Better social mix of students in IP schools than non-IP ones? Challenging measures of “social mixing”

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How social mixing in schools is defined and measured determines how student diversity is evaluated, and it is therefore worth challenging Education Minister Ong Ye Kung’s claim that “the social mix of students in Integrated Programme (IP) schools is actually better than that in non-IP schools” (ST, Dec. 27). The metric used by the Ministry of Education (MOE) is that “every 100 Secondary 1 students in a school should come from 20 or more primary schools”. A school with 300 secondary one students, as inferred, should have these students hailing from at least 60 different primary schools. Based on this too, MOE should be able to track the total number of primary schools represented in each secondary school’s secondary one cohort.

In explaining this “counter-intuitive phenomenon” (TODAY, Dec. 27) of IP schools having a better social mix compared to their non-IP counterparts, the minister cited Director-General of Education Wong Siew Hoong:

“Parents are increasingly prepared to send their children to neighbourhood primary schools, and as a result, students who are eligible for IP secondary schools come from a more diverse range of primary schools”.

While the explanation is not implausible – even if it deserves further (research) interrogation – the definition and measurement of social mixing is also important. By drawing attention to the fact that this was premised upon a “government indicator”, TODAY did a better job than ST in highlighting MOE and Mr. Ong’s framing, yet neither explored other indicators of social mixing or challenged the ministry to provide more data and information, in addition to the primary schools of the secondary one students, such as the socio-economic distribution of these students based on per-capita income, housing type as well as parental education and employment.

And even if we insist upon using MOE’s metric of 100 secondary one students from at least 20 different primary schools, two further checks or pieces of information may ensure the robustness of the measure.

First, doing some sensitivity analysis to check how the findings may differ if conditions – such as the number of primary schools or the number of students from each primary school – are adjusted. In other words, would IP schools have a better social mix if it is 100 secondary one students from 25 or 30 different schools? Or if there are at least two, three, four, or five secondary one students from the same primary school, instead of just one student? Moreover, is it possible to control for the characteristics of the primary schools, such as the neighbourhoods they are located in as well as the socio-economic distribution of their students?

Second, publishing and sharing the findings of all secondary schools in Singapore instead of reporting particular examples. And tracking over time as well. Both ST and TODAY – probably informed by MOE – highlighted the more detailed numbers of just four schools: Hwa Chong Institution, Nanyang Girls’ High School, Raffles Girls’ School, and Raffles Institution. Having the information for all secondary schools will be especially instructive too, because there are much fewer IP schools (with larger school populations) compared to non-IP ones. And based on MOE’s metric, the IP schools started with an ostensibly more diverse base (an increase from 43 per cent of schools which exceeded the guide in 2004 to 88 per cent in 2019) compared to the non-IP ones (an increase from 13 to 51 per cent across the same time period).

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