After 40 years, Singapore is ending the streaming system that divided secondary students into Express and Normal streams – here’s what you need to know

Lianhe Zaobao

The secondary school education system in Singapore will be facing a major revamp, 40 years after streaming was first introduced.

By 2024, the Normal (Technical), Normal (Academic) and Express streams will cease to exist, and be replaced by full subject-based banding, said Education Minister Ong Ye Kung in Parliament on Tuesday (March 5), according to The Straits Times (ST).

All students enrolling into Secondary 1 in 2024 will take up subjects of varying levels depending on their strengths.

Subjects such as Mathematics will be taught at three levels – G1, G2 and G3 – which roughly correspond to today’s N(T), N(A) and Express standards respectively, with G standing for “General”, ST reported.

This also means that there will no longer be a Secondary 5 level. All Secondary 1 students in 2024 will go through a four-year curriculum, and at the end of it, they will take a common examination and graduate with a common secondary school certificate.

That said, the Ministry of Education (MOE) will look into alternatives to a fifth year in secondary school – which may be like the current Polytechnic Foundation Programme – to help students, who have completed the four years, enter polytechnics or JCs.

According to ST, the certificate will list the standard band of each subject, and be co-branded by Singapore and Cambridge.

Minister Ong was quoted by ST as saying: “So from three education streams, we will now have ‘One secondary education, many subject bands’. We will no longer have fishes swimming down three separate streams, but one broad river, with each fish negotiating its own journey.”

The ministry will get the ball rolling by introducing full subject-based banding in about 25 schools next year, ST reported.

With the new restructuring, a review of Singapore’s post-secondary posting system will be required, said the education minister.

He was quoted by ST as saying: “This will require us to undertake a review of our post-secondary posting system, so that students taking a combination of G1, G2 and G3 subjects, can be fairly considered for ITE, polytechnic and JCs. Our review will recognise students’ particular strengths that make them suitable for specific post-secondary courses.”

He reportedly added that the ministry will take the time from now till 2024 to undertake the review.

ST reported that refinements to the admission criteria for ITE, polytechnic and JCs will be announced later.

Minister Ong also said that streaming was first introduced with the aim of lowering student dropout rates, which succeeded. But he also acknowledged the disadvantages of streaming, saying that a stream perceived to be of a “lower” calibre carries a “certain stigma” and leads to “self-limiting” in students.

And now, with the new changes, the ministry wants to help students to continue “benefitting from a differentiated curriculum, while minimising the unintended consequences of labelling and the stigmatisation associated with streaming”, the minister added.