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Let schools decide on student placement
Published on: Sunday, December 31, 2017

By S. L. Lim

I REFER to recent reports about elite classes and would like to add to the comments.

I agree with most that it is a tough job for teachers to teach a class of 40 students with mixed abilities.

Faced with such a class, most teachers would wisely teach at a pace and level of the average student.

By doing this, most of the students (the majority being average in a normal distribution) will benefit from the learning experience.

But students who are fast learners will find such classes boring and not challenging enough for them.

On the other end, students who are slower cannot even grasp what the teacher is teaching at the average pace.

Therefore, only the average students have an optimised learning experience in a class of mixed abilities.

In a large school, it makes sense to group students according to their learning abilities and customise the teaching method according to the needs of each group.

Incidentally, most schools which have elite classes tend to cram them with more students so that weaker classes will have fewer students and the teacher is able to give more attention to weaker students.

Contrary to popular belief, I think weaker students also benefit from streaming. I have a friend whose son is a slow learner. When he was in Year 1 (there is no streaming in Year 1), the teacher always picked on him because she was upset he could not complete tasks correctly while his classmates could do so.

He would get stuck halfway or totally misinterpret the assignment... Consequently, the teacher singled him out for punishment and often taunted him.

If he had been put in a weaker class for slower students, the teacher would not have picked on him for being slow since all the other students would be the same. The teacher would have modified the teaching method to suit the learning pace of weak students.

In summary, I believe elite classes were created not for elitism but for practical reasons, that is to enhance the learning experience of all students. I therefore hope the Education Ministry would give individual schools the autonomy to decide how they want to place students in each class.

S. L. Lim

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