A Level Curriculum
Starting from the year 2006, the Ministry of Education is changing and revamping the 'A' Level curriculum. Instead of sorting the subjects according to the paper taken for the subject (‘AO’, ‘A’ and ‘S’ papers), the subjects are classified into 3 different levels namely H1, H2 and H3.
Reasons for the Change
The new 'A' level curriculum is designed to enhance breath and flexibility.
It is designed to prepare students for university education through independent learning as well as a multi-disciplinary grounding to prepare them for the rapidly changing society where they will have back ups should they need to change jobs.
It aims to prepare and meet the needs of the students for this new innovation driven age and allow them to adapt to new situations, draw insights from various fields of work and think independently.
The Three Skills
The framework for the new 'A' level curriculum focuses on three aspects.
The first aspect centres on life skills, with the purpose of grooming students into civic-minded and responsible citizens with integrity through life. This is the non-academic part of the curriculum and is accomplished using CCAs (Co-Curricular Activities), CDP (Character Development Programme), Civics, NE (National Education), PCCG (Pastoral Care and Career Guidance) and PE (Physical Education).
The second aspect focuses on knowledge skills and trains the students’ thinking and communication skills, allowing them to develop essential logic skills. This is done with subjects such as General Paper (GP), Project Work (PW) as well as Knowledge and Inquiry (KI).
The third and last aspect narrows down on content-based subject disciplines. This is to provide students with the necessary content-based knowledge for their careers in later life and to allow them to have a multi-disciplinary foundation. This is achieved through the subjects of the science and mathematics stream (physics, chemistry, biology etc.) as well as the arts and humanities stream (history, geography etc).
The Different Level of Studies
Higher 1Higher 1 (H1) level is meant to replace the previously existing 'AO' papers. Subjects taken at H1 level will contain only half the curriculum content as compared to the same subject offered at H2 level but will still contain the same amount of intellectual difficulty and academic rigour. Thus, a student will not be allowed to take a subject at both H1 and h2 level as there will be overlapping of syllabus content.
Students are also allowed to take their H1 paper at the end of one year for JCs or two years for the CI if their school permits as the curriculum time required is half of a H2 subject which spans over two to three years.
All JC students will be required to take their General Paper (GP), Project Work (PW) and Mother Tongue Language (MTL) as a H1 subject. However, students who have obtained at least a D7 grade in their Higher MTL 'O' level examination need not continue taking MTL as they have already fulfilled the requirements for MTL at H1 level. Unfortunately, MTL is not replaceable with another H1 subject if you do not need to take it as it is an integral part of the 'A' level curriculum.
The replacement of 'AO' level with H1 level brings about the benefit of giving the students wider choices and options in terms of choosing their subjects. A wider range of subject is allowed at H1 level as compared to the subjects allowed at 'AO' level previously.
Subjects are to be taken at H1 level if the student has interest but does not intend to specialize in that particular subject, or merely wants a basic foundation in that subject as it will prove to be useful when used with his other specialized subjects.
Higher 2 (H2) level is meant to replace and is equivalent to the previously existing 'A' papers. The only difference is that some syllabus content would be reduced to allow the students to spend time on their contrasting subjects and non-academic pursuits.
Students are allowed to take the subject Knowledge and Inquiry (KI) at H2 level if they choose to do so and qualify for it. This will replace their GP subject which is to be taken at H1 level.
Higher 3 (H3) level is meant to replace the previously existing 'S' papers. However, unlike the 'S' papers, H3 subjects take the students beyond what they learn at H2 level with a different set of syllabus. Thus, in order to take a subject at H3 level, you must take the corresponding subject at H2 level in order to have a basic foundation of the subject when you tackle it at H3 level. Subjects at H3 level may also take on different learning modes such as extended research essays or university taught mode.
Subjects offered at H3 level allow a specialized and multidisciplinary level of study. It allows students with a strong interest in the particular subject to study the subject in depth and take it to a higher level.
Due to the rigour and difficulty of managing a subject at H3 level, as well as the large amount of curriculum time involved, not every student will be able to take a subject at H3 level. Schools will select which students are capable of taking H3 subjects based on their abilities. A student may take up to only 2 subjects at H3 level.
H1 and H2 subjects are graded with pass grades of A, B, C, D and E, with A being the best and E being the worst, as well as fail grades of S (sub-pass) and U (ungraded).
H3 subjects are graded with pass grades of distinction, merit and pass, with distinction being the best and pass being the worse, as well as fail grades of U (ungraded).
Based on the guidelines given by the Ministry of Education in Singapore, a student is to take up at least 3 H2 and 1 H1 content-based subjects, in addition to GP, PW and MTL (if applicable) at H1 level. This will give the student a total of 6 or 7 subjects during his pre-university studies.
At least 1 out of the 4 content-based subjects must be a contrasting subject from the other stream. For example, a science and mathematics student must take at least 1 arts and humanities subject in his subject combination.
However, there are always modifications within the different JCs and exceptional students may be allowed to take up 1 more subject at H1 or H2 level on a case by case basis.
Benefits of the New System
With the new system, students will have greater options and flexibility in choosing their subjects. The need to have a contrasting subject in one’s subject combinations allows one to get multi-disciplinary grounding which is crucial in the new knowledge based economy and the new addition of the Project Work subject prepares the student for work in the society.
There is also a greater focus on thinking and communication skills (e.g. the addition of KI as a subject) which is a crucial skill when the students step into society. Academic content is cut off to allow room to develop these skills as well as to pursuit non-academic achievements which develop and inculcate skills such as leadership, broadening the student’s character.