this area, after various groups weighed in. Last year, the MOE announced plans to phase out streaming. By 2024, full subject-based banding will be rolled out to all secondary schools, allowing students, based on their strengths, to study more subjects at a higher or lower level.

Seeing such policy changes materialise has been a satisfying aspect of her time as MP, said Dr Intan, who noted that this does not always happen. For example, she had proposed that Special Assistance Plan schools also admit students who do not take Chinese as a mother tongue, in the spirit of greater inclusivity. The suggestion has not been taken up.

Dr Intan said it has been "meaningful and memorable" to make a difference to the lives of residents in her Jalan Kayu ward through social or financial assistance schemes or estate improvement.

But there have been obstacles, too, such as residents facing multi-faceted challenges that are more difficult to resolve.

"It was not easy," Dr Intan said. "I could feel their exasperation and burden, and I wished I could solve their problems and alleviate their burdens as soon as possible."

The assistant professor in Singapore Institute of Technology's design and specialised business cluster will continue to work on her academic projects. She has also been doing pro bono work for a foundation in Indonesia that provides employability training to Indonesian youth, and hopes to spend more time on this.

Looking back on her nine years in politics, Dr Intan said she has learnt much. "I would like to believe I am wiser, more empathetic, more grounded, and someone who has a better understanding... of public policy, as well as policy aspirations, considerations and trade-offs. (I have) no regrets."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 23, 2020, with the headline Intan Azura Mokhtar: Academic glad efforts to phase out streaming paid off. Subscribe