What is happening to our Education System?

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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1 Response to What is happening to our Education System?

  1. c says:

    The root of the issue is all parents want their students to go to top schools.
    This is because attending such top schools usually mean good outcomes, ie RI / HCI produce top civil servants, politicians etc.
    Unless every school is renamed RI Jurong, Hwa Chong Bedok etc, how do you decide who to go which school?
    For secondary schools, I would suggest a wider band for admission cut-offs, ie RI cutoff eg 262 can be widened to 250. Entry into such schools will be strictly on ballot basis if there are more applications than vacancies. This will ensure a wider spread of bright students to more secondary schools. Teachers should have no problems to teach a class with fairly similar abilities too. Another good way of allocation will be top 3 students of each primary school will automatically (without balloting) get into their first choice provided they meet the widened cutoff criteria. This should reduce the annual rush of parents registering children into popular primary schools.

    Next and I think is the most important change required is the annual P1 admission exercise. Again, this is purely due to parents’ association of getting into a popular primary school equates good PSLE outcome. I must admit I don’t have any data or information but I believe these popular schools tend to outperform the other schools in the last 5, 10 or 20 years. This is very strange. Unlike secondary schools where admission is based on PSLE scores which is a useful predictor of subsequent examination outcomes, nobody can predict a P1 pupil’s PSLE score. I believe there are 2 strong factors why these popular primary schools outperform. The 2 reasons are GEP and these schools are indeed fantastic schools with excellent teaching methods / systems that allow their students to learn and flourish. For GEP, nearly half of the schools are in Bukit Timah (4 out of 9 to be exact). Why is this so? There are other schools in Bukit Timah or central of Singapore too. I’m also a strong believer that “Every School is a Good School” in terms of Infrastructure. By having GEP in these “branded” schools means these schools will take in bright students from the other schools. This then become a vicious cycle and widens the gap between these popular schools and other schools. Worse still, it reinforces parents’ perception that popular schools are “better” than other schools. Hence, MOE should consider relocating GEP to the other schools. After all, GEP students represents our future and should really be mixing around with the more “normal” students from HDB heartland. Secondly, these popular schools should admit more students whose parents are not alumni. If we accept these popular schools indeed have better teaching method / systems, isn’t the current alumni preferential allocation system not fair and not equitable? This is exactly parents passing an advantage to his offspring! This could be the very reason that caused the class divide and slows down social mobility. Do we see this as important as the HDB ethnic integration policy?
    Just my humble thoughts.

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