Banding for Good?

On Tuesday, Singapore’s Ministry of Education announced that it will scrap streaming in secondary schools in 2024 and replace it with subject-based banding. Singapore Unbound supports the abolition of streaming, which has undermined and stigmatized students by labeling them as Express, Normal (Academic), and Normal (Technical). The belated change to subject-based banding, or tracking as it is called in the USA, is an improvement, but it does not go very far in addressing the inequities in the educational system.

Subject-based banding will, in fact, reinforce the false idea that the current system is based on meritocracy. Even with the change, schools will still be measuring student performance based on different student starting points and unequal access to resources (families, schools, and communities). There is no acknowledgement of prevailing social and economic injustices in society, as piercingly described in the study This Is What Inequality Looks Like by sociologist Teo You Yenn.

There must be a re-examination of the way that primary schools evaluate student potential and achievement. If some students enter Primary One already knowing how to read and write in English, and some students don’t, the latter will find it hard, if not impossible, ever to “catch up.” Since all subjects are taught in English, the handicap is severe. Subject-based banding will only lend a thin veneer of legitimacy to different paths through the educational system.

One important way in which the Ministry of Education can begin addressing the problem of inequity is to take on full responsibility for pre-school education to ensure a more level playing field. Right now, pre-school education in Singapore is a patchwork of private operations—some highly expensive, some clearly inadequate—and kindergartens run by the Ministry. By 2023 the Ministry plans to have 50 such kindergartens, providing for a fifth of five- and six-year olds. This is too little and too slow. The Ministry has the wherewithal to do much better by families in Singapore.

On a different tack, subject-based banding is perhaps suitable for the acquisition of technical and scientific knowledge (though even that is arguable), but it is inimical to the study of the humanities. Some subjects in secondary schools, such as literature and history, should be taught in mixed-ability classes. These classes benefit from the different perspectives of students from different backgrounds. Students learn to appreciate a diversity of viewpoints and understand the necessity for interpretation. Such classes also ameliorate the harmful effects of any kind of grouping based ostensibly on “ability.” They teach students the values of democratic citizenship better than any civics class.

We should not look to schools, however, as the panacea to all social ills. Schools are naturally, and some would argue, rightly, conservative institutions. They reflect our society; seldom do they revolutionize it. If Singapore schools treat education in a narrowly instrumental and highly competitive manner, they merely reflect society’s instrumentalism and competition. The change must be cultural. Otherwise, any change in the educational system will be warped from its good intentions by its implementation and reception. Sadly, it is hard to see any such cultural change on the horizon.

 

Jee Leong Koh

 

 

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6 Responses to “Banding for Good?”

  • Science as Divine Signs:

    In experimental philosophy, we are to look upon propositions inferred by general induction from phenomena as accurately or very nearly true, notwithstanding any contrary hypotheses that may be imagined, till such time as other phenomena occur by which they may either be made more accurate or liable to exceptions… I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people.

    God made and governs the world invisibly, and has commanded us to love and worship him and no other God; to honor our parents and masters, and love our neighbours as ourselves; and to be temperate, just, and peaceable, and to be merciful even to brute beasts.

    Atheism is so senseless. When I look at the solar system, I see the earth at the right distance from the sun to receive the proper amounts of heat and light. This did not happen by chance.

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  • -Science as Divine Signs:

    I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself, I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself now and then in finding a smoother pebble or prettier shell than ordinary, while the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.
    (Sir Isaac Newton, “Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematics”)

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  • You Die Your Own Business:

    Your call to ask for equal access runs against the ethos of greedy elitist PAP.
    PAP wants to profit from education, in fact everything, charge more for those who can afford,so public services are not rendered ” too cheaply’, as well as fishing out those with the right background to perpetual their power.

    The rest do not really matter, they are mere economic digits.
    No other advanced country has used the economic efficiency of balloting mechanism in public service more than greedy PAP.
    No other country has inflated land price and brought forward future value in the excuse of “afraid of selling too cheaply the only resource’. The detrimental outcome is already there for everyone to experience.

    PAP is synonymous with extreme greed.
    It took 25 years to remove streaming just to make our children grow up better.
    One reason for holding out so long is the calculative motive, most efficient use of resources, where extra resources are only put into our “best and brightest”, grooming them for a beholdened “public service” to the PAP government.

    Some elitists in the regime do not believe in providing an ITE education, remember?
    University intake for PISA topping local students are kept at 20%, does such policy make any sense for a knowledge economy? Yet they imported many of the same or worse from developing countries to make up the numbers of workers, displacing locals, depleting the core of our professional talents. Do the various government agencies talk to each other? or each on his own to impress the master? Is that a reason for setting up an inter-agency minister to coordinate simple but necessary conversation?
    To ask PAP to provide things cheaply, you can guess how long it will take, if it will ever happen.

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  • Not the Full Picture:

    Let me ask everyone this question – do companies and individuals almost always pay for the best that their dollar can buy?

    If the answer is yes, would it be realistic to expect companies and individuals to accept second or third best, and less bang for their buck?

    If we cannot bring ourselves to do so, can we expect others?

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  • Jack Ma:

    NO!, ask Jack Ma of Alibaba.

    Not the Full Picture:
    Let me ask everyone this question – do companies and individuals almost always pay for the best that their dollar can buy?

    If the answer is yes, would it be realistic to expect companies and individuals to accept second or third best, and less bang for their buck?

    If we cannot bring ourselves to do so, can we expect others?

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  • HarderTruths:

    Does not do anything to solve the job issue. It is all about jobs at the end of the day.

    Every degree or qualification that can be obtained locally can be surpassed by an FT and his degree-printing house in India or China.
    Plus people are working back-of-house to validate the qualification / story.

    Cannot win this game. Local plus FT bosses all want to hire FT especially Ang Moh. Also 40+ $G locals are fu*ked.

    Streaming issue is a distraction to purposely misdirect us to something that does not change the main problem. Once the FT issue is solved then the rest can be solved.

    Focus on FT issue first and foremost and not get sidetracked by these red herrings made to confuse the voters.

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