Former NCMP, Yee Jenn Jong wrote a post on his Facebook page, stating that Singaporeans will need to take a bolder look at how Singapore can change its education system in view of the changing environment.
It was a response to an article published by The Straits Times on the importance to make shifts in education beliefs to become the future economy.
Mr Yee stressed that top-down directed approaches that have worked in the past will not be as effective in a fast changing world.
Instead, he said Singaporeans no longer need the gifted system in its current form, to let students choose what they want to study so they will want to do well in it, to let students and parents choose to go through Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) or not, and to shift from a belief system that a few bright people, identified early and groomed, will lead the country to sunlit uplands in its future.
Here is what he wrote in full:
A good article to read and ponder over. Yeah, I think we will need to take a bolder look at how we can change our education system in view of the changing environment. Top-down directed approaches that have worked in the past will not be as effective in a fast changing world.
My thoughts on the suggestions by the author:
1. “In Singapore, too, it is time we move on from an approach that tried to load the dice in favour of gifted children to an approach that treats every child as a gift.”
I believe we no longer need the gifted system in its current form. Centralised gifted education in Secondary schools has long been dropped. At primary level, it can be moved into school-based programmes rather than a national exercise to move students into centralised gifted schools. There can be MOE-organised camps at cluster level from time to time to bring students from school-based ‘gifted’ programme together. Actually, gifted is not an appropriate word to use. Perhaps Accelerated or Enhanced Programme etc. Many now just use the gifted system as an advanced DSA into top secondary schools at 9 years old. True giftedness is actually limited to about 2-3 persons in 50,000 to 100,000. Our gifted programme in its current form doesn’t even know how to cater to these rare gifted children.
2. “First, I would argue that we should begin with doing completely away with streaming in the mainstream school years, not just tweaking it. Our children should be focused on learning, not testing.”
It will be ideal to let students choose what they want to study so they will want to do well in it. But implementation will be tricky and challenging. I believe exams can be used more as a signalling tool to parents and students on the abilities and inclination of the students, but it need not be in current form where if you miss the cutoff point, that’s it. We currently have a simplistic and rather strict way of sorting students into streams mostly at PSLE. I think there can still be streams but we need not force students into streams based on their results. Or we could even allow students to pick subjects they are weak in at a slower pace and other students at the regular pace, a bit like how students take subjects in primary schools based on abilities on those subjects. Managing this flexibility though, will need determination and a system-wide change.
3. “Second, doing away with the high-stakes Primary School Leaving Examination in particular is critical to forcing the system away from the educational “arms race” it has become, to the learning place it needs to be.”
I have said enough on this topic already, in parliament and in my articles. I would like to see the PSLE eventually go away too but we need to recognise the practicality of doing so in the current environment when mindsets are so entrenched that doing away with PSLE would also see a revolt by those supporting it. The compromise is to have choices. Those who really do not want to put their children through PSLE should have an option to go to publicly run schools with such an option. Over time, mindsets may change and it might eventually be possible to do away with PSLE, but not now. Pilot schools without PSLE is doable and I have previously made various suggestions on the implementation, which I will not elaborate here.
4. “Third, we need to shift from a belief system that a few bright people, identified early and groomed, will lead us to sunlit uplands in our future – to one where the leaders of tomorrow can emerge at any age and from any path.”
I think so too, and have called for this in various forms as well. It will take a long time though to change this mindset because the people in charge mostly still think it has to be the brightest (usually measured by achievements early in life) leading the way to a better life. Just recently, a certain post of cartoons by an Acting Minister has a mother telling the child to study hard so he can make the world a better place for the blue collared workers. Mindsets are hard to change indeed!