One ethos of Singapore values consistently stressed on since independence is Meritocracy. Any person regardless of class, race, religion, and gender has similar fair chance of doing well in society based on his/her performance and talent. So long as one person works hard and achieves results, he/she is rewarded appropriately. Education has provided a level playing field for all to compete to succeed in life. I went through this system in the past and had benefited despite my family background.
The education system has evolved over the years to one that is causing stress on the current batches of students. The Ministry of Education (MOE) has been tackling this societal problem and I grant them credit for recognising it as a problem that needs urgent solutions.
How has stress on students reached an alarming proportion now? Let me share my thoughts on this.
First, MOE had created many elite schools in the past through the policies of having Independent Schools, Integrated Programmes (IP), Special Assistance Plan Schools (SAP). These schools are desirable for students to excel to enter after their PSLE.
Second, the Integrated Progammes schools allow students to skip taking the GCE “O” Level. That is a release of stress on students because they only take one major national examinations at the end of six years. To get into IP schools is really a feather in the cap and the stress to do extremely well in the PSLE just ballooned for students. Private tuitions become the way to beat the system of scoring well in PSLE.
The crux of the problem of the stress faced by students is not really about formal examinations or continuous assessments. It is really the use of these examination results for allocating to secondary schools. Parents’ expectations and hopes that their offspring can get to elite schools is the other problem. I think MOE knows this and is tweaking the criteria for posting to secondary schools in the latest policy decisions. Academic performance is just counted as one component. But this did not go as far in helping to reduce anxieties of parents and students.
In my days in schooling in the 1960s and 1970s, IP, SAP and Independent schools were not in existence. We had a whole lot of secondary schools to choose from after PSLE. There were fewer elite schools when compared to now. If one could not qualify for these elite schools, then we went to another school that accepted us. It was not such a big deal for me back then. After GCE “O” Level, we could apply to many Pre-U Centres (as part of the secondary schools) or the two-year programmes of Junior Colleges (NJC and Hwa Chong JC back then), or the three-year programmes of the Singapore Polytechnic. We had many choices of schools and education institutions. This was a fair meritocratic system and we accepted it. The best academically got to the best schools. That was alright. Private tuitions were unheard of which is another cause of stress to current day students.
Are we bold enough to reverse course and unravel the policies of IP, SAP and Independent schools? Are we able to create 12-year through train (from PSLE to GCE “A” Level) for all schools? When one gets into a primary school level of these through train schools, he or she could stay on until the end of 12 years or to take a national examination after 10 years if he/she wants a polytechnic route of education. This is a major shift in policy idea. The details have to be worked out of course.
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