Views on changes in education system in Singapore

When comes to school education matters, I have my views as most Singaporeans do. I am a parent of a daughter who had completed her university degree recently. I also taught in a polytechnic and was a school administrator before. I was also a product of the MOE education system in the 60s till 70s. Therefore I have my views on the recent changes in the education landscape in Singapore.

Stress in taking national examinations

PSLE examinations came under intense scrutiny and debates. PSLE became a high-stake test for kids who wanted to have good secondary schools to go to. In order to reduce stress, top scores of PSLE and top performers are not allowed to be reported to the public.

Now NUS is jumping in and announced that it was rolling out grade-less examinations for first year of study. First year’s results will not go into the Grade Point Average computation of students. This was explained as a way to reduce grade obsession amongst students so that focus can be placed on learning instead of chasing for grades.

Have we gone soft in facing up to competition?

We have to bear in mind that competition is not confined to classrooms, but competition is coming from global environment when we finish schools and get out to work. If children were shielded from facing up to reality, artificially at that, they may not learn how to survive competition firstly and secondly, they may conveniently look to someone (in this case the government) to assist and look after their interests.

The dissatisfactions of PSLE had been aired publicly. I stand on the side that PSLE is not the problem. The unhappiness arises because of wanting to get to secondary schools with good reputations after PSLE. These so called elite schools were mostly converted to Integrated Programme whereby there is no “O” Level examinations. That is why, PLSE became a high-stake national examinations.

NUS first year goes grade-less to reduce stress

We are talking of freshmen of NUS who are among the top 15-20% of yearly student cohort moving from Primary schools to enter NUS. They are the cream and were able to ace their many examinations to reach NUS. If they cannot take the heat of Year One, I wonder about those lower down the academic ranking.

Many pathways to education

The education system has evolved over time. We now have ITE colleges, 5 polytechnics, 6 local universities, SOTA, Singapore Sports School, NUS High School of Mathematics & Science, 2 Specialised Schools for N(T). Students of different academic capabilities and interests can have choices that suit their needs. PSLE, “O” Level, “A” Level/IB need not be a do-or-die or end-of-road on the path of education.

Students take responsibility for doing well

As in everything in life, one must put in effort to get a reward. The more conscientious a student in study, chance is that he/she can do well at examinations. We often see students spending inordinate amount of time with computer games and Internet at expense of time for study. Attention during class also suffers as a result due to lack of sleep.

Examinations will place students in different bands of academic achievements. It is impossible for all students to be bunched at the top (unless the examination is set very easy). So, students (including parents) must accept their level of competence. Whether the student is average or otherwise, there are places in different entry levels of the education ladder suited for the student.

Learning Resilience is important

If a student did not do well for examinations (some with good reasons), this student must learn to bounce back. One examination does not determine the final outcome of that person in life. As long as one is determined to make good for the setback, this is to be applauded. One must stand on own two feet and not to be dependent on government or parents to bail him/her out.


The latest video that went viral, when a secondary school student of Spectra Secondary School challenged the teacher in class, set me thinking about character education.

MOE introduced a new syllabus and textbook on Character & Citizenship Education at the start of this year. This is well and good for schools to teach character education to students. However, parents should be the one responsible for this aspect of raising their kids. Parents set examples for them to follow the right moral values. It will be difficult for kids to appreciate the contents of the syllabus when parents do not live them.

Concluding Remarks

Singapore’s education system had evolved under different Ministers. Each time a policy decision was taken, the impact could be felt many years later. The outcome may not be ideal or a different set of problems may surface years later. Sometimes, no change to specific education policy is the way to go despite clamouring for change by some quarters of the society. Bending to populist sentiment or minority but loud vocal voices may do damage if the changes are not well thought through. Education policies are for the good of the students and politics should not come in the way of good education policies.

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