No reason why ending streaming won’t remove stigma if society plays its part: Ong Ye Kung

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung with residents at the Canberra Day 2019 event on March 10, 2019. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - There is no reason why Singapore will not succeed in eradicating stigmatisation of students in secondary school, given its success in doing so in primary schools - though society must also play its part, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Sunday (March 10).

"Stigmatisation is not a government policy, (it) is a societal response," he said, addressing public feedback that plans to move from streaming to subject-based banding in 2024 would perpetuate stigmatisation in a different form.

Society has the responsibility to help combat stigmatisation of students based on their performance in school by recognising that every student has different strengths and skills, he said, adding that the education system is trying to cater to these strengths, and not label students.

"Labels are everywhere, we are categorised in everything we do. Whether we want to create a wall between different people, it is really up to us as a society," he added.

Mr Ong pointed to the replacement of streaming with subject-based banding in primary schools in 2008, which he said helped to tailor primary education to pupils at a subject-based level. "It worked well, and the stigmatisation is more or less gone in primary schools," he added.

He said there is "no reason" this would not work now for secondary schools, noting similar changes had been tested at a secondary level over the past decade.

Asked what is being done to ensure employers would not now stigmatise potential employees based on subject bands, Mr Ong said he believed that with the Government taking the lead, that would help point Singaporeans in the right direction.

"We're not helpless in combating this," he told reporters on the sidelines of a grassroots event in Sembawang GRC, where he is an MP.

He said he wanted to address some "key concerns" following Tuesday's announcement during the debate on the Ministry of Education's budget that the Government will do away with secondary school streaming, which has been in place for almost 40 years.

By 2024, the Normal (Academic), Normal (Technical) and Express streams in secondary schools here will be replaced by full subject-based banding, where students will take up subjects at higher or lower levels, based on their strengths.

This is only happening in 2024 as any changes to the education system will have an "immense impact", so the authorities have to take care when implementing such changes, said Mr Ong.

However, while a complete switch to the new system will only happen in five years, the big changes are happening now in the lead-up to that change, he pointed out.

Beginning with an initial 25 schools practising full subject-based banding next year, this will be expanded to other schools over the years, he said, describing the revamping of classes and timetables as a "complex operation" that will take time.

Mr Ong added he was confident teachers would adapt well to the new system, saying such changes would not succeed without the passion and belief of teachers.

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