Students are receiving their secondary school postings today.
For many this will be a major milestone, as they embark on the next phase of their education
I still remember getting my PSLE results as a young boy and deciding on my choice of secondary school.
I did well in PSLE, well enough I think to get to most top schools in Singapore then. But somehow it never crossed my mind to go any of these schools.
Instead I was set on going to the secondary school in the neighbourhood where I grew up – Tanjong Katong Secondary (or TK Tech then).
It was the school my older brother and cousins all went to. It was also the school most of my classmates had opted for. We lived in the East, and TK was a natural choice for all of us.
Today, students have a lot more options and pathways to choose from. Sometimes, the multitude of options can add to the stress of picking the right school.
But it is important to look at the diversity of pathways with the right perspective.
The various pathways in our education system are meant to cater to students with different abilities and talents.
We should not think of any single pathway as being inherently superior to another.
Some students may benefit from a through-train Integrated Programme (IP). But others may do better in a more structured O-level programme, before entering Junior College (JC).
Some students may not be book-smart or academically inclined. But they may thrive in a technical environment, learning with their hands, and then progressing on to ITE, or later to one of our polytechnics.
In fact, all countries have some form of differentiation in their education systems, so that students are placed into different learning pathways based on exams or tests.
Here, we construct more explicit “streams” or “courses”, develop dedicated curriculum for each, and also allow for transfers and flexibilities. Elsewhere, they tend to have fewer avenues to cross from one pathway to another.”
For example, in many European countries, once a student is streamed into the technical or vocational track, he is most likely headed to a polytechnic rather than a university.
In contrast, we have tried to build as many bridges and ladders in our educational pathways as possible.
Students who take O-levels and do well in their exams can progress to a popular JC. In fact, these JCs are offering more – not fewer – places than before to O-level students from non-IP schools.
This means that there are now more opportunities to study in the popular JCs, with two different pathways to get there – one via the IP and another via the O-level.
Similarly there is more than one pathway to get a university education in Singapore.
The traditional route is through the JC. But more and more polytechnic students are now able to get a degree. And there are also many more part-time options for those who prefer to work first and study later.
We are working hard to build a diverse education system – one that has no dead ends; one that is student-centric, and caters to the varied abilities and talents of our young people.
For this to work, we all need to change our mindsets – to embrace a broader definition of success, to recognise the different learning pathways in our education system, and make full use of these pathways to maximise the potential of every child.
So for all students receiving their secondary school posting today, I wish you all the best for your next phase of education.
Whatever the school you are assigned to, the opportunities to learn are bountiful.
Make the most of your education, progress along a pathway that is best suited to your learning needs, and seize every opportunity to fulfil your potential in life.