Stop the madness already

Singapore Democrats

The recent mathematics question, now popularly called the Cheryl’s Birthday problem, seems to have amused (and stumped) the world. It first appeared on the Internet when it was reported as primary 5 level question.$CUT$

The problem is that such difficult questions are not a rarity in exam questions for primary schoolchildren. These questions are meant to identify top performing students so that the Government can groom them for high-paying state positions.

Such a narrow practice of education feeds the fear in parents that their children’s future well-being is tied to doing well in exams. This drives them to absurd levels of expectations where they engage expensive private tutors to help their children perform – even to the extent of engaging tutors to do their children’s homework.

The MOE is only too happy to allow such a system to carry on because the billion-dollar tuition industry enables it to out-source the teaching of pupils to the private sector.

All this comes at a horrendous price. Our schoolchildren are driven to psychological despair as they struggle to cope with their schoolwork and exams:

  • 22% of Singaporean children between 6-12 yrs thought of killing themselves.
  • The no. of children warded for “aggressive, suicidal or hallucination tendencies” at IMH jumped by 35% between 2005-2010. Mental health professionals attribute these problems to academic stress.
  • One in three students say they sometimes think that life is not worth living because of the fear of exams.

Many children actually commit suicide as a result. One is 10-year-old Lysher Loh who jumped to her death when she fared poorly in her mid-year exams. (Read Why do we do this to our children?)

Of those who survive, the majority are conditioned to hate books because they associate reading and learning with exams. Experts warn that such a system deprives society of creativity and innovation, hurting our economy in the longer term.

In fact, studies show that overloading our pupils with work and tuition harm, rather than help, their school performance and acquisition of life-skills.

Even PAP MPs have voiced their concerns about the tuition culture but have not the courage to point out that it is the education system put in place by their party that is driving parents and pupils to such desperate lengths.

Let’s stop the madness already. If elected, SDP MPs will work to reform and modernise our education system which is stuck in the past. Specifically, we will:

1. Remove PSLE. As pointed out, the stress of exams inflict horrific psychological trauma on our children. What’s more, it is not an intelligent approach to assess the abilities of primary-school students on a single exam.

2. Cultivate creative minds. Build confidence in children by helping them adopt an attitude of independent thinking, willingness to make mistakes, and persevere in the face of failed attempts.

3. Reduce syllabus, broaden curriculum. The syllabi for existing subjects will be reduced while subjects such as music appreciation, speech and drama, literature, etc. as well as periods for students to collaborate and interact to develop creativity will be introduced to provide a well-rounded curriculum.

4. Reduce class size. The SDP will reduce class size in our schools to 20 pupils/class from the current 40 to provide students the individual attention they need to succeed.

5. Scrap school and class ranking. Comparing exam results and ranking students and classes will detract from the real purpose of education which is self-improvement and self-actualisation.

Read our education policy paper Educating For Creativity and Equality here.

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