Streaming had its place at a time when half the children in Singapore were dropping out of school, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.
He was speaking at the 1000 Enterprises and 1000 Philanthropists for Children-in-Need Appreciation Dinner held yesterday by the Singapore Children's Society at Mandarin Orchard Singapore.
While Mr Teo, a former education minister, supported the move to end streaming now, he noted that it was initially started to tackle the high dropout rates and to ensure that students completed their secondary education.
He said: "If you look back, why did we have streaming in the first place? It was to make sure we can do the best by every child."
Mr Teo recalled that, in his schooldays, half the children did not complete secondary school. Many in the army completed only their Primary 6 certification.
"It was even worse for the women, because... they gave up the opportunity to study so that their brothers could study. It is true for many of this generation in the 1960s."
Mr Teo pointed out that it was then Deputy Prime Minister Goh Keng Swee who helped to introduce streaming as an attempt to give children an opportunity to further their education.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR CHILDREN
If you look back, why did we have streaming in the first place? It was to make sure we can do the best by every child.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER TEO CHEE HEAN
"Now, people are wondering why we called it Express and Normal stream. Normally, people take five years to finish O levels. If you finish in four years, that's quite fast. As a result of (streaming), something like 75 to 80 per cent of students were able to go to secondary school and complete it and go on to polytechnic. That was a huge advance."
The Normal (Technical) stream was then introduced for the remaining 20 per cent to 25 per cent, giving them a way to enter secondary school and progress to post-secondary education at the Institute of Technical Education.
Mr Teo said: "This was a wonderful achievement. I don't think there's any other country in the world with such high graduation rates and low dropout rates from secondary school, and high rates of people going to post-secondary education.
"It keeps many of our students in school and out of trouble. They know they're in secondary school, (they're) motivated to study and know there's a place for them beyond secondary school. They know they can earn, can study something that is relevant to help them find a good job and a place in society."
Mr Teo also lauded the voluntary welfare organisations that helped individuals and students on the ground.
"This, in the end, is what will help make Singapore a better and stronger country because everyone knows they have opportunities and are cared for. They work hard, they do well, they can start their own home and have their own family."