SINGAPORE: The full subject-based banding (SBB) system represents an "important, very strategic" move to maximise the potential of secondary school students in Singapore, said Education Minister Ong Ye Kung on Thursday (Jan 2).
Mr Ong was speaking to reporters following a visit to Ping Yi Secondary School on the first day of the academic year. Ping Yi Secondary is one of the 28 schools piloting full SBB in 2020.
Full subject-based banding was announced earlier last year to replace the existing system of streaming students into Express, Normal (Academic) or Normal (Technical) based on their PSLE results.
The new system will be rolled out by 2024 across all secondary schools.
"If you are a stronger student, you benefit from the fact that you interact with students from many more different backgrounds," said Mr Ong, when asked about the benefits of the SBB.
"The second important area - which is the key consideration when we decided to implement this - is to really break out (of) a certain constraining mindset of students should they feel that 'I am in this stream and this is all I can achieve'.
"(In the) long-term, we want students to be more confident, to discover, explore and develop their individual talent, and then with that I think they are much more ready to move on to post-secondary education.
"All in all, I think this is an important, very strategic move to make sure we maximise the potential talent and future of every single student."
During his visit to the school, Mr Ong held a short dialogue session with students and visited a secondary one class of about 25 students where he observed and participated in a class activity.
While calling the pilot scheme "a big step ahead" for the education system, Mr Ong acknowledged that some schools have had their "concerns".
"Definitely they have a concern, because this is a huge move, a big step ahead ... But we have 28 schools, we are giving them two years. Within these two years they will implement full SBB, including mixed form classes.
"And these two years are necessary for them to really gain the experience, overcome all the various challenges and difficulties that other schools are worried about ... By the end of 2021, I hope that they will have learnt all the lessons, and have methods and responses to all the challenges.
"So for every other school that is still concerned about this system, I think they will get a good manual, good tips, good advice from these 28 schools to say that ... there's no reason why you can't do it."
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There are several key things that the schools involved in the scheme will need to get right.
The first is the scheduling of lessons, said Mr Ong.
In Ping Yi, for instance, its secondary one form classes comprise different students from different streams.
Students take a set of subjects such as art, music and physical education at a common level within their form class.
They take other subjects at levels based on their strengths and participate in these lessons with students of similar ability levels.
Students will need "constant" encouragement and motivation from teachers, said Mr Ong. He also highlighted the need for "differentiated" instructions.
"Visiting this school, I appreciate how much effort has already gone into it - that the teachers are all trained and exposed to various techniques to teach a mixed form class," he said.
"Teachers are doing this in a very subtle way, a very skillful way, and I believe they will get better and this is essential to make this pilot work so it can be expanded."
ROOM FOR IP, SPECIALISED SCHOOLS
Mr Ong also said on Thursday that Integrated Programme (IP schools), as well as specialised schools such as Spectra and Crest Secondary, remain important as they provide a "differentiated landscape".
"If you go to Crest and Spectra, it's because we recognise that your strength lies in vocational. So, therefore, you should be doing subjects that cater more to your strengths.
"Likewise for IP schools, it is to recognise that certain students are strong academically therefore they can skip O-Level and therefore they do subjects at a higher academic level."