Head honchos at the Ministry of Education (MOE) can gloat over the fact that Singapore’s education system is heralded as one of the best in the world by the recent 2010 McKinsey education reports. But individuals should be aware that these reports are hardly a perfect measurement for an education system that still has tremendous room for improvement.
The McKinsey reports rightly say that Singapore has done fairly well in grooming students to possess basic levels of literacy and acing universal assessments in mathematics and science.
Quality teachers are centrally selected through the National Institute of Education, trained and rewarded adequately; institutions are subjected to strict key performance indicators; and students are subsequently imbued with great expectations to deliver.
Too much emphasis, however, has been placed on assessing student’s performances through facts and figures. While this perspective may be constructive, it does not take into account the personal academic and curricular development of individual students.
Our celebrated teaching-learning processes may be efficient in producing cogs for the Singapore socio-economic machinery; yet it stifles creativity and the freedom to explore.
Exams And Grades Still King
As a pioneer Integrated Programme (IP) student for six years, I’ve seen how teachers were still overly concerned about having students do well in examinations even though the school had feebly implemented superficial changes and attempted to infuse more self-initiated learning.
Absence of the GCE ‘O’ Level Examinations did little to allay the fears and trepidation towards the ‘A’ Level Examinations. With time, elements such as class participation, projects and independent learning gave way to what the educators were familiar with: Examination techniques, pouring over Ten Year Series and tests preparation.
Teachers are subtle victims of the system. Repeated concerns over superficial test-based preparations pressure them to rush through the prescribed syllabus, often without genuine care over the contents and subjects.
After all, why bother exploring when stakeholders are merely asking for rote-learning, imparting of examination techniques and test practice to obtain the ideal grades?
Constrained By The System
But some students simply do not thrive in an environment where rote memorisation and pedantic methods of regurgitation are encouraged; even though they do genuinely try their hardest in preparations and studying.
The introduction of various new institutions – such as the Singapore Sports School and the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts – and reforms such as the IP have not been sufficiently far-reaching.
Constrained by parental and societal expectations, students are turned away from their passions in favour of a more “stable” career-future. A mindset shift is needed to convince individuals that academic excellence is not the only pathway to success. Space must be given for Singaporeans to develop their gifts – from a young age – and pursue their interests without inhibitions.
The truth is that the inflexibility of the subject combinations and platforms for true learning stifles the creative minds of many young people. There are insufficient avenues for them to showcase their true talents, and conservative mindsets prevent them from exploring unconventional extra-curricular fields.
Unfortunately, their ineptitude is conveniently dismissed as laziness and stupidity, without accounting for their strengths.
Towards Skill-Based Learning
As we develop into a “knowledge society”, pure memorisation or regurgitation of knowledge no longer suffices, since any fact can be found on Google. Instead of prepping students to be mere conduits of subject-matter, facts and figures, the MOE should focus on empowering them with a host of skills that can be applicable inside or outside the classroom.
Even humanities like History and Geography have been taught wrongly: too much focus has been placed on mere content recital. Instead, it is more important to get students involved with presentations, lesson notes and debates.
Critical thinking faculties can be nurtured when individuals challenge the status quo – whilst taking into account the assortment of perspectives – and seek to instill positive mechanisms for change in society.
These skills – including oratorical, research, written, presentation abilities – have great sustainability and utility throughout an individual’s career or life. Inter-disciplinary tracks are also fantastic ways to break monotony in content-heavy subjects, and allow students to see the relevance of their fields in the real world.
Ultimately, assessments should no longer be confined to that of examinations. Rather, it should include year-long reports based on an assortment of skills, rendering the education process more holistic and beneficial.