Even with recent reforms, the education system in Singapore is still fairly rigid and continues to stigmatise weaker students, said The Workers’ Party (WP) politician and former Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Yee Jenn Jong.

With the academic year coming to an end as students are now moving across to different streams and subject combinations at various levels of academic studies, Mr Yee took to his Facebook on Tuesday (1 Dec) to share a conversation he had with a young JC1 lady yesterday.

He had asked her about her college and results, in which she replied that she has attained rank points of 85 in the JC1 exams. He congratulated her for achieving an amazing score – as the maximum rank points is 90 – and told her that she would make it into almost any course in university if she maintains the same results for her A-levels.

Mr Yee continued, “She paused for a moment and replied that it came with much hard work and a big struggle. She said that she retained her year 1. She had rank points of 12 the year before at JC1 (note: PW score was not in last year’s rank point so it would be 12 out of max of 80). So what changed?

“She had picked courses that did not suit her. Her mathematics was not strong. She did H2 Math. It killed her and other subjects along the way. The Education and Career Guidance (ECG) counsellor in her college advised her to go with her strengths and not what others wanted for her nor what her friends were doing.”

Although the college had allowed her a conditional passage to year 2, he noted that the young lady had opted to be retained and changed subjects combination. She chose to drop Math to the easier H1 level – though it is still compulsory – and also changed from another subject to H2 Art – something which she loves doing.

According to Mr Yee, the young lady then “blossomed” having “found her path”. He believes she will now be confident going forward in her academic pursuits.

He went on to share about his own children finding their path in their academic journey.

Mr Yee wrote, “My own three children are adults now, the youngest just entered university after serving NS [National Service]. They are all very different in their academic journey. I am glad that my wife and I decided to let them find their own path.

“It is a happy story looking back now, but we went through a very tough time as parents in a stressful education system. Which partly explains why I pushed very hard on reforms to the education system when I was in parliament.”

In hope that other parents will be able to walk the education journey with their children in ways that they can flourish, he proceeded to share about his own parenting journey.

Mr Yee revealed that his eldest child had managed to scrap through into the express stream. Had she not been exempted from Chinese to take Chinese B, he noted that she would have failed her Chinese, which would not have made it possible for her to enter the express stream.

He continued, “We had her take a diagnostic test at P4 and she was able to be exempted. However, we kept it from her for a year and tried to struggle through Chinese until we concluded that it would kill both the parents and child fighting to make her learn the subject, so we presented the report to MOE [Ministry of Education] and got her officially exempted.

“She hated Math. Unfortunately, Math was compulsory till end of Secondary school. School was a constant struggle. Her Sec 4 preliminary results would not have even gotten her into polytechnic except for a few very unpopular courses.”

After her preliminary results, Mr Yee said that he and his wife had a “pep talk” with her, after which she “amazingly decided on her own” that she wanted something better, so much so she worked hard the remaining two months.

“She just missed the cut off for the Early Childhood course that she wanted but she was let in via an interview process and thanks to a children e-book she did with my company as a teenager which was a powerful portfolio to show,” he added.

According to Mr Yee, the course his daughter chose suited her, and she started to improve her grades with each passing year. She then worked for two years before going back to university, continuing in the Early Childhood field.

“She topped the cohort and became the joint-valedictorian. The course suited her and it was an American education system, which fitted her even better as she can write and present well. Our education system is too examination oriented,” he added.

Towards the end of his post, Mr Yee noted that the conversation he had with the young lady reminded him of his own experience as a parent.

“I have been in the education sector for some 28 years now. Too many have lived their lives chasing the dreams of others and unfortunately, even with recent reforms, our education system is still fairly rigid and continues to stigmatise weaker students,” he remarked.

While Mr Yee acknowledged that reforms have been made, he asserted that further reforms should continue to be made so as to improve the quality of Singapore’s education system for students from all walks of life and aspirations.

He concluded his post saying, “There are more ways than the standard path to success. We need to help children discover their strengths and play these up. Then they can flourish.”

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