Alan Soh

I am my own columnist, sharing my own thoughts and recent experiences!

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My reasons in supporting removal of streaming in Secondary Schools

Secondary School in Singapore

A major education policy shift in Singapore was announced by Minister for Education, Mr Ong Ye Kung during the Committee of Supply (COS) Bill debate session in Parliament yesterday (Tuesday 5 March 2019), which followed the Singapore Budget 2019 speech delivered by Minister for Finance, Mr Heng Swee Keat on Monday 18 February 2019.

Come 2024, streaming in all secondary schools will be scrapped. It will be replaced by subject-based banding. Following that, GCE N-Level and O-Levels examinations will also be consolidated into one common national certification examination, which will co-branded by Singapore and Cambridge.

The subject-based banding, or SBB will replace the current system of putting our students into Express, Normal (Academic) or Normal (Technical) streams based on their Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) results.

Yes, there will be no Express/Normal Academic/Normal Technical stream classes.

Streaming in primary schools was already scrapped in 2008, with the removal of EM1, EM2 and EM3 streams.

In this new system, upon entering Secondary 1, students will be able to take up subjects at different levels in accordance to their learning abilities. They will take a combination of subjects at 3 different levels based on their PSLE scores: General 1, General 2 and General 3.

The new PSLE scoring will be implemented in year 2021.

This new education policy will apply to pupils who enter Primary 2 this year.

According to Ministry of Education (MOE), these 3 levels are mapped from the current Normal (Technical), Normal (Academic) and Express standards respectively. This concept is similar to how Junior College (JC) students today take up GCE A-Level examination subjects at H1, H2, and H3 levels, and how Primary 6 PSLE students take up subjects at Standard or Foundation levels.

Speaking during MOE’s Committee of Supply Debate yesterday, Mr Ong said streaming which was implemented more than 30 years ago, has successfully reduced school attrition rates from about a third of every cohort to less than 1 percent currently. But he noted the downsides to streaming.

“In its original form, streaming assumed students needed a certain pace of learning in all their subjects, wheras many students, in fact, have uneven strengths across different subjects. More importantly, entering a stream that is considered ‘lower’ (Normal Academic or Normal Technical) can carry a certain stigma that becomes self-fulfilling and self-limiting. Students can develop a mindset where they tell themselves, ‘I am only a Normal Stream student, so this is as good as I can be.”


I wholeheartedly agree with Mr Ong Ye Kung.

Long overdue but finally in year 2024. It is late but it is better than never.

1. Stigmatisation

As a former Normal Academic stream student, I think streaming does create a bit of damning effect on the self-esteem, growth mindset and learning motivation of students who are weaker in academic subjects, as compared to Express stream students.

Especially in Asian context, parents and others would place labels on students of varying abilities. Often, people in Singapore presume that Express stream students are academically gifted, and shall “rise among the ranks to become successful individuals one day”. Talking about intelligence quotient (IQ).

Remember how people used to say “its the end” for students of Institute of Technical Education (ITE) who go for vocational training?

Many Normal stream students would think they will not become successful in life.

This is not true.

I believe everyone can become a capable someone.

Ingredients of success include: self-awareness, diligence, a positive growth mentality, a reflective mind, self confidence, self-discipline, good time management, an outward-looking approach and a keen desire to become the best version of oneself.

As parents, friends, and elders, we ought to give them encouragement.

No one in this world likes to be given a negative label.

2. Social Inequality

We must be aware that students of varying learning abilities also come from different family backgrounds. Most Normal stream students grow up in middle to lower-income households.

In the aspect of gaining access to learning resources such as enrichment classes or tuition, students from poor backgrounds may be at a disadvantage, as compared to affluent ones, due to financial constraints and family issues. Thus these students must be given more care, time, and patience by giving them extra coaching in their weak subjects.

We must help them to get their foundation studies solid.

Despite these hardships, it is also essential that we must motivate them to stay focused on studies, keep up a fighting spirit not to give up, making sure that they do not lose the passion and motivation in learning (in order to get out of poverty trap), so why must we stigmatise the academically weaker students, and worse label them as “stupid, you just cannot be as good as Express stream students”?

If necessary, lend them a listening ear to listen to their problems. Help them to sort out their thinking.

I know Normal stream students are already trying very hard, to the very best of their learning ability.

3. Different abilities during formative years

When we are born into this world, we are all wired differently.

Our strengths are at varying levels. As such I don’t think it is an effective idea to expect a class of 30-40 students to master a subject at a particular benchmark set by the MOE school syllabus.

Moreover, secondary school students are in their teen years. They are in the midst of self-discovery, to understand their own strengths and weaknesses, likes or dislikes. So it is not a good idea to “penalise” a student heavily for failing a subject.

Back in my former secondary school days, I loved history but I hated geography. Because I just couldn’t understand those theories of how mountains are formed, or earthquakes take shape etc. Hence my geography sucked. (Of course the teacher was one of the contributing factors. Haha!)

History was more interesting because it was like a storybook to me.

I also realised I am more a language person than being a science person.

Hence I am glad that future secondary school students will have the freedom to take up different subject combinations pegging to their own learning levels. This will sustain their learning interest in the long run, until their graduation year.

And please don’t forget there are late bloomers. Life is full of surprises.

For example, there could possibly be people who don’t understand basic accounting for in secondary school years but can later develop competency in accounting at tertiary level, thus become certified accountants!

You just never know what will happen in future.

4. Peer Influence

Presently, the concept of a traditional form class is where our secondary school students are grouped rigidly according to whichever stream they are in.

By taking away Normal Academic/Normal Technical and Express streams in year 2024, schools can exercising flexibility in organising classes.

The good scenario is that students across all classes at same level will now be looked upon “equally as peers”.

Here we can take reference from Edgefield Secondary School where Secondary 1 students from the Normal and Express streams are placed in the same form class, which I think is an excellent example.

There are 8 Secondary One classes.

In Euclid class, there are 24 students from the Express stream, 10 from the Normal (Academic) stream and five from Normal (Technical). Each of the seven other Sec 1 classes in the school has a similar mix of students across the 3 different academic streams.

According to a Channel NewsAsia report, these students are split into different classes for each subject – for example, Normal (Academic) students taking Express-level science or mathematics will attend classes together with their Express peers.

But they will attend lessons such as art, design and technology and physical education together as a form class.

I like this class arrangement because I somehow believe the academically strong ones can help to assist their weaker classmates without peer labelling.

The positive feedback from teachers at Edgefield Secondary School?

“Students tell us they enjoyed mixing with their classmates, and they find that some of their best friends are from different streams.”

“They also found that those who do well may not necessarily be from the Express stream, and they’ve learned a lot from one another.”

Isn’t this better? 

It is time to break down the walls separating the streams.

Apart from that, I think at the end of secondary school education, students will really have achieved some of the outcomes set by MOE, for example: 1) be able to work in teams and show empathy for others, 2) take responsibility for their own learning, 3) believe in their own abilities and adapt to change, and 4) appreciating diverse views and able to communicate effectively.

For the boys, it helps further when they are enlisted for National Service, several years later after post-secondary education.

Key stages of Education

As one grows older and upon stepping into the workforce years later, he or she would slowly realise that academic grades are not definitive in measuring a person’s level of capability or a predictor of life success.

If you are recognised as an asset in your organisation for your diligence, good attitude and work performance, your employer will not bother much about which educational stream and school were you from previously.

Learn to overcome labels which people may put on you.

Break free! 










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Quick thoughts – Exams


For someone like me, a young working adult who is back at textbooks after a good 10-year+ hiatus, it is definitely not easy. I believe this happens to many of us who are in similar circumstances. Familiar?

I had my first paper yesterday.

Yes, I do pay attention in class and do my assignments diligently but somehow the anxiety sets in during moments before entering the examination room. The mind may go half blank. A sentiment shared by a few of my course-mates in our Whatsapp group chat.

Tackling 4 out of 7 essay questions are quite a challenge.

You should be able to write fluently if you understand the lesson concepts well.

Keep cool and calm. Use pencil to scribble quick notes on question paper to remember facts.

Have sufficient rest the day before.

Oh yes, I think it is advisable to have a half-full meal before the exam paper. You would not want to have that heavy urge to go toilet halfway during the exam time-slot right?

Good luck to all those of us who are having exams during this year-end period! Fight on! Don’t give up! 🙂

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Still looking at academic grades?

Kids in Singapore schools

A thought which I’ve shared with a friend earlier few days ago.
Note: Disagree if you must. Everyone is entitled to his own viewpoints.

People develop individual intelligences at different paces through learning experiences. Most of us grow older and wiser as we age, for we slowly gain a better understanding of how things work when we grow up.
Growing older, we then understand how certain concepts work.
We start to understand the world which we are living in, better.

Most of us embark on a slow steady journey of self-discovery where we realise what we can do and what we can’t do. That is also where we develop our own learning methodologies, thus finding a way of how we work best individually and with other people.

I now come to a realisation that school or national exam grades are outcomes arising from a combination of different factors such as:

1) the learning method which you adopted at that age (does it work for you?),
2) the level of understanding a particular subject at that age,
3) the communication skills you possess at that age to explain your answers,
4) how attentive you are during normal lessons,
5) home environment (is it conducive for studying and any family problems etc),
6) the strategy you have for school exams, and finally and MOST IMPORTANTLY,
7) the state of mind and health when you sit for your exam papers that day (did you get enough sleep, did you check your answers before submitting test paper etc.)

For example, Geography was one of my lousy subjects during secondary school days because at that teenager age, I don’t see why I must study how mountains or river meanders are formed, or understand why people living near sea coastlines have to be aware of tsunamis when major earthquakes occur.
I thought: “Singapore does not encounter tsunami at all, so why must I study this subject??”

It is only when I grew older and start reading up on current news and worldly issues, I began to understand and thus, appreciate the subject better. That’s when I would become more knowledgeable about it.

Therefore as said many times previously, I feel strongly that exam grades on record are “past tense”. It just shows the extent of how good this person can understand the subject, AT THAT AGE.
It is already over!

Exams grades = proven capability or abilities? No, I disagree.
The most, I probably say this person is exam smart.
At that age, he knows how to study for the subject paper.
He knows what works best for him. Period.

On the other hand, I believe character-building and how one develops his personal capabilities better in later years matter more. School academic grades are just a reference.
How he or she overcame life challenges.
Most of the time, many people can change for the better.
They become wiser.
It is more about the present, not about the past.
And let’s be forward-looking, anticipate how far this person can go if given sufficient opportunities to unleash his or her inner potential.

So it’s best we get over with the heavy emphasis on academic grades and whatsoever school brands. (Why must some Singaporeans still differentiate between public and private universities?!) *faint*

Call me superficial and callous if I one day as a parent or employer anyhow condemn anyone as stupid or good-for-nothing because I see his/her past school results are sub-standard.

Anything is possible.
Who knows, this person make me go “wow!” after an in-depth conversation with him/her?

At the end of the day, I would choose to understand the individual first, and judge him for who he is right now.

‪#‎normalacademic‬ ‪#‎ITE‬ ‪#‎hearingimpaired‬ ‪#‎selfawareness‬
‪#‎icanjumpoutofthebox‬ ‪#‎empathy‬ ‪#‎seekfirsttounderstandtheperson‬

Ed note – 15 Dec 2014:

Students may go into different educational paths but I hope all students think it this way – all routes lead to Rome.

With perseverance, an ITE student can also succeed one day.

Like it or not, I believe no stream should be superior above one another. In other words, pardon me for saying this – unversity graduates cannot be seen as “the most superior ones”. Elitism is a dirty word, which can cause conflicts in our society.

Why? Because as individuals, we always must bear in mind that: there will be someone out there who could be better than me. Be humble.

It is about appreciating and acknowledging different abilities/talents among us, and that willingness to complement one another to do a group project well.

In addition, physical handicaps should never be seen as a barrier or problem if an individual knows how to leverage on his strengths or knowledge to do his job well.

What’s really important, is self-awareness.

Everyone is born with different talents. For most of us, it is a matter of time to find out our strengths…and understand who we really are.

Strengths can be further enhanced, provided if one is lucky enough to have a mentor in life who is willing to guide him/her, giving that extra push.

And so in my opinion, academic grades are just 1 way of measuring a person’s ability or knowledgeability, NOT how clever he or she is.