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     Community: Singapore Community Issues

       Schools - Remedial classes and streaming

The latest letter/article is at the top. The letter/article which started the debate is right below.


Full-text of letter by PHOON Lee Chaeng, Director (Planning) Ministry of Education to Forum, The Straits Times of 13 Mar 2001 

  I refer to the commentaries and letters published on streaming and stress in the education system. I would like to explain the Ministry of Education's rationale and approach to streaming.
  Some readers have argued for students to be allowed to learn at a pace that the students are comfortable with. Streaming aims to do precisely that, by matching the abilities of the students with suitable curricula and learning pace.
  Without streaming, students of different learning abilities will be put into the same class. They will all be forced to study the same curriculum at the same pace.
  Those who cannot cope with the pace of the class will become frustrated, lose confidence, and experience a sense of failure. Those who are capable of doing more may lose interest and fail to achieve their full potential.
  In 1980, before streaming, only 58% of the Primary 1 cohort completed secondary school. In 2000, the proportion was 93%.
  This is due in large part to the availability of differentiated curricula in the different streams, thus enabling more to complete 10 to 11 years of general education.
  The introduction of the Normal (Technical) stream in 1994, for instance, has allowed another 15% of the Primary 1 cohort to benefit from a secondary-school education - students who would otherwise have lost interest in school because of their inability to cope with the more academic streams.
  Beyond secondary school, students also have a range of options for post-secondary and tertiary education.
  Our tertiary-education participation rate is among the highest in the world, with 59% of the Primary 1 cohort of students entering our universities and polytechnics.
  These students do not just come from the A-Level stream. For instance, 38% of the Normal (Academic) stream students who took their O levels in 1999 entered the polytechnics or pre-university institutions.
  By allowing these students five years to prepare for the O levels in the Normal stream, streaming ensures that more students will be able to benefit from the education system to as high a level as possible.
  There is also flexibility in the system, such as a parental option after the Primary 4 streaming, in which parents have the final say and can opt for a more demanding stream than the school's recommendation for their child, and lateral transfers between streams for students who show that they are capable of doing well in a more demanding one.
  For instance, in 1999, 382 Secondary 1 Normal (Technical) students transferred to the Secondary 2 (Normal) Academic stream. Another 347 Secondary 1 Normal (Academic) students were transferred to the Secondary 2 Express stream.
  The well-being of our children is of utmost importance, and we strive to provide them with the opportunities to achieve their full potential. Streaming allows us to cater to differing needs. What we need to work on as a community is to reduce the stigma that is associated with less popular streams and programmes.
  It is not, as suggested by Ms XIA Jing Fang in her letter "Must kids be branded like cows?"(ST March 5), that the Ministry of Education and schools "are quick to blame parents for students' behavioural problems and academic inadequacies, and quick to take credit in media reports of educational achievements".
  Stress often comes from a mismatch between expectations and achievement. Parents can have a very positive influence on the stress levels of their children if they understand their children's potential and limits, and work closely with schools to encourage and support them.
  On the part of the ministry, we have always emphasised the importance of interlocking factors that have helped to keep educational achievements high: Strong parental and societal support for education, clear policies backed by effective implementation, dedicated teachers and school leaders, and high access to resources (including IT resources).
  Education is our investment in the future. It is a venture in which schools, parents and the community work together to create opportunities for all to be the best that they can be.

PHOON LEE CHAENG, Director (Planning) MOE


Excerpt of a letter by XIA Jing Fang to Forum, The Straits Times of 5 Mar 2001

  ...For the whole of last year, my daughter was required to go for remedial lessons to prepare for the Primary 4 streaming examination.

  I opted for her not to attend these lessons, but her form teacher made several calls to me and insisted that she attend.
  These calls from teachers cause stress and anxiety not only to parents but also to children.
  Children fear being stigmatised should they end up in EM3 classes.
  Why should they be streamed into classes that label in no uncertain terms their learning abilities? Must our children be branded like cows?
  After two months of remedial lessons, not only did my daughter's grades not improve, but she was also always tired and stressed. Worst of all, her grades dipped! 
  With each lesson she attended, I realised her teacher was catching up with what they could not finish during normal class time.
  I decided to take her out of the classes completely, over the teacher's objections, and coached her at home in a stress-free manner, tailored to her pace. She improved and received an award from the community development council for doing well.
  The Education Ministry and schools are quick to blame parents for students' behavioural problems and academic inadequacies, and quick to take credit in media reports of educational achievements.
  Parents struggle along with their children to achieve the incredibly high standards set by the ministry while schools try, at best, to complete the syllabus so students can sit for examinations. 
  What students learn in school does not, by any means, prepare them adequately for their examinations. It is tutors or parents, who painstakingly cover and explain concepts teachers simply do not have the time to delve into. 
  We are a nation where tutors and parents have taken on the part-time job of educating our children when schools fail in their duty to do so, while our Education Ministry accepts praise for achieving some of the world's highest educational standards.
  We are also a nation given to finger-pointing, be it at schools, parents or the ministry. Often parents end up bearing the brunt of the blame.

XIA Jing Fang


Excerpt of a letter by LIM Siew Imm to Forum, The Straits Times of 3 Mar 2001

  ...I wonder if the Ministry of Education (MOE) is aware that many schools place additional stress on Primary 4 and 6 pupils, who will be sitting for major examinations.

  Primary 4 pupils take an exam which determines which stream they go to, while Primary 6 pupils sit for the PSLE, which decides which secondary schools they are sent to.
  Almost from the start of the new school year, many schools start preparing these groups of pupils for the upcoming exams by conducting remedial classes from Mondays to Fridays, as well as supplementary classes on Saturdays.
  Parents should not always be blamed for the additional stress suffered by schoolchildren when certain schools do not inform parents by letter that such classes are optional.
  And even if such a letter was sent, some parents may opt for the classes as they believe that the teachers know best.
  Take the case of my neighbour's daughter, who was in Primary 6 last year.
  My neighbour did not want her to attend the additional classes but she insisted on them as she felt her teacher knew best.
  When last year's PSLE results were released recently, the pupils in her class who attended additional classes for the most part of the holidays did not do as well as those from other classes which did not hold such lessons.
  Excessive classes are counter-productive and make pupils feel inadequate.
  Schools should be able to cover the entire syllabus given by MOE for all standards within the alloted timeframe.
  And if they are unable to do so, or the syllabus is overwhelming, then the teachers and principals should speak up.
  But please do not pass additional stress to our children. 
  MOE needs to set up rules and regulations on the number of hours and the criteria of selection for remedial classes and other supplementary lessons.
  For example, Saturdays should be used only for co-curricular activities.
  Parents, please do not allow the school system to destroy the pupils' childhood.
  Please let your children opt out of extra classes if you think they do not need such classes.

LIM Siew Imm