“At some primary schools, pupils are turning up as early as 6.30am for remedial lessons. At least one secondary school has ‘study camps’ to provide students with a conducive study environment” (Schools Gear Up For Major Exams, Miss Jane Ng and Miss Leow Si Wan).
The report “Schools Gear Up For Major Exams” (October 3, 2010) by Miss Jane Ng and Miss Leow Si Wan is an interesting read; and even though extensive school and home based pre-examination preparations have been an unspoken education norm throughout the years, institutions and households have been constantly upping the ante to give their students and children a perceived heads-up in their assessments. However, its rapid proliferation should not represent its supposed acceptance and effectiveness; especially since a pedantic reliance on rote-learning and enforced memorisation for mere regurgitation are definitely not productive ingredients for a proper education system.
Such over-anxiety can unsurprisingly be traced to the importance and weightings placed on the plethora of standardised examinations. The entire education process is viewed as a protracted university application process, with applicants attempting to gather A’s progressively to finally make it to that coveted Bachelor or Masters. Unfortunately, these “study camps” and mugging are a betrayal to the true spirit of education; a system which is supposed to produce thinking and creative students, not robots who churn out essays and facts word-for-word. Our misplaced enthusiasm towards examinations reflects how much the system has been corrupted, and how far we have deviated from true learning.
Furthermore, while it might appear negligible in the grand scheme of things, the administration cannot overlook the potential psychological ramifications that can manifest if students are continually put through such academic stress. Not only has learning been reduced into a boring process of plainly absorbing content and knowledge, students are subject to unnecessary peripheral and personal pressures to perform up to expectations. When academic education is frowned upon as a responsibility, it becomes excessively burdensome for individuals who might excel in other non-academic platforms, yet inevitably sucked into the vortex of scholastic teaching-learning. Excessive pressures might have adverse impacts on students who are already tethering on the edge.
It is high time for the Ministry of Education (MOE) to rethink its curriculum and pedagogies, and offer greater alternatives instead of relying on antiquated examination systems. The Integrated Programme (IP) does a great job of removing the GCE ‘O’ Level Examinations; and it has proven that students remain academically proficient whilst exploring many other extra-curricular areas of interest. Beyond the junior colleges, polytechnics should come under greater focus for youths who might have talents in more hands-on and vocational aspects.
Ultimately, the question that educators and parents should be asking should be “how much has my child learnt”; as opposed to “how well has my child fared in the examination”. If the administration continues to delve in the comforts of conservatism, then it would be the future generations of students who would suffer in the increasingly globalised and competitive international landscape.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.