Secondary School Education Over Time

Most of you must be wondering why I’ve not been posting for a long time…about 1 month plus. I’ve been very very busy studying my son’s textbooks, papers and ‘googling’ online. He did badly in his Combined Humanities subject in his Prelim 1 Exam recently. His Combined Humanities subjects consist of Social Studies and History. Whenever I asked him to tell me about each chapter that he had read, he can briefly tell me about it but I don’t understand why he did badly then. Exam phobia? But he did fairly well for the other subjects. So what goes wrong? I spent over a month during the June school holidays to find out why. Read on to find out …

I was from the Class of 1978 in Victoria School. What I meant was I completed Sec. 4 in 1978. 32 years now, my son is from the Class of 2010 of the same school (though the school is now at Siglap Link). Let’s see how Secondary School education had changed over 32 years.

I was in the Afternoon Session (12.30pm to 5pm, don’t really remember the actual time) from Sec.1 to Sec.3 and Morning Session (7.30pm to 12.00pm, sorry don’t really remember) for those from Sec.4 to Pre.U 2. I had my  lunch daily at home since school time was fixed then and Saturday was usually for ECA (now CCA). We didn’t have those additional or make-up classes and it was rather straight forward then. Now my son’s timetable is not fixed daily as they are now Full-Day session. Most of the days, my son end his lesson around 2.15pm and on Thursday will be 1.40pm and Friday 1.05pm. Saturday is CCA if you have any. Sometimes those subject teachers would extend the lessons or have makeup lessons immediately after 2.15pm thus the students went on without lunch…

As there are no more Pre-U classes now, the school can have full-day session. When I was in secondary school, I only remember Catholic JC, Hwa Chong JC and National JC, then later SAJC. There were not many JCs then as most schools have Pre-U classes. A few months back I went for my son’s Sec.4 Meet-the-Parents session and the Principal briefed us on how the school prepared the students for their GCE ‘O’ level exam. In one of the slides, it showed that there are now 17 JCs! Of course the number of Polytechnics have also increased as compared to 2 (Singapore Poly and Ngee An Poly) only then.

The interesting point is that we used to have Pre-U classes in our Secondary School then and later JCs started to emerge. Then Pre-U classes disappeared when JCs took over. Now more and more Secondary Schools wanted to have Integrated Programs so that their best students can proceed straight into their affilated JC after their Sec.4 without taking the GCE ‘O’ Level exam, though the affilated JC is not in the same school compound. To me it’s like going to Pre-U in another building without taking the ‘O’ level.

Back to the Meet-The-Parents session, the Principal went on to tell us about the expected L1R5 to go into VJC, etc. My goodness, my time was much simpler and straight forward – the lesser points the better (Of course English and MT included).

My Sec.4 school results (There isn’t L1R5 during my time);

Now, if one will to choose JC, then the R5 must include Combined Humanities. So for those who wish to go JCs, they must do well in Combined Humanities. When I looked at the number of subjects he is taking for his ‘O’ Level – 8 compared to mine 7 only. Of course during my time when we mentioned we got 7 ‘O’ level credits, and it’s like big deal. Now some students are even taking 9 subjects with all As!

Now, my son’s Prelim 1 results (see the L1R5);

When we were in Sec.3 then, we were streamed into Science, Technical or Art Class. The better students usually will choose to go Science class and they would study Pure Science like Biology, Physics and Chemistry and also Additional Maths. As I was not keen to go to Pre-U then because of General Paper, I choose to go to Technical Stream. I took Science which comprised of Physics, Chemistry and Biology 3-in-1 textbook (General Science) in lower secondary and Physical Science (Physic and Chemistry only) in upper secondary.

My General Science Sec.1 textbook in 1975;

Credit : McGraw-Hill FEP (S) Ltd

My son also took the same 3-in-1 Science in lower secondary though the textbook was Science Adventure but Pure Science for upper secondary. Though each Biology, Physics and Chemistry textbook can be used for 2 years (sec.3 and 4), it also means that each textbook is very thick and the students have to carry them all in their school bag if they have all the 3 subjects on the same day.

My son’s Sec.1 Science Adventure textbook;

Credit : Marshall Cavendish

It was easy to understand then when I looked at my Sec.1 Science textbook contents – simply divided into Chemistry, Biology and Physics.

The contents of my Sec.1 Science textbook;

Above 2 Credits : McGraw-Hill FEP (S) Ltd

While my son’s Sec.1 Science textbook contents are divided into 5 main themes (similar to their Primary School Science) – Measurement, Diversity, Models & Systems, Energy and Interaction. What I understand Measurement, Energy and Interaction are basically Physics, Diversity is Chemistry and Models and Systems are Biology.

My son’s Sec.1 Science textbook contents;

Above 2 Credits : Marshall Cavendish

But look how detail they go into for Sec.1 Biology now – Cells – Structure, Function and Organisation, Photosynthesis, Respiration, etc…

They are taught how do plant cells differ from animal cells in Sec.1 now;

Credit :  Marshall Cavendish

I must admit what I had learnt in Sec.1 Science then was rather brief compared to now. For example what I had studied in Sec.1 Science – Biology was taught in my Pri.5 daughter Science – Cycles….

My Sec.1 Science – Biology topic on Fertilisation in 1975;

Credit : McGraw-Hill FEP (S) Ltd

My Pri.5 daugther Science – Cycles topic on Fertilisation in 2010;

Credit : Marshall Cavendish

So what is left to be taught in Sec.1 now except to dwell deeper into cells, haha. In fact I don’t quite understand why some schools only allow their Sec.3 and 4 to take only Pure Biology, Physics and Chemistry as individual subjects. The contents taught now are like what were taught in Pre-U then.

So what subjects did I took in lower secondary in 1975 and 1976? English, Literature, History, Geography, E.Maths, General Science, Chinese, Art and Technical Drawing (Art and Technical Drawing non exam.) were taught in sec.1 and 2 but National Language (Malay) was only taught in sec.1. Luckily I did rather well in sec.2, I was posted to 3T1 in sec.3 and the 7 subjects were English, E.Maths, A.Maths, Physical Science, Chinese, Technical Drawing and Basic Electricity / Electronics.

What my son took in sec.1 and 2 : English, Chinese, Maths, Science, Geography, History, Literature, Design & Technology, Home Economics, Visual Arts, Civics and Moral Education, Physical Education and Project Work. 13 subjects and all are examinabled. Though the subject name Design & Technology sounds good but my son can’t even do a simply Isometric or Orthographic Drawing after 2 years. As for Home Economics, I really doubt his teacher can cook better than me…hm…..or even thread a needle faster than me…What surprises me was they even have to study the theory of Physical Education. As for Project Work, as usual, they were not taught how to use the computer softwares but were expected to know by themselves (eg. Video Editing software like Adobe Premiere, etc.).

Another interesting subject to highlight the differences is History. I only managed to find my Sec.1 History textbook (New Secondary Histories), so I can’t compared the Sec.2 to 4. We started learning from the Early Man (Prehistoric Man) to History on Mesopotamia (Is it Middle East, not sure), Egypt, India, China, Phoenicians and Jews, Greece, Rome. The Rise of Christianity, Buddhism and early India empires, Chinese Empires, Prehistoric SEA, Early Kindoms of SEA and the Byzantine Empire. Well, look like quite a lot to study right?

Here is my Sec.1 History textbook;

Credit : Longman Malaysia Sdn. Berhad

My son Sec.1 History textbook;

Credit : Marshall Cavendish

And what was taught in his Sec.1 History then : Reconstructing the Past; Civilisations, Kingdoms and Empires – India, China, SEA; Government and Society – India, China, SEA, Organisation of Society like India Caste System and China Class System; Culture – India (Hinduism and Buddhism), China (Confucianism, Legalism, Taoism, Religion in China), SEA (Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam), Scientific and Artistic Achievements – India, China, SEA; Contact and Interaction – India, China, SEA; Threats and Responses – India, China, SEA, External Threats. Basically the History of India, China and SEA are taught under different topics (units) now in my son’s History textbook. I find it rather complicated in this manner.

So in upper secondary sec.3 and 4, he took English, Chinese, A.Maths, E.Maths, Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Combined Humanities (all 8 subjects). But his Combined Humanities consists of both Social Studies and History which can be considered 2 different sub-subjects too. But this time the 3 Pure Science subjects are too much for me to coach him except the topics on Electricity in Physics.

As for Combined Humanities, it is even worst. Understanding the subjects but unable to write in the required format for SBQ (Source Based Questions) and SEQ (Structured Essay Questions) can guarantee you to fail like my son. Now I understand why my son didn’t do well for this Combined Humanities subject only as it’s really not an easy task to answer the SBQ in the required format using the skills like Inference, Inference with Purpose, Reliability, Comparison, etc…and also the SEQ.

Now you understand why I’m MIA (Missing In Action) for 1 month plus….and I’ve yet to start reading the History textbook. And now when I take a peep at my own ‘O’ level cert., I realised my L1R5 is not too good either. I only managed a L1R5 of 16;

Well my L1R5 is no good too, I shouldn’t expect too much from my son, right?

What my father wrote;

“It never rains but it pours.”
“祸不单行。”
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10 Responses to “Secondary School Education Over Time”


  1. 1 peter Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    i shy if I were to dsiclose my grades. I was meant to be a painter or ana rtist. Either way I can’t make it. I am nto sure why my 2 sons can make it and they from VS.

  2. 3 Victor Koo Thursday, July 15, 2010 at 1:04 am

    The width, depth and number of subjects have increased significantly since our time, LKK. This is what MOE calls a well-rounded education.

    Peter, during our time, I know that your school enrolled a “not-so-academically-excellent” student if he is very strong in sports. My Pr 6 classmate Ong P G was enrolled in your school because he was a very good rugby player like yourself. He also played for the school and you may know him as he was 2 years your junior.

    • 4 laokokok Thursday, July 15, 2010 at 7:24 am

      Sad to say such increased in width, depth and number of subjects don’t seem to work well with some or majority. My son’s class don’t seem to do well in Geometry problems (may be they don’t do technical drawing and don’t see things from all angles). In lower secondary, they can’t even make a simple pin-hole camera. They can’t even identify a balsam plant…

      Maybe in theory they are good, but in practical they fare badly.

  3. 5 peter Sunday, July 18, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    That’s why RI in my time had a more balanced approach to education. You could still get into the school bcos you were good in sports. When you see the O and A level final results, you get Garde 3, Grade 2 and Grade for O level, and 4 and 5 (partial pass)for A level.

    Today everybody in RI get flawless results, so how to separate the good from not good? Unless someone tells me that today’s generation is so much smarter than our time. I came to know that even flawless results still cannot get into RI after PSLE and must resort to donation. last time I heard “going rate” was S$10K, up 4K from my son’s time (1990s).

  4. 6 karina Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    Hello. I want to encourage you that the just like your daughter’s primary school textbooks now contain subject matter that used to be from secondary school, the same applies for your son’s secondary school syllabus. The skills for Combined Humanities used to be in the post-secondary (A level) syllabus. These are Higher-order Thinking skills (inference, comparison, reliability and utility). Please don’t fret. Many students do finally understand from a combination of maturity (turning 16 helps!) and practice (after a few rounds of practice, they start to see patterns). The best thing you can do for your son is to DISCUSS current affairs with him (eg. Healthcare in S’pore, traffic policy, IR, North and South Korea, Tibet) over the dinner table. Training your children to THINK on a daily basis helps them cope with information. The SS skills train our children to be DISCERNING readers. It’s worth it all in the long run as they are bombarded with many messages and not all sources are trustworthy. SS trains them to sift truth from lies.

  5. 8 Lebsocial.com Saturday, December 15, 2012 at 1:36 am

    Again and again and again He amazes me with his steadfast
    interest in my life, in the least interesting details of my life.
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  6. 9 define telepathy Monday, February 4, 2013 at 10:51 am

    I am not sure if you are aware of this. I read a piece just like Secondary School Education Over Time Times of My
    Life the other day on … oops I can’t remember the niche site just now however it was also about richard dawkins too. I will get back to you if it comes to me.

  7. 10 jac24kmrse.edublogs.org Wednesday, May 8, 2013 at 9:17 pm

    This is the right web site for anyone who wishes to find out about this topic.
    You understand a whole lot its almost tough to argue with you (not that I personally would want to…HaHa).

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    Wonderful stuff, just wonderful!


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