Last of the millennials

19+ Worldview survey: Streaming, exams are OK

The Straits Times puts millennials between the ages of 19 and 39 on the spot by asking tricky questions that reveal their preferences.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung recently announced that the Normal-Express stream divide will be done away with in secondary schools. By 2024, streaming will be replaced with a system that lets students study subjects at different levels.

Many people, including parents and educators, cheered the move. They hope the change will reduce the stigmatisation of students in the slower Normal streams.

However, surprisingly, when 19-year-olds were asked about streaming in the ST-SUSS survey, 60 per cent felt it was appropriate for students to be routed into the Special, Express and Normal streams in secondary school.

A closer look at the figures reveals a more complex picture. Those from the junior colleges and Integrated Programme (IP) schools favoured streaming more strongly than those from the polytechnics and Institute of Technical Education.

Similarly, eight in 10 of the respondents complained that the Primary School Leaving Examination creates a lot of stress for students, but at the same time, 73 per cent said the exam should stay.

When asked about these findings during the focus group discussions with two groups, it emerged that it was their parents who are stressed out over exams and streaming. They, themselves, saw examinations as an appropriate way to stream students.

There have been complaints from parents about the IP being the preserve of the academically strong.

But again, most of the 19-year-olds say the six-year programme, which allows students to skip the O-levels, should indeed be for the academically strong.

Another interesting insight was that more than half of those from IP schools said they had aimed for this since primary school. And about 60 per cent said they chose the IP so that they could skip the O-levels and get into a top school.


Singapore Polytechnic student Liang Ge Song echoed the sentiments of many of his peers when he said he did not mind being routed into the Normal (Academic) stream.

"I realised in secondary school that I learn best by doing - by applying what I learn. So after secondary school, I was happy to go to polytechnic where learning is hands-on and you get to do a lot of projects," said the human resource management student.

National Institute of Education Associate Professor Jason Tan was not surprised at the findings.

"Their views on streaming, exams, and reasons for wanting a degree, all show that they are a very pragmatic lot. I am not surprised that they support streaming and exams - they probably see exams as a fair, objective way to sort students," he said.

"And when you have been through an exam, however stressful, it doesn't seem bad in hindsight. Especially, if you came through it well."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 12, 2019, with the headline 'Streaming, exams are OK'. Subscribe