What is Subject Based Banding & Why is it Important?
In Singapore, every Primary school student and their parents are aware of the new shift in the PSLE scoring system. But, how well do you know about Subject Based Banding or SBB?
The new Achievement Level (AL) scoring system was drafted and implemented by the Ministry of Education (MoE). Although it was first introduced in 2016, the system came into effect in 2021. Under the new system, there are eight scoring bands named AL1 to AL 8. Each subject under Standard PSLE will be now given individual scores based on these bands. This subject based banding will allow students to attempt the four subjects (English, Maths, Science and Mother Tongue Language) at a more demanding level in secondary school. PSLE Subject Based Banding is based on the students' performance in each of these subjects in the PSLE.
Why did the MoE scrap the old T-system and introduce SBB through the AL system? The MoE reiterates its decision for two reasons:
- Recognising different abilities and giving pupils more flexibility to concentrate on the subjects they are good at.
- Providing more opportunities for interactivity among pupils with different strengths.
Full Subject Based Banding is a part of MoE's efforts to ease the academic pressure and nurture the joy of learning by catering to the students' strengths and interests. Full SBB is set to bring about significant changes in Singapore's Primary education system.
Here are the highlights:
- Under full SBB, separate streams like Express, Normal (Technical) and Normal (Academic) will no longer exist.
- Students will learn subjects that cater to their strengths and academic abilities.
- Students will be in mixed form classes that foster better peer interaction.
- SBB will be expanded by the MoE beyond the four basic PSLE subjects.
- The expansion will allow students to pursue Humanities at a more demanding level from Secondary
- The following subjects will be available as an accompanying set of Common Curriculum subjects at lower secondary:
- Design and Technology
- Food and Consumer Education
How did the MoE bring about these changes? Let's take a glimpse into history to find the answer.
From Streaming to Full SBB: the Milestones & the History
The 1970s witnessed school dropouts because students had difficulty completing primary school. Streaming was introduced in 1981 to reduce dropout rates by catering to the students' various learning paces.
More than three decades later, the AL scoring system was introduced. Under the new scoring system, SBB allowed students to take the four Standard PSLE subjects at a more demanding level.
2020 - 2024
These years signify the period of SBBs pilot phase and rollout phase. Encouraged by the amazing results from students taking their SBB (sec) at their O and N-level exams, the MoE decided to expand SBB.
In 2020, Full SBB was piloted in 28 secondary schools. By 2024, the MoE hopes to progressively roll it out to more schools.
From 2024: A Glimpse into the Future
With separate streaming courses no longer available, children will continue to foster better interaction with their peers and take up more demanding subjects at Secondary 1.
It will be based on their PSLE scores in:
- Mother Tongue Language
Students with a score of AL5 and above can choose subjects at Express Level. Those who've scored AL6 and better or an AL A in Foundational subjects are eligible for Normal (Academic) Level courses.
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What Students Gain & Lose by Moving Away from Streaming
Students and parents are debating and will continue to debate about the MoE's decision to move away from streaming and introduce SBB. What does this decision mean for Primary 6 students? Here's what they gain:
It caters for a range of educational requirements
Education policymakers cannot forget that every student is unique, and they must not be restricted to any one particular study mode. A fundamental challenge faced by all education systems is meeting students' learning needs across academic and non-academic areas. SBB aims to fulfil these requirements by allowing students to develop their full potential.
It allows students to study at their own pace.
One of the main rationales behind SBB and moving away from streaming is to allow students to study at a difficulty level that's best suited to their abilities. This move will also address the needs of students who are bored, disengaged, and unable to comprehend what's being taught.
It helps eliminate labelling.
Differentiated access to various curricula and subjects categorises students in a manner than labels them. This differentiation could give rise to inferiority and superiority complexes amongst the students. SBB aligns with the MoE's aim to avoid any grounds for comparison between students, which was the norm in the previous grading system.
On the flip side, here's what students may stand to lose:
There is a preference for academic over vocational
When students are categorised into two different streams or bands, it may give rise to two types of prejudices:
- Societal prejudice (which favours academic over vocational education)
- Educational shortcomings ( which concerns the supposed deficiency of students in less prestigious streams)
In this situation, parents will naturally want their children to take up more prestigious streams and bands. They may also restrict their child's social interaction with students in what they consider "less prestigious" bands.
Does it cohere with MoE's school policy?
The MoE's current school policy is "Every School a Good School". Educators are doubtful if SBB aligns with this policy. Parents and students will have various opinions on schools across the achievement spectrum. There are more questions: Will schools offering G3 level subjects be prioritised over institutions offering subjects in all three bands. Will schools that specialise in G1 level subjects be any less in quality? With SBB, schools may face a tough time grappling with multiple educational policies.
Teachers have a lot of responsibility in ensuring that SBB does not fuel student labelling. To implement this, they have to strongly believe in their students' development and achievement beliefs. They will have to foster a stronger sense of camaraderie and ensure that everyone is treated without any partiality.
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