“However, by all accounts, children as young as primary-school age are still subjected to a pressure cooker environment, no thanks to the high-stakes exams and parents’ expectations” (Teach Less, Learn More – Have We Achieved It?, Miss Ng Jing Yng and Miss Sumita Sreedharan).
The commentary “Teach Less, Learn More – Have We Achieved It?” (August 24, 2012) by Miss Ng Jing Yng and Miss Sumita Sreedharan: it is extremely convenient to demonise the notions of rote memorisation and examinations, especially since “creativity” has been touted as a positive buzzword for educators, and has entered our education parlance. Nevertheless, the perceived monotony and repetitive nature of these pedagogies should not distract us from propositions that: first, it can complement innovative teaching strategies perfectly (without knowledge, there is no basis for learning); second, encourage collaborative efforts; and third, lay the necessary groundwork before any analytical or research skills can be processed (here).
As the Ministry of Education (MOE) is looking to review the overall examination standards in Singapore, I thought it would be interesting to explore some personal amendments or recommendations that could be adopted to fit within the Teach Less, Learn More framework.
1. With particular subjects at certain levels, examinations could be made open-book, or students could bring in one-page guides; practices employed for some modules in our universities. The justification is quite straightforward: we would like students to place more emphasis on understanding, analysing and processing the knowledge that has been prescribed, and not pedantically-mechanically memorise them for the sake of the examinations. The holistic nature of the examination would coerce students to learn more and to subsequently hone their skills through discussion and revision.
2. Without compromising the present rigour, coherence and effectiveness of our syllabuses, our examinations should incorporate more aspects or components that test competencies and skills, beyond the regurgitation of information per se. Skills must develop in tandem with the gains in knowledge, because the content is essentially a platform for the enhancement of capabilities. Take for instance linguistic education: rather than having a single written, final examination, useful assessment can take the forms of constructive class presentations, consistent reading assignments, as well as debates or classroom discourses. The respective proportions, of course, can be worked out by the MOE accordingly.
3. In continuation, such a distribution would spread the workload across an academic year, render undertakings more manageable, and reduce the unnecessary anxieties associated with cramming for a single paper that could make or break. Stress is inevitable, and can be a positive thing if it is managed delicately and progressively, if parents are drawn in as collaborative partners, and if the circumstances are aggregated to represent real-life scenarios.
4. The value of examinations can be heightened if diagnostic aids are provided to students, and there is more emphasis on post-examination evaluation and teaching-learning. We are so obsessed with scores and grades, that we forget that an examination is an excellent channel to ascertain our personal progress, and the areas for improvements. As it stands, test-takers are simply given their grades and final scores, without a breakdown or analysis of their performance in the respective subject components. Diagnostics are especially helpful for the languages, and could – in the future – be applied across the board to school-based assignments or tests since we want students to look beyond that transcript (here).