'Extreme social mixing' in primary schools may pose difficulties for teachers: Maliki

Social mixing is just one of the considerations schools take when grouping pupils into classes, said Mr Maliki Osman. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - While social mixing in terms of gender, ethnicity and academic ability is important for diversity in primary schools, taking it to an extreme may pose challenges for teachers, said Second Minister for Education Maliki Osman on Wednesday (March 9).

Social mixing is just one of the considerations schools take when grouping pupils into classes, he added.

He said: "We must be careful as social mixing, if brought to the extreme, may impose more challenges on teachers, so we want to strike a balance. Beyond the classroom, we also facilitate social mixing through other platforms, such as co-curricular activities."

He was responding in Parliament to questions from Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) on whether primary school pupils taking subjects at foundation level can be placed in the same classes as pupils who are not, in order to ensure social mixing. Mr Ng also asked about the process behind sorting pupils into classes.

Dr Maliki did not elaborate on what might be considered extreme social mixing, but he said that other considerations in class grouping include having enough common subjects between pupils, the capabilities of teachers to handle a wide range of abilities and resource limitations.

He said: "So schools are given flexibility to manage and operationalise groupings."

Dr Maliki added that primary schools strive to create classes with a "good mix" of gender, race and learning ability, adding that building knowledge and soft skills is better achieved with diverse classrooms.

Primary school pupils take subjects at either a standard or foundation level in Primary 5 and 6 leading up to the Primary School Leaving Examination, with foundation-level subjects being less academically demanding.

In reply to a separate question in Parliament, Dr Maliki said Singaporeans have made up about half the faculty at local universities over the last 10 years.

Over the past five years, half the faculty in the humanities and social sciences-related departments are Singaporeans, he said in response to Mr Leon Perera's (Aljunied GRC) question on the ratio of Singaporeans to foreigners in the local universities.

Mr Perera also asked about the mix of locals and foreigners in the tenure and non-tenure tracks.

Dr Maliki replied that in the universities with a tenure system - National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore Management University and the Singapore University of Technology and Design - the proportion of Singaporeans in the tenured and tenure-track faculty has remained stable at around 40 per cent over the past 10 years.

For faculty under the non-tenure track, the proportion of Singaporeans is higher, averaging at around 60 per cent over the past 10 years, he added.

Dr Maliki noted: "The autonomous universities (AUs) actively reach out to Singaporean academics based overseas to attract them to come back to Singapore.

"We also support young Singaporeans keen on pursuing an academic career at the AUs through the Singapore Teaching and Academic Research Talent (Start) scheme, which was introduced in 2015. There are currently 162 Start award recipients today."

The mix between locals and foreigners in Singapore's universities has been brought up previously in Parliament.

In 2014, Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC) said that fewer than half of the faculty in political science, communications and public policy - which he described as "some of the most important and context-sensitive fields of endeavour in any country" - were Singaporean.

Then, The Straits Times reported that locals formed a minority at the NUS' Political Science Department (seven of 25), the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (38 of 82) and at NTU's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (12 of 29). ST also reported that one in two tenured faculty members across the board was Singaporean, but many were set to retire over the next decade.

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