As schools reopened after the one-week September holidays and students embark on the final term of the school year, new Education Minister Lawrence Wong reminded students and parents that the year-end exams are not an “end in itself” and are meant to help check the progress students are making.
One of the main criticisms of the Singapore education system is about the perceived emphasis on rote learning to prepare for exams that only test for a limited range of skills.
Asserting that the focus seems to be on simply teaching students to pass exams, critics argued that students face high pressure from parents and teachers to get the best grade instead of developing a love for lifelong learning given the widespread notion that one can only get ahead in life by passing exams.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) has made refinements to the system, in response to such concerns and calls for reform over the years. Last year, MOE announced that it is getting rid of all exams for primary 1 and 2 students and mid-term exams for primary 3 and 5 students as well as secondary 3 students.
Mr Wong’s predecessor, Ong Ye Kung pointed out that there are trade-offs between hard work and student enjoyment, useful academic differentiation and an overcompetitive culture, customisation to cater for a range of abilities and stigmatisation of the less academically able, and between skills and paper qualifications in any educational system, as he announced the changes.
In a Facebook post published on Monday (14 Sept), Mr Wong laid out the Government’s intent behind year-end exams. Noting that many students would be preparing for their final exams as the last school term begins, the minister said that these year-end assessments help the authorities take stock of the progress pupils are making.
Asserting that exams are not meant to be an “end in itself”, he wrote: “Over the years, we have reduced the number of school-based assessments, but for Primary 3 students and older, the year-end exams still remain to help us take stock of our students’ learning.”
“And that’s the intent – to check on the progress of learning; the exam is not an end in itself.”
Giving advice on how parents can support their children as they head into the final term, Mr Wong added: “Parents can help to support their children – remind them to take short breaks amidst their revisions, and also check on how they’re feeling from time to time.
“Hopefully, the term break has provided a good opportunity for everyone to recharge sufficiently for this final stretch of the school year!”
Last month, Mr Wong visited a class of graduating Secondary 4 students at Riverside Secondary School who were anxious about the year-end exams. He recalled: “One student asked me how I manage stress – I shared some ways that help me unwind – playing the guitar, listening to music and going for walks.”
He urged the students: “At the end of the day, just do your best!”
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