Special Assistance Plan schools



The Special Assistance Plan (SAP) was introduced in 1979 as a long-term scheme to preserve the best Chinese-stream schools so as to develop effectively bilingual students who were inculcated with traditional Chinese values. Nine Chinese-stream secondary schools were initially selected to serve as SAP schools. A 10th SAP school was added in 2000, followed by another in 2012. A total of 10 primary SAP schools were introduced in 1989 to meet the same objective. In 1992, the number of primary SAP schools was increased to 15. With the rise of the Chinese economy, the Bicultural Studies Programme (BSP) was established in 2005 in three SAP schools to nurture the best bilingual students into bicultural professionals who could effectively engage with China. A fourth SAP school was added to the programme in 2007. Following the recommendations of the SAP Schools Review Taskforce formed that same year, flagship programmes were developed in the primary and secondary SAP schools to enrich the students’ learning of the Chinese language and traditional Chinese values.

Background
As English gained importance as the working language in Singapore, parents began to recognise the value of learning English for their children’s future. The number of parents who sent their children to English-stream schools rose from the 1950s onwards, resulting in the closure of many vernacular schools.1

The number of pupils enrolled in Chinese-medium schools continued to decline in the 1970s.2 Between 1960 and 1978, the proportion of pupils registered for Chinese primary schools fell from 39 percent to 10 percent.3

It was also during the late 1970s when Nanyang University – which had been set up to promote the Chinese language and culture – decided to change its language of instruction and examination to English. The decision was made as many graduates of the university were unable to find well-paid jobs in the private sector with their Chinese education. Furthermore, increasing numbers of the best students in the Chinese-medium schools were pursuing further education in English at the University of Singapore (now the National University of Singapore) instead. This change in education policy by the Nanyang University raised the issue of preserving the best Chinese-medium schools in Singapore and the need to improve the standard of English in these schools.4

During a forum on bilingual education in April 1978, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew mooted the idea of transforming a number of top Chinese-medium secondary schools into bilingual schools. With the shift in preference among parents towards English education for their children, Lee was of the view that the Chinese-medium schools could not survive unless radical changes were made. He also felt that Chinese-stream schools were worth preserving because traditional Chinese values – such as courtesy, discipline, respect for authority, social responsibility and awareness of one’s cultural roots – imparted to students in these schools would help to strengthen the Singapore society.5

Introduction of SAP schools
The Ministry of Education (MOE) announced the SAP on 30 November 1978.6 Implemented in 1979, the long-term plan aimed to develop nine Chinese-medium secondary schools into effectively bilingual institutions with the standard of English comparable to those of English-stream schools.7 The scheme entailed a heavier curriculum that emphasised the learning of both English and Chinese for pupils in the selected schools.8 During the interim period when these schools were developing their English capability, the English proficiency of their pupils was to be raised through immersion classes in English-medium schools. Besides effective bilingualism, another key objective of the SAP was the preservation of the Chinese school environment to inculcate traditional Chinese cultural values and nurture social discipline in the pupils.9

The nine SAP schools selected by MOE were Anglican High School, Catholic High School, Chinese High School, Chung Cheng High School (Main), Dunman Government Chinese Middle School (now known as Dunman High School), Maris Stella High School, Nanyang Girls’ High School, River Valley Government Chinese Middle School (now known as River Valley High School) and St Nicholas Girls’ School (now known as CHIJ St Nicholas Girls’ School). These schools were government-aided schools founded by the Chinese community, and were selected based on their well-established tradition, academic performance, facilities, staff and popularity with parents. SAP schools were provided with the best teaching staff as well as government assistance to improve their facilities.10

On 1 December 1978, option letters to join the nine SAP schools were issued to parents of students who were among the top eight percent of scorers in the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) held that year.11 Some two-thirds of these top scorers were from English-medium schools and the remainder came from the Chinese stream.12 About 89 percent of the Chinese-stream pupils invited to enrol in SAP schools accepted the offer, while the acceptance rate of English-medium pupils was 25 percent. The pioneer batch of 1,445 SAP school students commenced their secondary education in January 1979.13

Of the nine SAP schools, Catholic High, Maris Stella High, Nanyang Girls’ High and St Nicholas Girls’ School had both primary and secondary sections. Primary school pupils in these schools who fell outside of the top eight percent could progress to the secondary level in their respective schools if they had obtained “well above average” PSLE results. Pupils from other Chinese-medium primary schools with the same performance were given the option to join the nine SAP schools.14 However, the curriculum differed for the top-eight-percent scorers and the others: The latter had more English-medium lessons.15

Key developments in SAP schools
Introduction of Special course in secondary schools
In 1978, then Deputy Prime Minister Goh Keng Swee led a team to study the problems in Singapore’s education system. The team’s recommendations subsequently formed the basis of the New Education System (NES). Under the NES, pupils were streamed into either the Special, Express or Normal courses in secondary schools.16 The Special course was offered in the nine SAP schools from 1981 onwards and was made available to the top PSLE scorers. Similar to the curriculum already in force at these schools since 1979, students in the Special course were required to study English and Chinese as first languages.17

Enrolment and incentives
By the early 1980s, enrolment in SAP schools was declining as many English-educated parents were sceptical towards the benefits of their children taking Chinese as a first language. They were also concerned with their children’s ability to cope with studying two first languages.18

In response to the declining enrolment, the MOE introduced a number of incentives in 1981 to attract top pupils to pursue their secondary education in SAP schools. The incentives included the option to study Chinese as a second language from secondary three onwards for students who were unable to cope with two first languages, as well as a concession of two points to SAP school students for their pre-university applications. In addition, those who obtained the grade E8 in English or Chinese at the first language level were taken to have obtained a C6 at the second-language level, and thus regarded to have satisfied the language requirements for junior college and university admission. Furthermore, students who studied Chinese as a first language could, at the end of secondary three, sit for Chinese as a second language in the General Certificate of Education (GCE) Ordinary Level (O-Level) examination. They could also choose to drop Chinese as a subject thereafter if they had obtained the minimum grade required for entrance into pre-university.19

In 1983, a revised secondary one posting system was introduced to attract more top PSLE pupils to SAP schools. Under the new system, a pupil who was unable to get into a SAP school of his choice would be given his next preference, which could be a non-SAP school. Under the old system, the pupil would be sent to another SAP school instead. In addition, commencing with the secondary one cohort in 1984, pupils who opted for SAP schools could study Chinese as a second language under the SAP Express course from secondary one, instead of from secondary three onwards. These students, however, would not be awarded the two bonus points for pre-university admission.20

When the first batch of SAP school students sat for the GCE O-Level examinations in 1982, their overall performance was better than their non-SAP school counterparts.21 In terms of students’ performance, all nine SAP schools were ranked among the top 18 schools (out of the 134 secondary schools at that time), and the top three were all SAP schools.22

In 1983, the number of eligible pupils who applied for places in the SAP schools rose significantly as a result of the new secondary school posting system.23 The proportion of pupils from English-medium primary schools joining the SAP schools also increased over time. In 1979, about 30 percent of the students enrolled in the SAP schools were from the English stream, which subsequently increased to 90 percent by 1986.24

Introduction of national stream
With the introduction of the national stream in 1983, all schools were required to offer English as a first language and mother tongue as a second language by 1987. The nine SAP schools, however, were exempted from this requirement and were allowed to continue offering both English and Chinese at the first-language level.25

Merger of Special and Express courses
In 1986, the Special course was expanded beyond the nine SAP schools. From that year on, students who were among the top 10 percent of performers at the PSLE could study their respective mother tongue languages – including Chinese, Malay and Tamil – at the first language level.26

Over time, the eligibility criteria for studying mother tongue as a first language were further relaxed. From 1995 onwards, the higher mother tongue language (HMTL) – formerly mother tongue as a first language – was offered to students in the top 11 to 20 percent of their cohort who had obtained the grade “A*” in the mother tongue language or distinction in HMTL and at least a grade “A” for English at the PSLE. Then from 1999 onwards, the HMTL was offered to the top 30 percent of the PSLE cohort who met the same set of criteria. In 2004, the minimum grade “A” requirement for the English language was removed. At the same time, schools were granted the autonomy to allow students who did not meet the formal criteria to study the subject.27

With the relaxation of the eligibility criteria, the number of Express course students who studied HMTL began to rise. As more students in the Special course (those in the top 10 percent of the PSLE cohort who studied HMTL) and Express course began to be placed in the same classes in some secondary schools, the difference between the two courses diminished over time. Consequently, the two courses were merged into a single Express course, commencing with the secondary one cohort in 2008.28

The status of SAP schools, however, remained unchanged after the merger. These schools continued to play a key role in the preservation of the culture and traditions of Chinese-medium schools as well as the nurturing of able students to study both Chinese and English at the first-language level.29

Admission criteria for SAP schools
In 1999, the admission criteria for SAP schools was relaxed from the top 10 percent of performers at the PSLE to the top 30 percent who met the eligibility criteria for taking Higher Chinese in secondary schools.30

To qualify for the SAP schools, pupils are currently required to sit for both English- and Chinese-language papers at the PSLE, and the top 30 percent of performers who take Higher Chinese at the PSLE are given bonus points for admission into these schools.31

The 10th and 11th SAP schools
Following the change in admission criteria for SAP schools in 1999, applications to these institutions were expected to rise. To cater for the expected increase in demand, the number of SAP schools was increased to 10 in 2000 with the addition of Nan Hua Secondary School (now known as Nan Hua High School).32

Some 10 years later, the MOE decided that there was a need for another SAP school as the percentage of secondary school students taking Higher Chinese had increased from 17 percent in 2000 to 28 percent in 2010. Consequently, Nan Chiau High School became the 11th SAP school commencing 2012.33

Introduction of primary SAP schools
With the introduction of the national stream in 1983, primary schools were required to teach English as a first language and the mother tongue as a second language.34 Pupils in the primary schools affiliated to the SAP schools (Catholic High, Nanyang Primary, St Nicholas Girls’ and Maris Stella), however, were given the option to study both English and Chinese at the first-language level.35

By the late 1980s, most of the former Chinese-medium primary schools had closed down as a result of declining enrolment. In March 1989, 10 primary schools were identified to teach both English and Chinese at the first-language level as well as to inculcate core traditional Chinese values in their students. A key objective of the programme was to preserve the Chinese primary school tradition that had inculcated good values in children.36

Education in the 10 primary SAP schools would commence with a one-year preparatory programme to provide pupils with a foundation for studying Chinese as a first language. These schools were thus allowed to enrol children at the age of five instead of the usual six to cater for the extra foundation year.37

The schools were initially known as “seed schools” as it was thought that their experience in nurturing traditional Chinese values could subsequently be transferred to other primary schools. By June 1989, the 10 schools were officially renamed primary SAP schools. These comprised the four primary schools affiliated to the SAP schools as well as Ai Tong School, Maha Bodhi School, Nan Hua Primary School, Pei Chun Public School, Red Swastika School and Tao Nan School.38 A total of 2,309 children made up the first batch of pupils who joined these schools in January 1990.39

To help the primary SAP schools succeed, special curricular materials were developed by the MOE to facilitate language learning and values education in these schools. The MOE also provided special assistance including staffing the schools with good bilingual teachers and upgrading their facilities.40

Key developments in primary SAP schools
Addition of five primary SAP schools
In 1992, the number of primary SAP schools was increased to 15. The five additional schools were Holy Innocents’ Primary School, Hong Wen School, Kong Hwa School, Pei Hwa School (Bukit Timah) – now known as Pei Hwa Presbyterian Primary School – and Poi Ching School.41

Higher mother tongue and one-year preparatory programme
In 1992, the option to study HMTL was extended beyond the primary SAP schools to all primary schools in Singapore. Specifically, pupils with the language ability could opt to take the subject in primary five and six.42

In the same year, the one-year preparatory programme for five-year-olds was expanded to 20 other primary schools to prepare students for learning English and the mother tongue languages. Unlike the primary SAP schools where 60 percent of curriculum time was spent on Chinese and 40 percent on English, these 20 primary schools were given the flexibility to determine the amount of time spent on teaching English and the mother tongue.43

Promotion of the Chinese language and culture
Bicultural Studies Programme
With the strengthening of the Chinese economy, Lee was of the view that Singapore needed a group of professionals who were not only bilingual but also bicultural – have a strong understanding of contemporary China, the Chinese mind and social culture. He felt that biculturalism was necessary to reach deep inside China and develop strong working ties with the Chinese.44

In 2005, the BSP was started to nurture the best bilingual students in Singapore into professionals who could effectively engage China as well as the Western countries. Through an intensive Chinese curriculum with immersion trips to China, the programme sought to develop among the students a strong understanding of China’s history, culture and contemporary developments, in addition to a good command of the Chinese language.45

The BSP was started in three SAP schools that had already established links with schools in China. They were Dunman High, Nanyang Girls’ High and Chinese High.46 In 2007, River Valley High became the fourth school to offer the BSP.47

Programmes to deepen students’ learning of the Chinese language and culture
In 2007, the SAP Schools Review Taskforce was established. Chaired by then Minister of State Gan Kim Yong, the objectives of the taskforce included reviewing the SAP schools as well as developing initiatives to strengthen the SAP school culture and enrich the learning of the Chinese language and traditional values in these schools. In response to the recommendations made by the taskforce, the SAP schools started developing their own flagship programmes related to the learning of the Chinese language, culture and traditions.48 For example, Media Studies in Chinese was offered as a GCE O-Level subject by CHIJ St Nicholas Girls’ and Chung Cheng High (Main) in 2010. In addition, Chung Cheng High (Main) introduced courses on Chinese internet broadcasting, filmmaking and drama to its lower secondary students. A number of primary SAP schools also started teaching non-examinable subjects such as art, music and physical education using Chinese.49

SAP schools and multiracialism
Since the introduction of SAP schools in 1979, concerns have been raised by the public and members of parliament that interracial mixing may be hindered for students in these schools.50

In response to such concerns, efforts were made in SAP schools to enable students to mix with those from other races and understand their languages and cultures. For example, Malay language was made a compulsory subject for lower secondary students at Chinese High and Nanyang Girls’ High by 2002.51 Opportunities for SAP students to broaden their social interactions were also made available through community-based activities as well as joint activities and exchanges with Malay and Indian cultural groups and non-SAP schools.52

In 1990, the SAP school principals shared their observations that students who completed secondary education in their schools were able to mingle and relate well with peers from other ethnic groups when they proceeded to junior colleges. These observations were subsequently reaffirmed by principals of the junior colleges.53

Timeline
1979: The SAP is introduced in nine Chinese-medium secondary schools.
1981: The Special course is offered in the SAP schools.
1982: The first batch of SAP school students sits for the GCE O-Level examinations.
1989: A total of 10 primary schools are designated as primary SAP schools.
1992: The number of primary SAP schools is increased to 15.
2000: The number of SAP schools is increased to 10.
2005: The BSP is established in three SAP schools.
2007: The BSP is offered in a fourth SAP school.
2007: The SAP Schools Review Taskforce is established.
2012: The number of SAP schools is increased to 11.

List of secondary SAP schools
Anglican High School
Catholic High School
CHIJ St Nicholas Girls’ School
Chinese High School
Chung Cheng High School (Main)
Dunman High School
Maris Stella High School
Nanyang Girls’ High School
Nan Chiau High School
Nan Hua High School
River Valley High School

List of primary SAP schools
Ai Tong School
Catholic High School (Primary)
CHIJ St Nicholas Girls’ (Primary)
Holy Innocents’ Primary School
Hong Wen School
Kong Hwa School
Maha Bodhi School
Maris Stella High (Primary)
Nanyang Primary School
Nan Hua Primary School
Pei Chun Public School
Pei Hwa Presbyterian Primary School
Poi Ching School
Red Swastika School
Tao Nan School



Author

Cheryl Sim



References
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28. Ng, J. (2007, August 4). Express and special streams to merge. The Straits Times, p. 84. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ministry of Education. (2007, August 3). Special and Express courses at secondary schools to merge [Press release]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

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32. Zuraidah Ibrahim, et al. (1999, January 21). Nan Hua to become SAP school next year. The Straits Times, p. 26. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; NHHS Alumni Association. (2010). About us. Retrieved 2016, June 21 from Nan Hua High School Alumni Association website: http://www.nanhuaalumni.org.sg/?module=page&id=2
33. Leow, S. W. (2010, November 14). Nan Chiau High to become SAP school. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
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35. Four schools to continue teaching CL1 at primary level. (1983, December 22). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
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46. Ho, A. L. (2004, September 4). 3 SAP schools in bicultural scheme. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
47. Lee, C. W. (2006, February 6). Bicultural course at RVHS. Today. Retrieved from Factiva.
48. Singapore. Parliament. Parliamentary debates: Official report. (2012, October 16). Special Assistance Plan schools (Vol. 89). Singapore: [s.n.], col. 6. Retrieved 2016, July 8 from Parliament of Singapore website: https://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic.jsp?currentTopicID=00078105-WA&currentPubID=00078091-WA&topicKey=00078091-WA.00078105-WA_1%2BhansardContent43a675dd-5000-42da-9fd5-40978d79310f%2B
49. Lee, K. Y. (2012). Lee Kuan Yew, my lifelong challenge: Singapore’s bilingual journey. Singapore: Straits Times Press, pp. 134–136. (Call no.: RSING 306.4495957 LEE)
50. Leong, W. K. (2002, February 16). So, who’s afraid of SAP schools? The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
51. Leong, W. K. (2002, February 16). So, who’s afraid of SAP schools? The Straits Times, p. 8; Davie, S. (2002, February 12). Many ways to get students to bond. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
52. Lee, K. Y. (2012). Lee Kuan Yew, my lifelong challenge: Singapore’s bilingual journey. Singapore: Straits Times Press, p. 128. (Call no.: RSING 306.4495957 LEE); Singapore. Parliament. Parliamentary debates: Official report. (2012, October 16). Special Assistance Plan schools (Vol. 89). Singapore: [s.n.], col. 6. Retrieved 2016, July 8 from Parliament of Singapore website: https://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic.jsp?currentTopicID=00078105-WA&currentPubID=00078091-WA&topicKey=00078091-WA.00078105-WA_1%2BhansardContent43a675dd-5000-42da-9fd5-40978d79310f%2B
53. Singapore. Parliament. Parliamentary debates: Official report. (1990, July 18). Special Assistance Plan (SAP) schools (Vol. 56). Singapore: [s.n.], cols. 292–293. (Call no.: RSING 328.5957 SIN). Retrieved 2016, July 8 from Parliament of Singapore website: http://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/report.jsp?currentPubID=00069630-ZZ



Further resource
Bilingualism: Cream of 41,000 can join 9 schools. (1978, December 1). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 21 July 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
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Education

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