A group of 28 secondary schools will be the first to allow their students to take a greater number of subjects at a higher level next year, ahead of an overhaul to Singapore's education system in a few years.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) yesterday revealed for the first time the 28 schools that will pilot full subject-based banding, where students take subjects, at a higher or lower level, based on their strengths.
The schools include Bedok Green Secondary, Paya Lebar Methodist Girls' School (Secondary), Pei Hwa Secondary and St Patrick's School.
Their students will be able to choose to study humanities subjects - geography, history and literature in English - at a more demanding level from Secondary 2, if they have the aptitude. Existing options are English, mathematics, science and mother tongue.
The 28 pilot schools will also try out new Sec 1 form class arrangements instead of the traditional sorting by Express, Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical) streams. Students from different streams will be in the same form class and take a common set of subjects that will amount to about a third of curriculum time.
These include art, character and citizenship education, design and technology, and physical education.
MOE said that next year's pilot comes ahead of the roll-out of full subject-based banding to all secondary schools by 2024, in the same year that the Normal and Express streams will be scrapped.
The 28 schools were selected based on their readiness, and all had taken part in earlier phases of subject-based banding and have experience in supporting students of different learning abilities. Teachers have been undergoing training to customise learning to different needs of students, and redesigning resources like assignments or worksheets.
One pilot school, Queenstown Secondary, hopes to let Sec 1 students next year have a hand in naming their classes, besides evenly distributing students from different streams across classes.
Its principal Rasidah Rahim said more students have taken higher-level subjects. On average, about 25 per cent of its Normal (Academic) students take one or more higher-level subjects, and 62 per cent of Normal (Technical) students do the same - up from 8 per cent and 12 per cent, respectively, in 2014, when it started subject-based banding.
At St Andrew's Secondary, another pilot school, students have given positive feedback about subject-based banding. Last year, about 40 per cent of its Normal (Academic) students and 78 per cent of Normal (Technical) students in Sec 1 took subjects at a higher level.
Sec 2 student Andre Ramraj Manalili Khurana, 14, has taken English, science and mathematics at Express level since last year, and did well enough to move from the Normal (Academic) stream to an Express class this year. He was pushed to learn at a faster pace, he said, while making friends with peers from other classes.
The schools are also glad that students will have the chance to challenge themselves in humanities.
Queenstown Secondary estimates that about 10 per cent of its Normal (Academic) students will be able to take humanities subjects at a higher level, while St Andrew's Secondary said about 14 Sec 1 Normal (Academic) students may similarly qualify by the end of this year.
Mrs Marion Tan, principal of St Andrew's, said: "Before we started subject-based banding last year, our lower secondary students took subjects only at the level of their stream. And for many, it was as if they were imposing an artificial cap on how far they should challenge themselves for any subject, even if they had the interest and aptitude for it.
"With subject-based banding, we have students who are willing to push themselves further to realise their potential in a given subject with the help of their teachers. And it often encourages them to excel in other subjects or areas of their school life as well."
Bowen Secondary tries out mixed-stream classes for Sec 2 cohort
To prepare for the upcoming changes to form classes, Bowen Secondary School decided to test the waters this year.
It mixed up its Secondary 2 cohort during character and citizenship education (CCE) lessons between March and April as part of a trial to see how students from different streams would take to one another.
Ms Dorothy Lim, senior CCE teacher, said co-curricular activity (CCA) groupings were used as this was already a way for students from all three streams - Express, Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical) - to mix.
All 280 Sec 2 students took part in five sessions, where they learnt topics such as acceptance and being inclusive. For instance, in learning about empathy with people who have physical disabilities, students refrained from using one limb to play a ball game.
Each of the eight groups had 30 to 35 students from two to three CCAs. They were of different genders, races and academic streams.
They got to make new friends from other CCAs and streams. Sec 2 Express student Huzefa Aziz said: "When you pass the ball during a game, you aren't passing to an N(A), N(T) or Express student; you are passing it to your friend."
Bowen Secondary is one of the 28 pilot schools implementing full subject-based banding from next year, along with mixed form classes for Sec 1. It usually has seven Sec 1 classes - four Express, two Normal (Academic) and one Normal (Technical).
Ms Lim hopes students gain a deeper sense of empathy and learn to work with peers who have had different experiences.
Next year, the school will also form "buddy groups" for Sec 1 classes to encourage students to look out for one another. Class bonding time - in the form of time for reflection, games or breakfast - will be set aside every Friday too.