Monday, December 10, 2012

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.

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