Specialised subjects cannot be offered if there are insufficient specialised teachers at a school. FILE PIC

EDUCATION Minister Dr Maszlee Malik recently announced that from next year, upper secondary school students will no longer face subject streaming following the Form Three examination.

It is puzzling that he chose to push for this despite his team’s concerns on time constraints for immediate implementation.

The minister says streaming has resulted in mismatched placement of talent, laying the blame on parents for deciding on behalf of their children. In an era of streamless education, children will be able to rely on artificial intelligence and big data to make decisions. Their talents will not go to waste like their predecessors.

But who will be blamed for future missteps or mismatches in education decisions even though we wish machines won’t fail? The insentient machines? The children themselves?

On a conceptual level, liberating students from the shackles of streaming is laudable. Reflecting on my own experience, I would have enjoyed studying geography and English literature at the upper secondary level. If I did, my life might look very different.

But I was in a science school, so my schoolmates and I were automatically streamed to study pure science subjects, regardless of ability and affinity.

The everyday reality of the school administration in a highly centralised education system is far from a streamless ideal. My recent conversation with individuals within our education system suggests an ambivalent response to the proposal.

Much will remain status quo, not because it is an unwise idea, but due to the constraints schools face in resources, students will continue to be organised (if not formally streamed) as they have in the past.

Specialised subjects cannot be offered if there are insufficient specialised teachers at a school or if there are no facilities to support such subjects. Away from the ministerial core where grand policies are crafted and promulgated, public schools all over the country will continue to operate within their limits and means.

Eventually, children would be shortchanged by the move.

It will not be fair to suggest a streamless system if they are able to register for a salad of subjects on paper, but will have to learn independently because certain subjects are not offered or supported by the school. It will also not be fair if students leave a streamless secondary school to enter a higher education system that still expects a combination of subjects from the previous streaming approach.

Perhaps the minister should have acceded to the wisdom of his team and adopted a thoughtful, studied approach to the matter. The education of our children is not a game. Popcorn or half-formed reforms are unacceptable, notwithstanding how politically expedient they might be.

Our children deserve the liberation and expansion of their capacities through a streamless system. Equally, they deserve thoughtful implementation to go along with that system so that they are not shortchanged, or worse, blamed for its aftermath.


PhD Student in Education and a Clarendon-New College scholar, University of Oxford