1. Integrated Programme (3.5 mins)
We started the Integrated Programme, or IP in 2004 to allow higher ability secondary students to skip the O levels into the A levels or its equivalent.
I wish to propose an alternative IP, from primary 1 to secondary 4.
The current system puts huge pressure on students, parents and teachers in primary schools to prepare for the PSLE. Various members in this House, including myself have spoken on the excessive pressures in our school system. A Straits Times article last month reported more parents taking their primary school kids to see psychologists after doing badly in school tests, some as young as primary 2.
The purpose of PSLE and other major exams appears to be to sort students into different streams and into different schools. Our highly competitive exam-driven system has resulted in high dependency on tuition and drilling for exams, rather than education for the joy of learning.
Sir, I understand this is a difficult and emotive issue, as there are parents who may feel a competitive system is desirable. However, there are parents like myself, who can accept that our children need not fight to be in the best schools. The current system offers us no choice at all because of dreaded consqeuence of the child doing poorly in a major exam at age 12. Many parents feel their child’s future is determined by the PSLE.
Many private schools globally already through-train students from primary to secondary, including overseas schools based on the Singapore curriculum. Some of these schools have done well in international tests despite not subjecting students to standardised exams at primary 6. Finland switched to such a through-train system nation-wide with encouraging outcomes. Its PISA test scores are comparable to Singapore’s.
I like MOE to consider piloting primary through secondary IP schools, with the same level of funding per student as any government or aided school. With such schools, primary education need not be focused on grinding out results just for PSLE. Schools can then spend more time on values-based education. The post primary section will eventually prepare students for a recognised exam, namely O or A levels or even the International Baccalaureate. By that time, students are more matured and better able to handle stress.
Existing school groups may opt to run such a programme. There are already Aided schools in Singapore with affiliation schemes, where the majority of primary students enter the affiliated secondary school. Some schools have long histories and are trusted education brands. They are potential candidates to kick-start the programme.
MOE has implemented holistic assessments since 2010. The experience of holistic asssessment can be incorporated to ensure the rigor in learning throughout the 10 years of studies in such pilot schools.
Sir, I believe we have the calibre of management and teachers in Singapore to achieve this. I hope MOE can do a serious study on making this option available.
2. Gifted Education Programme (3 mins)
Gifted education programme was implemented in 1984. Primary school GEP starts a child at primary 4 in one of 9 designated schools. Students are identified after nation-wide tests at primary 3.
Centralised secondary school GEP was scrapped in 2008 following low take-up, after the introduction of secondary schools’ IP.
I like MOE to consider scrapping centralised primary school GEP too. Currently, a nation-wide effort is required to identify just 1% of the cohort. With centralised GEP for secondary school scrapped, much resources are now spent on a small group of students in a programme that lasts only three years. Based on figures provided by MOE in a PQ last month, past 10 years’ performance of GEP students did not suggest that centralised GEP had generated better exam results at PSLE and at A levels.
We can continue differentiated learning to develop students with stronger learning abilities. In place of the current GEP, we can implement the following:
Encourage all schools to do their own subject-based accelerated learning.
Giftedness is often specific to subjects, as a child may be strong in one subject but average in others. Schools can have their own methods to identify students who are stronger in specific subjects and run accelerated learning for these students.
Further support can be given through the cluster system. Learning camps, workshops or talks involving special lecturers to challenge higher ability students can be organised by the cluster.
Schools can be supported by the GE Branch with learning resources distributed to them for use, or schools may prepare their own content. Selected teachers in all schools can be trained on how to guide students with stronger learning abilities.
We can spread accelerated learning across many schools. Parents not need transfer their child out to a gifted school at 9 years old. MOE wants to convince parents that every school is a good school. Separating gifted students into special schools undermines this message.
Retaining good students in their current schools provides better integration of children, so that students of all abilities can learn from one another in a natural and authentic environment. I hope MOE can consider this proposal.
3. Special needs in mainstream schools (2.5 mins)
There are some 13,000 school-going children with special needs. The larger portion or 7,600 are in mainstream schools. Therefore, we must pay attention to this group.
MOE has made efforts since 2005. There is room to do more. Although there is now at least one Learning and Behavioural Support Allied Educator or AED in each primary school, AEDs handle many cases and may not give good attention to each case. Some secondary schools have yet to get AEDs.
Before we can train and hire more AEDs, schools can leverage on the parents of students with special needs. Some are stay-at-home mothers or fathers. By being the primary caregivers, they have learnt how to handle their own children. Some have attended courses on how to deal with challenging behaviours. Schools can allow these parents, especially during transition into primary one, to manage their children in class. I noted that some schools do allow, while others do not.
I read an email from a parent shadowing her primary 1 child, “I’m having a good time shadowing Joshua. We still have challenges to overcome, but the school, principal, teachers and children, they are the best! Because of that, Joshua is having a very good schooling experience. It helps him a lot!”
Schools can even consider hiring these parents part-time to assist other special needs students. Some have left their jobs. This can be a win-win arrangement.
My next suggestion is to encourage schools to generate innovative ideas of helping special needs students. I know of an aided-school that will partner an external service provider with autism expertises to provide intervention services to special needs students. Such initiatives are now left to schools, and they find their own source of funds. We can establish a Special Needs Innovation Fund which schools can apply to if they have good programmes.
To build an inclusive society, we need promote greater understanding of disability for all students. Schools can strengthen the social emotional learning of every student so that they can accept, learn and work with their special peers. This will help build a generation with a heart for the disabled. The Special Needs Innovation Fund can also be used to fund interaction activities of mainstream students with the Special Needs community.
4. Support for preschool industry (2 minute)
I state my interest as a service provider to preschool operators. However I do not run kindergartens which are beneficiaries of my proposals.
MOE has earmarked $290 million to be spent on preschools over five years from last year. The objectives are to raise the quality, accessibility and affordability of pre-school education.
The intent is good. This investment should spread evenly to all participants in the industry so that overall quality can increase while keeping school fees affordable.
MOE has scholarship programmes for eligible kindergartens ranging from diploma to Masters. Besides the PAP Community Foundation, how many scholarship places have been used by other kindergartens? MCYS has scholarships available to all child care centres, including private ones. Will MOE extend its scholarship programmes to private operators too? We can attract good educators into the industry through pre-service scholarships. MOE can work out pre-service scholarships that allows scholarship holders to work for any MOE-registered kindergartens for a minimum period after graduation.
When designing industry engagement programmes, I hope MOE can be inclusive of all operators. For example, KiFAS is a good scheme to support low income families. However, after 8 years of implementation, only PCF has qualified as eligible operator. I will speak on this during COS on MCYS.
Singapore has 500 kindergartens. I like MOE to also consider fee subsidy for all kindergartens, like how MCYS subsidises half-day child care for all licensed centres.
By providing better industry-wide support, we can generate a more vibrant preschool scene with more choices, better quality and continued affordable fees for parents.
5. Foreign Scholarships (1.5 minute)
Our government awards some 1070 undergraduate scholarships each year to foreign students, with an annual value of up to $25,000 dollars each. With up to 4 cohorts of students at any time, this is a large yearly expenditure.
Sir, I am not anti-foreigners. I recognise that talented foreigners can add vibrancy to our institutions. We welcome them in our universities, subject to the quota allocated to foreigners, at their own expenses, just as most Singaporeans study overseas at our own cost.
I am uncomfortable to learn that only 67% of foreign scholars graduate with high honours. Any scholar, local or foreign, should aim to graduate with at least second upper. I am sure PSC set high standards for our local scholars. If we cannot attract enough good foreign scholars, we should immediately cut intake by 33% to admit only those with potential for high honours. If scholars do not maintain the cumulative GPA good enough for 2nd upper during their course, scholarship should be suspended until they do well enough again.
I also hope MOE can also explain its criteria for selecting foreign scholars and review this decades-old policy to see how many foreign scholars we actually need, how we can better assimilate them into our society, and how to better engage them after graduation.