Students wearing mask doing exam in classroom.

SINGAPORE: Singapore’s education landscape is set for a significant transformation as Education Minister Chan Chun Sing announced on Mar 1 that secondary students will take their national exams at the same time from 2027 with only one shot at their mother tongue language (MTL) exam, with no retakes, The Straits Times reports.

The Secondary 1 students of 2027 will be the first to undertake the newly introduced Singapore-Cambridge Secondary Education Certificate (SEC) examinations. The move comes in the wake of the removal of streaming into Normal and Express in secondary schools in 2024, marking a shift towards a more inclusive and flexible educational system.

In Parliament, Mr Chan highlighted the adoption of full subject-based banding, allowing students to tailor their subject choices based on their strengths and interests.

A notable change is the consolidation of the Mother Tongue Language (MTL) examinations into a single sitting, departing from the current practice of two separate exam periods.

Under the new system, students will face a single written exam for their MTL subject, eliminating the option for a retake.

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Mr Chan, acknowledging the concerns about having one less opportunity to improve MTL grades said, “We need to strike a careful balance between striving for excellence, chasing the last mark, and allowing our students to learn at a better pace.”

Mr Chan traced the history of MTL examinations, noting that the introduction of the mid-year O-level MTL exam in 1980 aimed to address a deficiency in language proficiency. However, he highlighted that the vast majority of students now meet the language requirement with their first sitting, making the second sitting redundant for most.

The revamped system aims to provide students and teachers with a more balanced pacing of the MTL curriculum, allowing for an additional four months of learning. English and MTL written exams are scheduled for the second week of September, a month ahead of other subjects, to alleviate the exam load on students.

Moreover, a common exam period for the written papers of other subjects will commence in October, streamlining the examination process.

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Currently, N-level exams take place in September, and O-level exams in October.

Results for the SEC examinations are set to be released in January of the following year, deviating from the current release dates for N and O-level results in December and mid-January, respectively.

Minister Chan highlighted that the SEC will continue to be jointly awarded by the Ministry of Education (MOE) and Cambridge.

He said, “Let me state that if we see our worth as being defined by exam results only, removing the PSLE will not remove stress. Neither is removing all stress our goal.”

“We need to understand that exams like the PSLE and SEC are not an end in themselves, but a means to help our children find a suitable learning environment in the next stage of their education journey,” he added.

In addition to the SEC changes, Mr Chan announced a revamp of Edusave awards to acknowledge non-academic attributes. Eagles, or the Edusave Award for Achievement, Good Leadership, and Service, will now recognize 21st-century competencies, including critical thinking, communication, and cross-cultural literacy.

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Eagles will be expanded to include Primary 1 to 3 pupils, and up to 5% of this group can qualify for an award of S$200 each. The yearly quota for the award for Primary 4 to pre-university students will be increased from 10% to 15%, potentially making an additional 18,000 students eligible annually.

Furthermore, the Edusave Skills Award, recognizing professional and soft skills, will be expanded from 10% to 15% of students in the graduating cohort, benefiting an estimated 3,400 more students.

Mr Chan said, “This signals our commitment to reducing the overemphasis on academic results, and balancing that with better preparation of our students more holistically for the future.”

The balance of academic and non-academic awards is expected to shift from the current 70:30 ratio to about 60:40. /TISG

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