Time to ‘think out of the box’? – Academic achievement should not be the main criteria for assessing candidates in public service

Academic scores are important but an intelligent person can also become a liability without certain traits such as situational judgement and an ability to tolerate conflict

On 22 February, a conference, titled Much More Than Academic Abilities, was organised by the Behavioural Sciences Institute of the Singapore Management University (SMU). At the conference, several issues such as the level of attention given to one’s academic capabilities and non-academic matters, as well as their relations to civil society and politics in Singapore were discussed.

Professionals at the panel pointed out that while academic grades could very well indicate one’s diligence, structured thinking and conformity, these grades are not decisive in the role leaders play in practical situations where they should be risk-takers, rule-breakers and yet able to work with people and uphold their morals and principles passionately.

Professor David Chan, a psychology professor, said that an intelligent person could become a “liability” when put in the high places if he has poor non-academic traits, such as situational judgement and an ability to tolerate contradictions.

Professor Tan Tai Yong, president of liberal arts college Yale-NUS, also lamented the rigidity and excessive emphasis on academic capabilities in the public sector.

He added,“I have encountered personal cases of students who get into all sorts of issues with their new employers in the civil service because of a class of honours they have graduated with.”

He even said that it becomes worrisome when grades becomes the “definitive tool” to assess one’s abilities.

Such comments from the professionals seemed to support the idea that Singapore’s system,including the civil service, is moving her emphasis away from grades to non-academic attributes.

While tests can be telling of one’s intellectual capacity to some extent, they ultimately cannot show how well a person is able to adapt to the challenges of the real world, where interaction skills are more important than simply knowing how to study.

In schools, exams questions have gradually shifted away from the traditional way of memoring and regugitating answers.

Application questions that depict real life situations are often asked as students are expected to imagine themselves coming up with the answers in the real world, which will supposedly give them a heads-up into what the real world is like.

As the global environment becomes increasingly dynamic and uncertain,Singapore needs leaders who go beyond having straight As.

Rather, more effort should be spent on grooming quick-minded, innovative, accepting, empathetic and talented individuals who are able to exhibit teamwork and think out of the box, solving problems with creative solutions.

Many netizens also agree with the view presented.

Ultimately, with traditional frameworks gradually being being debunked and conventional perspectives being challenged, perhaps, it is time to ‘think out of the box’ and assess an individual no longer based on grades alone, but also on non-academic attributes.

 

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