SINGAPORE - It is crucial that schools remain open communities that give students chances to interact with peers from different backgrounds and races, and grow up in a multicultural Singapore, said Education Minister Ong Ye Kung on Thursday evening (April 11).
In the light of this, Special Assistance Plan (SAP) schools need to make extra efforts to expose their students to students from other backgrounds, he stressed.
Mr Ong was speaking at the premiere of a documentary-drama at the Capitol Theatre. The film pays tribute to the contributions of former educators from CHIJ St Nicholas Girls' School, which is an SAP school.
Set in the 1950s, the 70-minute film From Victoria Street To Ang Mo Kio was directed and produced by former St Nicholas girl Eva Tang. It revolves around two students and their relationship with their principal and teachers.
It also features interviews with past and current students and staff.
The premiere was attended by more than 900 alumnae, staff, students and other guests.
SAP schools place a heavy emphasis on Chinese language and culture, and generally have fewer non-Chinese students.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of SAP schools, which were established in 1979 to preserve the traditional Chinese school environment in the wake of Chinese-medium schools closing due to falling enrolment.
Mr Ong said that such exposure "needs to go beyond the occasional or one-off events, such as celebrating Racial Harmony Day".
"We will need to find platforms for deep, regular and meaningful engagements; for example, partnering other schools to offer outdoor learning, Values-in-Action programmes or even joint co-curricular activities."
He acknowledged, however, that the SAP schools are still relevant today.
"We have to remember the historical context of setting up SAP schools - which is to uphold the traditional Chinese school cultural environment, at a time when English education had become very popular and Chinese schools were closing down rapidly. If we had not had SAP schools, we would have lost an important part of our culture," he said.
The SAP schools are part of a "larger ecosystem", he added, and along with government schools, clan-based and church-based government-aided schools, and madrasahs, they make up a diverse education landscape.
SAP schools are also one example of a range of efforts to promote the learning of mother tongues, said Mr Ong.
"We want our students to be multilingual and multicultural, ready to embrace a future where we must be anchored to our roots and confident to face the world.
"More than ever, knowing multiple languages and cultures will become a competitive advantage. All around the world, people are learning new languages and cultures, and we cannot buck the trend at this crucial juncture and dilute our efforts."
Mr Ong also recapped the recent moves to change the education system to "better prepare our students for the future", such as dialling back the emphasis on examination and grades.
The Education Ministry is also in the process of removing the precise Primary School Leaving Examination T-scores and replacing them with broader achievement levels, which will kick in from 2021.
And by 2024, streaming as it is currently known in secondary schools will be phased out. Instead, full subject-based banding, in which students take subjects at a higher or lower level based on their strengths, will be implemented.