Minister Ong Ye Jung at Orchid Park Secondary School (Photo from Minister Ong's Facebook page.)

Scrapping mid-year exams will have limited results if govt does not change how scholarships are awarded and scholars jettisoned into high positions

While I applaud Education Minister Ong Ye Kung’s (Ong) bold declaration that mid-year examinations in certain primary and secondary schools will be scrapped, I wonder if that measure is enough to reduce our society’s obsession with grades. From a government who has always focused on the narrow confines of academic excellence despite criticism that this was far too restrictive, the declaration from Ong that good grades do not guarantee future success is a departure from tradition. That said, the cancellation of mid-year examinations in certain schools at the primary and secondary level can only do so much if other changes are not also implemented.

The government and its various administrative arms such as statutory boards have long had the practice of offering scholarships based on academic results on the premise that these scholars will be jettisoned into high flying careers within the civil service, the armed forces or even be groomed for future government. Given that the government is seen as an iron rice bowl, Singaporeans can be forgiven for prioritising grades above all else. As long as this practice stays in place, the scrapping of mid-year examinations will not change our society’s preoccupation with grades above all else. Is the government also prepared to re look how it awards scholarships and review its recruitment practices in tandem with Ong’s proposed changes in the education system?

Good grades may display discipline and an ability to learn That said, it is important to note that good school results without life experience and street smarts spells disaster when things do not go according to plan. It has been my personal experience that certain scholars are inflexible and unable to think on the spot. They tend to panic when things veer from what is expected. In the work force, unless one is working on an assembly line, things are not always going to be predictable. The ability to deal with sudden deviations with a cool head are therefore skills that are of utmost importance. Arguably, these skills are paramount in government and military positions. Are all our scholars equipped with the necessary skills outside academic excellence?

With the increasingly fast moving pace of life, our ability to adapt becomes even more important. This is why our education system needs to equip the young with not just the ability to pass exams well but also with the smarts to evaluate different situations and apply different solutions to different problems. While Ong’s bold announcement is an encouraging first step in the right direction, its effects are limited unless and until the government also reevaluates how it awards scholarships and rethink the jettisoning of scholars with no private sector experience straight into high positions within its ranks.