The Ministry of Education’s (MOE) decision – together with the respective primary schools involved – to develop new assessment tools, and hence reduce reliance on examinations per se is well-intentioned and wonderfully positioned. Over the years it has become painfully obvious that excellence in academics or grades within a system of standardised examinations may not be accurate representations of an individual’s overall capabilities. The changing global landscape makes it imperative for multi-disciplinary approaches towards our pedagogies and syllabuses within Singapore’s education system.
Teaching-learning can be the most challenging at the primary-school phase: barring participation in pre-school institutions, it is the first time children are exposed to a system of assessment and evaluation. Many are petrified by the quantitative assessment methods of tests and examinations, in which their academic “progress” are determined by aggregated or raw scores from term to term. Furthermore, our meritocratic system drives parents and teachers to push the kids into evitable forms of rote-learning and pedantic memorisation; concerned only about their eventual grades instead of encouraging them to truly learn. Students naturally remain stifled with the stress and competitive; and some might even buckle under the pressure during the major examinations.
The current direction would help kids transit more smoothly from their pre-school education; yet the eventual standardised examinations of the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), as well as the GCE ‘N’, ‘O’ and ‘A’ Level examinations remain staunchly in place. Already, some are expressing concern over the fact that students might not be well-prepped in terms of “examination skills” if they are not granted sufficient practice or mocks throughout their primary-school journey.
The only way to truly bring about all-round schooling would be to offer alternatives to the current sole emphasis on the assortment of standardised examinations, and explore feasible variations to their execution. The MOE has instituted platforms for youths more talented in sports, the arts, music, mathematics and science; however it can do more to render the assessment system for the examinations more diverse. Aside from written modes of evaluation – particularly for the language-based subjects – the oratorical and listening aspects must be given more weightage. Consider a continuous, yearlong-based mode of appraisal rather than forcing students to hinge everything upon a singular series of tests. This can be conducted through a multitude of project-based initiatives, research papers and essays, while students can engage in speeches, discussions and presentations. Make the learning more applicable and relevant.
MOE’s move to do away with end-of-semester examinations for primary one pupils is but a small – albeit tremendously important – first step for greater holistic learning. As the world moves hastily along, our education system has no choice but to move speedily and up its ante.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.