I have long been against class streaming for Forms Four and Five students, and have proposed strategies for implementing a streamless system. This issue is also linked to the perennial problem of inadequate number of students taking up STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) courses in our institutes of higher learning.
Perhaps we need to examine what we have been doing all this while and consider why the desired results have not been achieved. This re-examination has to begin in schools. We have this 60:40 science and arts policy. It dictates that after finishing Form Three, students are to be streamed into either pure science or arts classes in Form Four. To get into the pure science classes, students must have scored A or B for Science and Mathematics in their lower secondary examination (now PT3).
The performance of students in their Form Three exams and their subsequent options plus the insufficient lab facilities in upper secondary schools have resulted in failure to meet the desired ratio all these years. In fact, the actual ratio is like 40:60.
Let’s look at an ideal case scenario. You have a cohort of 1,000 Form Four students with 600 doing science and 400 in arts. After their SPM results, and assuming a fair attrition rate of 20%, you are left with 480 science and 320 arts students. Now, say another 20% of these post-SPM science students decide to switch to arts. You are then left with 384 in science and 416 in arts. Note that arts students cannot take up STEM courses simply because “they have not done SPM pure science”. So, from a cohort of 1,000, you have now only 384 students who are “qualified” to take up STEM courses. And this is the ideal case! In reality, the number is fewer.
The situation will remain the same if we continue to do what we have been doing all along. We need a transformation. So, do away with streaming in Form Four and Five. We should just have a single general stream for all.
Lest we fear that our Form Four and Five students may lose their edge in the pure sciences, we can consider the fact that much of the “higher-learning preparatory” materials now being taught to Form Four and Form Five pure science students can be carried forward to Form Six/matriculation/diploma/foundation courses. In fact, the introductory phase in these post-Form Five classes always repeats and revises these Form Four and Form Five materials.
It is necessary and even mandatory for present arts stream students to learn more science than they are doing now. This means that all students in Form Four go into a single general stream where the science syllabus is broader than the present general science subject in the arts stream. At the same time, the general stream would be spared the “higher-learning preparatory” materials found in the present pure science subjects syllabi. This way, everybody gets to learn enough science, and there is still teaching-learning time left for other subjects. Students can then have their free choice of other elective subjects offered by their school.
Consider now this new scenario. All students do science in the general stream. With a cohort of 1,000 students and taking into account a realistic attrition of 20%, we will have 800 post-SPM students qualified to be considered for STEM courses. Our STEM aspiration would then be more than on target!
The concern that with no pure sciences in Forms Four and Five, post-SPM students may jeopardise their choice of STEM courses in university is groundless. Let’s not forget that with this proposal, streaming is done in Form Six, matriculation and diploma studies with a larger base of students (as argued earlier). Science stream graduates from these pre-university courses would be more than equipped to shoulder any university STEM courses.
The proposal to have a more comprehensive and broader syllabus for the General Science and Mathematics subjects in the proposed general stream would mean that the Education Ministry’s Curriculum Development Centre would have to come up with a revamped syllabus for these two subjects.
The ball is in the Education Ministry’s court.
LIONG KAM CHONG
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