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Teo Chee Hean: Streaming initiated in the past to ensure that children completed their education

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean recently spoke on the issue of streaming at the 1000 Enterprises and 1000 Philanthropists for Children-in-Need Appreciation Dinner held on Tuesday (19 March) by the Singapore Children’s Society.

Mr Teo, who was a former education minister, recalled his schooldays in which half the children did not complete secondary school while many in the army only achieved Primary 6 certification.

He noted that streaming was introduced by then-Deputy Prime Minister Goh Keng Swee during the early years of independence in order to improve the high drop-out rates by providing children with the opportunity to further education.

However, Mr Teo proposed that the idea of streaming, which was “to make sure we can do the best by every child” for the “generation in the 60s”, should be discontinued.

“Now people are wondering why we called it Express and Normal stream. Normally people take five years to finish ‘O’ levels. If you finish in four years, that’s quite fast. As a result of (streaming), something like 75 to 80 per cent of students were able to go to secondary school and complete it and go on to polytechnic. That was a huge advance,” he proclaimed.

The Normal (Technical) stream was implemented on the remaining 20 to 25 per cent of students as a way to advance from secondary school to post-secondary education in the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).

Notwithstanding, Mr Teo does not deny that streaming helped Singapore to achieve top-notch standards in the field of education back when “high graduation rates and low drop-out rates from secondary school, and high rates of people going to post-secondary education” were not too common.

“It keeps many of our students in school and out of trouble. They know they’re in secondary school, (they’re) motivated to study and know there’s a place for them beyond secondary school. They know they can earn, can study something that is relevant to help them find a good job and a place in society,” he added.

Mr Teo also commended the voluntary welfare organisations that helped individuals and students on the ground in order to “make Singapore a better and stronger country”.