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The Straits Times

Singapore’s Education System: Headed In The Right Direction

These are Singaporeans’ single-minded focus on examinations and grades and the accompanying high stress levels, and social mobility and inclusions in schools, as moving up the socio-economic ladder becomes harder” (Heng Concerned Over Exam Focus And Social Mobility, Mr. Leonard Lim).

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat’s speech during the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) budget debate is a fair reflection of the perspectives that have been articulated by Singaporean stakeholders (Heng Concerned Over Exam Focus and Social Mobility by Mr. Leonard Lim, March 14, 2013). More hearteningly, instead of hastily accepting all the recommendations that have been posited by members of the public, the MOE will be engaging in more consultations with the public, who would also benefit from these conversations. For instance, while Finland has been heralded as possessing the greatest education system in the world, it would be naïve to postulate that all the positive attributes can be replicated successfully.

With tuition in vogue and expensive enrichment enterprises becoming more ubiquitous, many reckon that the promise of education as “the great leveller” is no longer accurate.

Transformation has been quite remarkable in Singapore’s education landscape. We have been moving beyond academic focuses, as more pathways have been created to cater to individuals who might be more talented in the sports, arts, or vocational instruction. Within scholastic domains, while I believe that standardised assessments remain necessary for evaluation and benchmarking, I concede that more can be done to address the way we test, so as to reduce incidences of pedantic memorisation and mechanical regurgitation. Calibration can take the form of diversified assessment modes, or strengthened feedback or reflection exercises.

Nonetheless, the biggest challenge the MOE faces – as Minister Heng rightly highlighted – is one of social mobility. For any meaningful discussion to take root, the ministry would have to analyse how students from lower income-households have performed in school vis-à-vis those from higher-income families. With tuition in vogue and expensive enrichment enterprises becoming more ubiquitous, many reckon that the promise of education as “the great leveller” is no longer accurate. Hence, the overall performances from the national examinations could be sorted based on each household’s median income. Along the same tangent, we could also see if these students do benefit from the many scholarships offered.

Quality – and affordable – pre-school education will give young children the head-start they need, and the relatively low cost of public education in Singapore has been productive. Yet, with the proliferation of more activities within and without the school, the parents of these aforementioned students might find it difficult to fork out money for payments or purchases. Do we envision structural changes to complement short-term aids and bursaries?

It is a tough balancing act, because while we champion social mobility by empowering lower-income households, it would be tempting – but foolish – to begrudge Singaporeans who have done well and prospered. No eventual policies will please everyone, but at the very least opinions have been sussed out, and participants will emerge more empathetic and enlightened through the exchanges with their fellow citizens.

A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.


4 thoughts on “Singapore’s Education System: Headed In The Right Direction

  1. this article just reminded me of how ashamed i am of the Jamaican government. i am no expert but as a concerned citizen i believe the IMF agreement is not the way forward for us, it hasnt worked in the past and it will not work now ( has everybody forgotten FINSAC) and its appalling the way they change laws (the NHT) for their purposes! and are giving nothing to the education of the country..

    Posted by Talecia | March 22, 2013, 1:26 am
  2. I only have 2 concerns regarding revamps in the Singaporean Education System.

    1) Standardized testing is an excellent concept, but let us not forget that our “consumer base” i.e. Students, are ultimately still very young, and may often lack the maturity needed to “study hard” for said examinations, I would use myself as the case in point. How then can we attempt to let these wayward students rejoin the “system” rather than discriminate against them for the mistakes made in their wayward and reckless youth? P.S. Past performance is not an indicator of future performance, we would do well to remember that oft-quoted financial disclaimer.

    2) We as Singaporeans are too concerned with what is quantifiable, or in short, what can be simplified into Key Performance Indicators. What about those qualities that cannot be easily reduced to a testing metric? Qualities such as resilience, strength and integrity? Are they not as important as an individual’s academic ability?

    Posted by Shawn Teow | March 26, 2013, 1:31 am
    • Thanks Shawn!

      – The next question would then be, “what age?” And even so, some kids are inherently not well-suited for such examinations. In a broader sense, when you talk about getting students to rejoin the system, I would venture to posit that we should be opening up even more pathways for students, so that academics is not the sole determinant of success. Naturally, once an individual makes a decisions as to the field / focus he is comfortable in, he must be prepared to pit himself against counterparts who could be better than him.

      – We certainly can’t measure them, so the onus is on parents and educators to facilitate these learning experiences. The MOE has been working to strengthen its CME pedagogy for the latter, but the jury is still out.

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | March 26, 2013, 1:42 am


  1. Pingback: Daily SG: 20 Mar 2013 | The Singapore Daily - March 20, 2013

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