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How subject-based banding could impact the education system

Commentary | Mohamed Fayyaz Bin Mohamed Faqarh



On 5 March this year, Education Minister Mr Ong Ye Kung announced that the streaming system will be replaced by a brand-new subject-based banding system.


The rationale for this educational reform was justified on the grounds of wanting to “customise education for students, while minimising the effect of labelling and stigmatisation.”


The introduction of the subject-based banding and the convergence of existing national exams (’N’ and ‘O’ levels) to one certificate seem to address the greater social problem of stigmatisation.


To many, these new education reforms represent a breakthrough in the educational system. It appears to tackle stigmatisation in existing streams and provides space for academic flexibility among students.


As such, I find this recent move by the Ministry of Education commendable.


Stigmatisation and stereotypes have long stayed within the Singapore education system. As a student from the normal (academic) stream, I can attest to the negative stereotypes placed on “normal” students.


When I was a student in secondary school, to be labelled as a ‘slow learner’ would be common Worse still, the mere fact of being placed in the normal stream did much to de-motivate my peers from achieving academic success.


Many reckoned that the stream they were in had pre-determined their academic pathway and destiny. This ‘self-limiting’mindset inexorably influenced the actions of me and my classmates in secondary school.


Furthermore, the lack of interaction among students in the normal stream and those in the express stream also reinforced social prejudices and stereotypes.


As a student, my class and I hardly interacted or had connections with an express student. Even if we did, the interaction or connection was superficial at best.


More often, however, the lack of interaction between streams encouraged the formation of cliques within respective streams. This was the harsh reality I faced.


The academic curriculum for normal students is also rigid. While normal (academic) students might enjoy a slight degree of academic flexibility of taking express level subjects, such as mathematics and mother tongue language, most, if not all normal (technical) students are not provided with such an opportunity.


Hence, the lack of academic flexibility has undoubtedly affected the mindsets of “normal” students where they are denied the opportunity to study a subject that they might have an interest in or be able to excel at.


As such, it is heartening to see how the MOE has recognised the problems and taken active steps to administer a solution. In my opinion, the recent education reforms have the following benefits.


First, by scrapping school streaming, the ministry could do more to stem stereotypes and stigmatisation arising from education streaming.


Second, the subject-based banding provides new platforms for students from different socio-economic background to learn and socialise with one another.


The interaction in common classes could potentially ameliorate existing negative stereotypes as frequent interaction and communication between students promote understanding and strengthen relationships.


Last, this initiative allows students to customise their curriculum as they are able to study subjects that they have a greater interest in and at a subject band suitable to their level of competence.


Consequently, this academic flexibility would provide a more meaningful and purposeful learning experience for students.


Nevertheless, challenges arising from this reform such as administrative constraints are to be expected.


Furthermore, skeptics are likely to postulate that this reform might not reduce academic stress as students might be still pressured to attain the best band for every subject.

However, we should also note that this reform is a step in the right direction; for it addresses the most salient issues associated with streaming.


As we head in the new direction, only time will tell if Singaporeans are receptive to this reform.



About the author: Fayyaz is a freshman at the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Social Science (NUS FASS), pursuing a major in Political Science. His research interests include Singapore-Malaysia relations, contemporary social issues in Singapore and public policy analysis.

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