A Brief Recap of S’pore Primary School’s Streaming That Used to Separate EM1, EM2 & EM3

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Let’s face it: our education system is getting better with constant refinements to prevent an unhealthy growth of elitism in Singapore, and to give the younger generation a memorable childhood instead of one that is filled with just homework and examinations.

Primary school students nowadays won’t have known much about the discrimination of the streaming system that has since been completely abolished since 2008, unless they’ve watched the insanely popular 2002 movie I Not Stupid.

But do you know that EM3 was removed at a later stage?

To people who’re not familiar with the system, here’s how it works: in primary school, there lie two stages: Primary 1 to Primary 4 is considered the foundation stage, and Primary 5 to Primary 6 is called the orientation stage.

During the foundation stage, every student studies the same core subject: English, mother tongue, Maths and Science. During the orientation stage, the students are streamed according to their abilities: back then, to some of us, EM1 was considered the top students, EM2 the normal students and EM3 the weaker students.

But the objective of the streaming programme was to channel them into three different streams that had different subjects: EM1 students would do higher Mother Tongue in addition to the subjects done by EM2 students, while EM3 students would sort of continue the foundation stage subjects, primarily English, Mother Tongue and Maths.

Here’s the thing then: kiasu parents, seeing EM1 as more “elite”, wanted their kids to be in EM1 even when they were recommended to be EM2. According to a press release by MOE in 2004, out of all the EM1 students, half of them were actually recommended to be in EM2, but parents chose to opt them in to EM1 instead.

Seeing this, EM1 and EM2 were combined, since there would not be so much difference between this two streams. EM3 was still around, though, but not for long.

While this change was made with immediate effect on 2004, the system was once again refined in 2008. This time, even EM3 was abolished—in fact, the entire “EM” system was completely changed to “Subject-based banding”.

In this latest and current system, schools have the flexibility to decide on what kind of combination their students would have. In an example in Schoolbag.sg, they provided the subject combinations of two schools:

Keming Primary School

  • 4 standard subjects and Higher Mother Tongue Language
  • 4 standard subjects
  • 2 standard subjects with 2 foundation subjects
  • 1 standard subject (Mother Tongue Language) with 3 foundation subjects
  • 1 standard subject (English Language) with 3 foundation subjects
  • 4 foundation subjects

CHIJ Primary (Toa Payoh)

  • 4 standard subjects and Higher Mother Tongue Language
  • 4 standard subjects
  • 3 standard subjects with 1 foundation subject (Foundation Mother Tongue Language)
  • 1 standard subject (Mother Tongue Language) with 3 foundation subjects
  • 4 foundation subjects

Standard subjects are what EM1 and EM2 students used to do, while foundation subjects are what EM3 students used to do.

This allows the students to focus more on subjects that they might be stronger in, and give them a choice on whether to take more standard subjects or more foundation subjects. For example, students who pass all subjects and excel in Mother Tongue is recommended to take 4 standard subjects and Higher Mother Tongue. This is unlike the old streaming system whereby anyone who does well will go to EM1.

Unlike our old days, what I see is a highly efficient system that could eliminate the discrimination of the weaker students, and flexibility to allow students to have more choices instead of the fixed EM1, EM2 and EM3 system.

What do you think? Is it a system that’s way better than what we used to have?


Featured Image: huntergol hp / Shutterstock.com

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