The Ministry of Education (MOE) has rescinded plans to abolish academic streaming by 2024. The move comes after a petition titled “Stop Communist education policy to replace streaming with subject-based banding in Singapore” gained over 17,000 signatures in just a few hours.
The petition called on Singaporeans to “stop this evil policy from being implemented in Singapore. The subliminal messages in the policy include the idea that everybody is equal and that your children are only as good as the neighbour’s children. Parents of Singapore, unite: we have nothing to gain but our grades.”
When contacted, petition starter Ho Lee Mun explained in further detail. “Fundamentally, this is a question of social values. Singapore is an Asian society, and abolishing streaming is some newfangled idea we got from the Nordic countries. We Asians have always cared about meritocracy, academic achievement, and aggressively boasting about our children at family gatherings,” he argued. “Removing streaming is frankly offensive to the silent majority, and such attempts to reduce inequality could even inspire radical Communist elements to carry out terrorist attacks.”
Ho also claimed that he was not against streaming for personal reasons. “Me? No, no – my son is already in OXFORD, and my daughter is at YALE. They both went to RAFFLES. I have no more stake in the issue,” said the concerned citizen, who moved opposite Nanyang Primary School when his eldest was six. “I only care about maintaining social order. Order requires hierarchy: if we don’t stream children by their performance on a single exam at the age of 12, how will we know who should lead the country in the future? If we removed streaming, we’ll be on a slippery slope ending in Singapore becoming one big anarcho-syndicalist commune.”
Observers have called the events a fascinating case study of Singapore’s political dynamics. “The 17,000 signatures came overwhelmingly from members of the National Council of Parents,” said Hanisah Helmy, a professor of political history at NUS. “These are parents who have the time and energy to devote to obsessing about their children on sites like kiasuparents.com – they are overwhelmingly Chinese and middle- or upper-class. That makes them a very politically influential group, especially if they feel that their status is threatened. Many senior politicians and civil servants come from a similar background, so it’s no surprise that they are more attuned to such concerns.”
At the same time, she admitted there were good reasons for MOE to be concerned about the new policy. “Going ahead with the change might have been disruptive, and there’s no clear way to adjudicate tradeoffs between pursuing excellence and ensuring fairness. The state is cautious by nature, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised they erred on the side of caution once again.”
Nevertheless, such explanations have done little to assuage the anger of fans of abolishing streaming. At press time, they said they would find ways to push on with the policy anyway, perhaps by abolishing streaming in nearby countries like Malaysia or Thailand.