Budget debate: All students to have avenues to progress and pursue their interests, says Lawrence Wong

About 30 more secondary schools will implement full subject-based banding in 2022.
About 30 more secondary schools will implement full subject-based banding in 2022.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - The education system will press on with efforts to help students progress no matter their starting point, Education Minister Lawrence Wong said in Parliament on Wednesday (March 3).

The Ministry of Education, for example, is looking at ways to help Institute of Technical Education (ITE) graduates upgrade beyond Nitec qualifications, even as it undertakes a comprehensive review of polytechnic and ITE pathways to better prepare students for future jobs.

Speaking during the debate on his ministry's budget, Mr Wong outlined its priorities in the years ahead - equipping students with skills beyond book knowledge; supporting learning through multiple pathways and throughout life; and uplifting and developing students to their fullest potential, regardless of starting point.

He was responding to several MPs including Ms Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC) and Mr Patrick Tay (Pioneer), who asked how Singapore's education system can progress in a post-Covid-19 world.

Others like Mr Leon Perera (Aljunied GRC), Mr Darryl David (Ang Mo Kio GRC) and Non-Constituency MP Hazel Poa spoke about the need to develop in students broader real-world skills that go beyond academic abilities.

Mr Wong said the MOE has in recent years made key shifts to dial back on the over-emphasis on academic results and increase flexibility in schools.

Students in some schools are now placed in mixed-form classes with full subject-based banding. This way, students with mixed abilities can be classmates while taking subjects at levels which match their capabilities.

About 30 more secondary schools will implement full subject-based banding next year, joining the initial 28 schools which started last year.

"The implementation of full subject-based banding is not a trivial exercise.

"Significant adjustments are needed - our schools, in the arrangement of classes and timetables; teachers in how they design and teach classes for varying student profiles; and students in their mindsets and attitudes towards learning," said Mr Wong.

The new Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) scoring system also kicks in this year, with the Primary 6 cohort to be graded using wider scoring bands instead of precise T-scores.

Building on these efforts, the MOE is reviewing post-secondary education pathways to see how it can provide more room for students to pursue their interests, said Mr Wong.

"In particular, we will take steps to enhance our polytechnic and ITE education, to ensure that it remains responsive to the aspirations of our students and the needs of our future economy," he added.

Second Minister for Education, Dr Maliki Osman, is leading a review of polytechnics and the ITEs.

The review will study ways to boost support for disadvantaged students in these institutions, and prepare students who learn better through applied education for future job needs.

For a start, MOE will relook ITE's curricula to allow its students to attain a Higher Nitec qualification within a shorter time, to meet its goal for all ITE graduates to upgrade beyond a Nitec qualification over the course of their careers by 2030.

Currently, around 30 per cent of Nitec graduates do not progress to Higher Nitec courses or other publicly-funded upgrading pathways, said Mr Wong.

"We want to do more to help these students," he added.

For students keen on the arts, a new private university - an alliance between Lasalle College of the Arts and the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa) - will award its own degrees in three to four years' time, said Mr Wong.

"It will be a private university, supported by the Government, with Lasalle and Nafa as its two constituent colleges. In other words, both will remain as distinct colleges offering their own programmes," he said.

Mr Wong said reducing inequality and strengthening social mobility has always been a priority, even before Covid-19.

"We have made significant moves over the years to ensure that education continues to be an effective social leveller in Singapore.

"For example, we have invested in quality and affordable pre-school education; we've ensured that those without a conducive home environment can benefit from school-based Student Care Centres and afterschool engagement," added Mr Wong.

Efforts to expand pathways for learning will continue beyond the schooling years, through SkillsFuture, he said.

"In the past, most of us saw education and the workplace as two separate worlds... But this model is no longer relevant today.

"We need a rotational model where work and education and rotated through one's career, and there are multiple entry points for education through life," he added.