Malaysian secondary schools
Schools in Malaysia will abolish subject streaming next year. Source: Shutterstock

Schools in Malaysia will soon do away with streaming in secondary schools, replacing it with STREAM (Science, Technology, Reading, Arts, Music) education.

Streaming is the practice of sorting students into different “study tracks” based on their intellectual capability.

In government schools in Malaysia, students are placed in a stream (or track) for the last two years of their secondary schooling, depending on their results in the national-level PT3 exam, taken when they’re in Form 3.

They either go into the “Arts” stream – choosing from subjects like Accounting, Commerce, Economics, and Art, or the “Science” stream consisting of Physics, Biology, Chemistry and Additional Mathematics.

This is in addition to the core subjects every student is required to take such as English, Math, History Basic Science and the national language – Bahasa Malaysia.

Those in the Arts classes are typically seen as the “weaker” students while high-achieving students are placed in the “better” Science classes.

But starting in January next year, according to a report by SinChewDaily, students will no longer be streamed into these different tracks.

Earlier this year, Education Minister Maszlee Malik said at a dialogue session that streaming will soon be abolished in secondary schools nationwide.

He said, “We are not going to put our students into Science and Arts (streams) anymore. In a new curriculum we will implement, we will not only emphasise Science, but also Arts (and culture) because knowledge is one; it cannot be compartmentalised and should be integrated instead.”

Emphasising that “the way forward” is to make STEM a way of life, he also said, “STEM education will be updated to become STREAM, including the vital components of Arts and Read­ing.

“We will also shift the priorities of teachers and lecturers nationally to focus on teaching STEM in a fun and experiential way, thereby making STEM accessible to all.”

The problem with streaming

In Malaysia, many affluent and upper middle-class students enrol their children in international or private schools.

Many do so because they see a private or international school education as more beneficial as they naturally incorporate more STREAM-type learning – whether through the IB curriculum or other Western-style forms of education.

As there is no streaming in these types of private schools, students are not segregated based on their “intellectual capabilities” and have more freedom to choose their subjects so they can become well-rounded individuals.

It’s in line with the growing school of thought around the world that students today need a mix of different skills to work in a future that’s rife with new technologies. Focusing on just STEM subjects or just Arts subjects narrows their ability to develop these skills.

Plus, it also limits students’ choices when it’s time to apply for university. If they were in the Science stream but decide to study Accounting, for example, they would lack the foundation needed because they didn’t take the required subject in school.

Many students with good grades are also under pressure to head into the Science stream, even though they could go into the Arts stream as they have the necessary grade requirement, because it’s seen as the stream for “smarter” students.

Those in the Arts stream – whether they were placed there because they lacked the grades to get into the Science stream or because they chose it – are typically discriminated against as being “dumb” or “lazy”.

This can cause bullying and low self-confidence among teens. Conversely, those who choose the Science stream even though they really were interested in the Arts may end up failing or doing poorly on Science subjects – which can be demoralising.

A new era of education for Malaysian secondary schools

With the abolishment of the outdated practice of streaming in government schools, it puts Malaysian schools on par with other countries that are moving towards 21st century learning.

Students will soon have the choice to mix their subjects based on their interests, and will not be seen as lesser just because they wish to study non-Science subjects.

Deputy Education Minister Teo Nie Ching told Sin Chew Daily that with the implementation of the new Standard Secondary School Curriculum (KSSM), “students will be able to take up subjects based on their own interests and preferences”.

She said, “Students will be assigned classrooms based on the subjects selected.”

Earlier this year, Singapore also announced that they will be doing away with streaming in government schools.

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