Singapore parents face a challenge to change their viewpoint on grades to help relieve pressure on students

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Singapore students doing pair work/Youtube screengrab

Singapore’s highly regarded education system is among the best in the world, but it has also created a high-stress and high-pressure environment for children. The obsession with getting good grades, which generally comes from the parents, can take its toll on the kids. In an open letter, concerned citizen Lawrence Loh Kiah Muan says that it is a challenge for  parents to change the way they look at scores, because of the high probability between success and good grades.

In 2016, the Ministry of Education implemented changes in the grading system of the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), which will take effect in 2021. The PSLE T-score has been removed; instead, students are given Achievement Levels (AL) of 1 to 8 in each of their four PSLE subjects. The sum of these ALs would then make up the students’ final scores. Students would also not be graded relative to their peers, as is the case in the existing T-score system.

These changes were put forward with the intention of scaling down the over-emphasis on academic results, to reduce stress on students. However, a change in mindset from the parents especially is needed for the changes to actually make a difference.

Mr. Loh said, “In its earnestness to reduce the stress in our education system, the Government constantly says that grades are not everything. Parents generally welcome this, but we need to get real.

Mr. Loh pointed out that while there certainly are individuals with poor PSLE grades who are successful and people with good scores who are not so successful, “they are outliers who cannot be used to establish a norm.”

Therefore, “it is a challenge for parents to accept that grades are not important.”

Mr. Loh mentioned that “by saying that grades are not important for success, we risk marginalizing education and undermining our reputation of having an exemplary education system which produces individuals who are in demand.”

All of these factors make it more difficult for parents to change their views on grades.

On the other hand, because of the pressure induced by the end goal of getting good grades, parents have been driven to organize extra study activities for their children at a very young age, choosing academics instead of time spent outdoors.

A 2017 study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) confirmed that Singapore students were found to have higher levels of anxiety compared to children from other countries about grades and performing well in school, which has brought about a spike in the number of Singapore children seeking professional help to cope with study-induced stress.

Despite Singapore’s academic successes, the country could do better in terms of balancing this achievement with other important factors such as the children’s physical and emotional well-being.

“Ultimately, there ought to be a balance. Grades are important but should not be overemphasized,” said Mr. Loh, citing that “this can be tempered by introducing elements to produce more holistic, innovative, creative and entrepreneurial individuals.”