Tweaking our Primary School System

One to one tuition

One to one private tuition

The Ministry of Education has announced that it is scrapping the banding of secondary schools. It sounds like a positive move and I’m sure we will hear more from parents and educators on what they think. So now, what about our primary school system?

In line with our national conversation, I’ve decided to write on a number of topics relevant to our country. In some of these topics, I may be nothing but a keyboard warrior with no personal experience or insider knowledge. My views could be mistaken or downright wrong. Regardless, I figure it’s better to suggest than to sit and gripe about the government, society or the world in general. At the minimum, it provides food for thought. I urge every Singaporean out there to do the same thing.

Now I am neither a parent nor an educator, and the last time I was in one of our schools was more than 10 years ago. But I did go through 16 years (18 if you count preschool) of our Singapore education system. In any field of work, this would qualify me as an expert or at least an industry veteran! Disclaimer over – here are a few suggestions:

  • Scrap PSLE aggregate scores

No 12 year-old should be defined by a single number. This reason alone is good enough. With no aggregate scores, we won’t see any more annual news reports of top students. It is an unhealthy environment that creates a competitive mindset amongst schools. Results can consist solely of individual subject grades, which secondary school admission can base on, if not already. Ideally, grades can be made less granular as well, perhaps in bands instead. There are some who argue that there shouldn’t be exams and grades at all, and that could be something we work toward in the longer term. 

  • Stop schools from publicising PSLE results

If the MOE seriously believes that all schools are good, then it should stop this practice. Go ahead, advertise what special programmes your school can provide, but don’t brag on scores and passing rates. Again, this is to remove the competitive mindset of being the best school out there which filters down from principals to teachers, and inevitably to parents and students. 

  • Increase non-academic curriculum

My brief research suggests that students spend 2 hours a week in the Programme for Active Learning, which exposes them to sports, outdoor activities and the arts. Notwithstanding CCAs, I don’t think that is enough. I would suggest one day a week where students can spend more time concentrating on specific sports, music or other activities they have a strong interest or aptitude in. This also discourages parents from overloading students with these lessons outside school hours.

  • Actively discourage private tuition

The MOE has recently clarified its stand on private tuition – teachers should not recommend tuition to students. That is not enough. It needs to actively discourage students and parents from it. Without such an official stand, parents will always err on the side of caution. The message has to be clear and if teachers find that students are having lessons outside, they need to speak to their parents to find out why. With subject banding, the weakest students should already be receiving extra help.

It takes a tremendous amount of conviction from a parent to stick to his beliefs, and more often than not, societal pressure prevails. I personally believe the MOE has to take a stronger stand to move away from the over-emphasis on academics. What I’ve covered is just a very small area of issues, but I’m afraid they are all I have for now. Over to you.