SINGAPORE - The social mix of students in Integrated Programme (IP) schools is actually better than that in non-IP schools, said Education Minister Ong Ye Kung on Friday (Dec 27).
The IP, offered by select schools, is a six-year secondary and junior college education programme that targets higher-performing students.
Those in the programme are allowed to bypass the O levels for a direct route towards the A levels or other qualifications, such as the International Baccalaureate.
"When I first asked myself (if the mix would be better or worse in IP schools), my instinctive answer was worse, because that is how we have always perceived IP schools - more exclusive, less diverse," Mr Ong said.
He was speaking about social mixing in schools at the annual Appointment and Appreciation Ceremony for Principals at Shangri-La Hotel, where 40 new school principals received their letters of appointment.
Mr Ong said one indicator is the number of primary schools that a secondary school's students come from, as a higher number means a larger catchment and thus better mix.
A guide the Ministry of Education uses is that every 100 Secondary 1 students in a school should come from 20 or more primary schools.
In 2004, 13 per cent of non-IP schools exceeded the guide's standards. This has jumped to 51 per cent as of this year.
In comparison, of the 17 IP schools that take in students at Secondary 1, 43 per cent exceeded the guide in 2004.
As of this year, 88 per cent or 15 schools have hit that target.
Mr Ong highlighted a few IP schools that displayed a "counter-intuitive phenomenon", with students hailing from a large range of primary schools.
Hwa Chong Institution's Secondary 1 students came from 88 primary schools in 2014, and 100 in 2019.
Over at Raffles Institution, the number jumped from 93 to 103, while for Raffles Girls' School, it was from 82 to 107.
At Nanyang Girls' High School, the number increased from 83 to 91.
One explanation for this, Mr Ong said, is that parents are increasingly prepared to send their children to neighbourhood primary schools, and as a result, the students who are eligible for IP secondary schools come from a more diverse range of primary schools.
"Better social mixing in school is something we will continue to strive for," he added, noting that the phasing out of streaming - to be replaced by full subject-based banding in secondary schools - will help.
"We must not leave social mixing to chance. We need to make it an intentional effort, to design experiences for students so that social mixing informs and shapes their perspectives in and out of school.
"That has to come from the school leader, who has to take a moral stand."
Principals have a responsibility to shape school ethos and practices, he added.
"In running schools, we must uphold the values and attitudes we want to impart in our students... If a school emphasises academic grades above all else, the children will get the message and will likely grow up with that mindset.
"If the school emphasises the importance of values-in-action or sportsmanship, the child receives a different signal and affirmation."
The appointment of the 40 new principals is part of MOE's annual reshuffle exercise that "allows schools to benefit from new perspectives, and enables experienced principals to bring and share best practices across schools".
There are 21 first-time principals, while the other 19 are current principals and MOE headquarters officers assuming new principalship appointments.