Written By: Ernest Tan (19-E6)
Designed By: Jo Yeoul (19-A2)
Just last month, it was announced that streaming in secondary schools would be replaced by subject-based banding, replacing the current status quo of streaming students into Express, Normal (Academic) or Normal (Technical) based on their PSLE results, allowing students to take subjects at different levels according to their abilities (Chia, 2019). In this installment of Periscope, we present a short summary on the key details of the streaming system so that Eunoians become more informed about the local educational landscape. Do use the Universal Concepts (UC) to guide you.
It is incontrovertible that Singapore’s education system can be considered crème de la crème, with Singapore students topping the prestigious global benchmarking test, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which is notably dubbed the ‘World Cup for Education’ (Davie, 2016). However, this seemingly exemplary education system is not without its shortcomings. Specifically, the streaming system in Singapore has been one of controversy, with the “unintended side effect” on how pupils view themselves and are perceived by others (Cheng, 2018). The newest changes, while commendable, may still not be able to eradicate these dire corollaries as many have hoped because the very nature of segregation is still existent. Some have also questioned whether this is simply a substitution of labels (Chua, 2019).
Points of Contention
The Ambivalent Nature of Streaming and Banding (UC: Beliefs and Values)
While the streaming system was intentioned to help some students of different aptitudes and abilities learn at their own pace efficiently, it has inevitably led to the self-limiting stigmatisation of students, especially those in the lower bands or streams (Cheng, 2018). However, former Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Calvin Cheng has noted that streaming has reduced the drop-out rate, which has contributed to Singapore becoming an “educational powerhouse” (Mokhtar, 2019). It can be argued that how we view streaming is very much premised on our beliefs and values. From a utilitarian or capitalistic standpoint that values outcomes, streaming or banding might be desirable because of its more efficient outcomes (Ang, 2019). However, from a collectivist standpoint, it could be argued that streaming or banding is not desirable, because it does not allow students to progress collectively, and that it is cold of society to do so, because after all, education systems can be viewed as a reflection of societies’ morals and values.
Discussion: In this day and age, do you think that the government should prioritise collectivism or utilitarianism?
The Education System and Inequality (UC: Systems, Structures and Freedom)
The streaming system may have also led to elitism and class segmentation, due to its systemic segregation of students. Statistics have shown that a disproportionate number of students in top schools come from affluent backgrounds and have well-educated parents. In top-tier Integrated Programme (IP) secondary schools, more than fifty-percent of students had parents who were university graduates while the figure was only about ten-percent for neighbourhood school students (Ng, 2011). As the streaming changes are not likely to affect the Integrated Programme Schools, there might still be an ideological cleavage or “class mismatch” because of the lack of interaction and stratification between students of different bands. Also, the differentiated networks at such schools may also lead to differential access to current and future connections and resources (Ng and Senin, 2019), resulting in greater inequality for students in the future.
Discussion: Research other countries’ education system and point out any systemic flaws in comparison with Singapore’s.
For more in-depth reading about this issue, feel free to access the following links.
Chia, L. (2019). Current approach to streaming in secondary schools to be phased out by 2024. Retrieved from
Chua, M.H. (2019). Streaming changes: Evolutionary, bold but not far enough. The Straits Times, Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/streaming-changes-evolutionary-bold-but-not-far-enough
Davie, S. (2016). Singapore students top in maths, science and reading in Pisa international benchmarking test. The Straits Times, Retrieved from
Mokhtar, F. (2019). The Big Read: Streaming — the good, the bad and the ugly side of an outdated policy. Channel NewsAsia, Retrieved from https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/the-big-read-streaming-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly-side-of-an-11332116
Ang, J. (2019). If not for streaming, many might not have made it through school, says principal. The Straits Times, Retrieved from
Ng, I.Y.H. (2019). Phasing out streaming: First step to decreasing educational inequality. The Straits Times, Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/phasing-out-streaming-first-step-to-decreasing-educational-inequality