Monday, December 31, 2012

High expectations of principals

Kezia Toh

The Straits Times
Sun Dec 30 2012

SINGAPORE - Principals are role models that schools and society at large have high expectations of and regard for, said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat last Thursday, at an appointment ceremony for 60 new school heads.

While he made no reference to the ongoing Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau's probe of former River Valley High School principal Steven Koh Yong Chiah, 58, Mr Heng noted how good principals know their position is not "about privilege or power" but a calling to inspire the teaching fraternity and nurture future generations.

"The actions of over 360 principals have a tremendous impact on 33,000 teachers and over half a million students we have in our school system," he said.

The 60 who received letters of appointment last Thursday include Mrs Teo Khin Hiang, 54, who took over last week from Mr Koh, who has been redeployed to the ministry's headquarters as principal (special projects).

Mrs Teo, who was thrust into the hot seat, found herself at the centre of attention at the ceremony on that day.

But she chose not to speak to reporters, leaving early by a back door.

She was deputy director of the programme coordination office at the ministry's headquarters, and was also formerly principal of schools including Chua Chu Kang Secondary.

The 60 principals were given new appointments in the annual rotation.

Some observers noted that some experienced principals from popular schools were assigned to lesser-known ones.

Former Henry Park Primary principal Ng Teng Joo, for instance, will head White Sands Primary in Pasir Ris.

Such moves, say observers, will allow newer schools to tap on the experience of the more senior educators.

Mrs Regina Lee, 43, formerly of CHIJ Secondary (Toa Payoh), who will head North Vista Secondary School, said: "No two schools are alike. Each carries its own unique cohort of students."

Instead of importing what was used in her previous school, she wants to build on what North Vista already has, she said.

Mr Heng also pointed out on that day that the role of a principal in today's context is not just to boost the standing of his school.

He must understand that his school is part of a larger school system, and he must have the "generosity of spirit" not just to focus on his school's success.

"Our principals' key challenge is more than competing for the most talented students, or showing that (their) school is better than the next school," he said.

As leaders in education, they are expected to share and collaborate with others "to bring our entire education system forward".

Principals also have a role to play beyond the school, said Mr Heng, who also spoke about them taking on a "community leadership role", similar to how principals used to be like village chiefs - reading and writing letters for illiterate migrants.

They should help "the broader community understand the value of education, and explain what can or cannot be done".

For instance, they play an important role as the "interface between HQ and the front line", such as explaining the rationale behind policies, he pointed out.

He cited examples of recent decisions that "may not be fully understood by the public", such as not naming top PSLE scorers, which signals that the exam is not the be-all-and-end-all, rather than it signalling a move away from academic excellence.

"As the interface between HQ and the front line, our principals play a very critical role in leading change... and it is your leadership ability that translates intent to effective change in the schools," he said.

Those given new portfolios on that day include not only veterans, but also new faces, such as Ms Loh Wee Cheng, 33, the youngest of the batch.

Formerly a vice-principal at Rulang Primary, she will now head Townsville Primary in Ang Mo Kio.

Other principals who were rotated to helm new schools include Madam Lim Geok Cheng, 54, who will now head the School of the Arts in its first leadership change since its inception in 2005, taking over from Mrs Rebecca Chew.

Former deputy director of professional development at the Academy of Singapore Teachers, Madam Tham Mun See, 43, will head Raffles Girls' School (Secondary), taking over from Mrs Julie Hoo, 46, who was RGS principal for six years.

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Are parents too 'kancheong'?

Should Singapore scrap the primary school exam?

Singapore’s education system is known as one of the most competitive in the world, but it’s facing big changes.

Singapore’s education system is known as one of the most competitive in the world, so it has come as a huge surprise that the country’s Ministry of Education and Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB) will stop listing the top-scoring students in all national examinations.

The Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) is seen as a ‘do-or-die moment’ for most Singaporean school kids, and a pass is never enough.

Students sit the exam at the age of 12 and, for the highest achievers, its a gateway to the best secondary schools.

Speaking on national television, the Minister of State for Education, Indranee Rajah, said she understood that the rankings for both schools and students were taken very seriously.

She explained that the proposed changes were aimed at creating a system that wouldn’t “put people through the meat grinder”, arguing that currently “teachers, parents, as well as students are so stressed out that it just becomes an ordeal as opposed to an objective measure of your academic ability”.

Stunting creativity

Singapore’s Ministry of Education began providing a list of top students in 1999.

 Allan Luke, who was a researcher at the National Institute of Education in Singapore from 2003 to 2005, said that by ceasing to do this the government is trying to meet the changing needs of the global economy.

“This is really an issue that has been raised across what we would call East Asian Confucian-based education systems in Singapore, in China, in Hong Kong, in Taiwan and elsewhere,” he said.

“The concentration on examination and testing can have a deleterious effect in a couple of ways. First of all there is documented evidence that kids get stressed out . . . but moreover what we find is that the overemphasis on tests can dampen down some aspects of creativity, critical thinking, originality, aesthetic work and a lot of the kind of higher order competences that are really required for the new economy and for global economies.”

Public opinion

The Education Ministry is conducting a long-term review of the education system that could consider scrapping the PSLE completely.

The suggestion has drawn mixed reactions from parents and students.

Some like Vivian Tan, a mother of two primary school children, says the PSLE leaving exam should be replaced by a more balanced system.

“I’m totally in favour of doing away with the PSLE because the kids are still at a very young age, they may not know the consequences of not doing well in the exam,” she said.

“And at the same time I think one of the most important things is that we want to develop a wholesome being, not somebody who is just obsessed with doing well academically. It has got to be a total development of the person.”

However, other parents back the leaving exam because they say it motivates students by ranking them on ability.

Reducing stress not sole reason for not revealing top scorers: Minister

Edvantage | Thu Nov 22 2012

SINGAPORE - The move by the Ministry of Education (MOE) to stop releasing the identities of top PSLE scorers is not simply to reduce stress, said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat in a post on Facebook this morning.

The results of the 2012 Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) will be released today at noon.

 MOE announced two days ago that it would no longer announce the top scorers of each batch of pupils taking the national exam. In previous years, the names and schools of the top scorers were released to the media.

A ministry spokesperson said on Tuesday that the move will balance the over-emphasis on academic results.

 Mr Heng further clarified the ministry's stance today, saying that the change is "not to address stress per se or to move away from merit". He pointed out that it is "not possible, nor desirable, to eliminate stress completely."

However, he said that it is "not healthy to have such national focus at this stage of the journey." Instead, we should encourage children to "have a love for learning, and to be life-long learners".

The minister noted the importance of the PSLE examinations, but stressed that it is "not the be-all-and-end-all" of a person's education. He urged parents to let their children grow at their own pace and to focus on cultivating values such as resilience, confidence, inventiveness and creativity.

 Education is "a marathon, not a sprint", he said.

 Mr Heng's full post is as follows:

"Several people have asked if MOE stopped releasing top PSLE scorers to reduce stress or to de-emphasise academic achievements. Well, the change is not to address stress per se or to move away from merit. It is not possible, nor desirable, to eliminate stress completely. Nor should we be shy about achievements. There are broader considerations.

"I believe in the pursuit of excellence - in all areas of endeavour. We must encourage our students to apply themselves and to persevere, so that they can reach their full potential in their chosen fields. When they put in the effort, we should cheer them on. When they succeed, we should recognise and celebrate their success.

"We now have more avenues to recognise success - the Edusave Scholarships and Edusave Merit Bursary for academic achievements, the expanded EAGLES award for CCA, leadership and community service, and Edusave Character Awards for exemplary character. Schools too provide various forms of recognition. There are many sporting events, academic Olympiads and competitions in different fields, all of which are platforms to promote excellence.

 "In education, it is useful to bear in mind two key points - our children need to develop at their own pace; and they need to develop as a whole person. Pulling up the shoot to accelerate its growth or distorting growth in particular areas at the expense of holistic development will set the children back. This is why we are putting the emphasis on a 'student-centric, values-driven' education.

"PSLE is an important exam - but it is not the be-all-and-end-all. It marks the conclusion of one stage of the learning journey - and the road ahead is a long one. As adults, all of us will have to learn continually throughout our lives. It is not healthy to have such national focus at this stage of the journey. Rather, we should encourage them to persevere, to pursue learning along appropriate pathways, and help them succeed in the next phase. What matters is that our children grow up to have a love for learning, and to be life-long learners. It is a marathon, not a sprint.

"I hope that whatever the results of your children, parents will support and encourage your children in their next phase of learning and growth. Our children will be more likely to succeed if they grow up to be confident and resilient, able to bounce back from setbacks; and be inventive and adventurous, able and willing to try and create new things. Let us celebrate their effort, continue to encourage excellence, and broaden our definitions of success."

MOE to stop publishing names of top-scoring students

SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Education (MOE) will discontinue its practice of revealing the names of the top-scoring pupils in all national examinations when it releases the results, the ministry said in a statement today.

MOE has already stopped the practice for 'A' Level examinations, and will cease to do so for the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), 'O' Level and 'N' Level examinations.

A ministry spokesperson said the focus will be on the performance of the whole cohort and the move will balance the over-emphasis on academic results. The ministry added that academic performance is just one aspect of a student's overall development and progress.

Students who perform well academically will still be recognised through avenues such as Edusave Awards and scholarships, the spokesperson said.

The move comes amidst an ongoing debate on whether PSLE exerts undue pressure on students and parents, sorts students too finely and is lacking in providing students with a holistic education.

Primary School Leaving Examination Results 2012

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