SINGAPORE — In response to President Halimah Yacob’s recent speech to open the last session of the 14th Parliament, Mr Gerald Giam, Workers’ Party Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC, expressed his concerns about the country’s education system and the need for Singaporeans to be financially literate.
Mr Giam, who is a parent of two children, said that Singapore’s education system has seen several changes over the years, but examinations remain central to it. He shared his personal experience of tutoring his own children, which provided him with insights into the academic curriculum and its continued focus on exams.
While he acknowledged that exams have positive effects such as incentivizing teachers to cover their subjects more thoroughly and motivating students to work harder to gain a sense of accomplishment, he also pointed out the negative effects of exams.
Mr Giam argued that they can motivate students to aim for test mastery, instead of subject mastery, and encourage teachers to narrow the curriculum and lose instructional time.
Mr Giam also raised concerns about how exams typically assess only certain aspects of a learner’s knowledge and overlook other facets of their education.
He added that national exams induce tremendous amounts of stress on students, which can have negative effects on learning and knowledge retention and, in extreme situations, could become chronic.
Furthermore, Mr Giam criticized the streaming and subject-based banding approaches, which sort students into good, average and weak students based on their test scores.
While he acknowledged that the ostensible reason for implementing this sorting mechanism is to provide some assurance that the student can cope with the rigours of that subject or subject level before being allowed to take it, he argued that it can channel students away from their interests.
Mr Giam referred to the Workers’ Party’s proposal of a 10-year through-train programme from Primary 1 to Secondary 4 as an option for parents who want their child to bypass the PSLE.
He explained that the proposed through-train programme gives students 10 years to prepare for their first major exam at Secondary 4, allowing them to learn at a pace best-suited for them, while developing other areas of interest.
“We need to make our education system less of a sorting mechanism for identifying students’ abilities and more of a launchpad for students to discover their strengths and interests, and develop deep skills in their areas of interest.” said Mr Giam.
He added that he believes that most Singaporean students and their parents are keenly aware of their own limitations and will not bite off more than they can chew.
Improving financial literacy
Mr Giam also highlighted the need for Singapore to focus on improving financial literacy among its citizens.
He states that, despite being a major financial hub with billions of dollars in investment funds raised and managed in the country, Singaporeans generally lack the financial know-how and confidence to manage their own personal finances and plan for their future.
The MP cited two surveys, a private sector survey conducted in 2022 which states that more than half of Singaporeans consider themselves “financially illiterate,” with financial literacy being the lowest among the age group of 18 to 24, at only 35% and the MoneySense National Financial Capability Survey 2021 which found that four in 10 respondents lacked knowledge of basic financial concepts such as risk diversification and simple and compound interest, and more than half had not developed a retirement plan.
Despite efforts by MoneySense, Singapore’s national financial education program, to improve financial literacy rates over the past two decades, surveys show that the rates have not significantly improved, and some financial literacy workshops for schools under MoneySense have been discontinued.
To address this issue, Mr Giam proposed three suggestions to systematically uplift the financial literacy of Singaporeans.
Firstly, he suggested that the Government develop a National Financial Literacy Framework to provide a systematic basis for benchmarking improvements in financial literacy levels over time.
Secondly, he proposed that the Government establish a National Financial Education Program under the Ministry of Education to provide proactive and comprehensive financial education for Singaporeans across all ages. This should include standalone financial literacy subjects taught in schools and financial literacy clubs as a co-curricular activity.
Finally, Mr Giam highlighted the need to address the concentration of household wealth in residential property assets, which makes up almost half of Singapore’s household wealth.
With a DBS report indicating that property will no longer be the best retirement investment in Singapore in the future, and economic growth unlikely to match that achieved in the past few decades, Mr Giam emphasises the need for Singaporeans to diversify their assets for retirement planning.
“Equipping Singaporeans with better financial literacy will help them become willing to have a more diversified asset portfolio and make more sound decisions while doing so, taking into consideration their risk profile and circumstances. This could in turn better secure Singaporeans’ retirement adequacy.”