Should we be excited that we topped the OECD education ranking?

Singapore Democrats

The recent report that Singapore has topped a global school ranking survey published by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) predictably made the local headlines.$CUT$

What the study doesn’t ask are three fundamental questions of education:

1. What is the school system with its emphasis on exams doing to our children?

The number of children warded for “aggressive, suicidal or hallucination tendencies” at the IMH jumped by 35% in 5 years (from 2005 to 2010). Mental health professionals attribute these problems to academic stress. (here)

An earlier survey showed that one in three students say they sometimes think that life is not worth living because of the fear of exams. “That’s scary,” a psychiatrist said. “What kind of life are we putting our kids through if they’re so frightened of examinations?” (here)

2. What kinds of parents and students are we producing?

The workload is so intense that some parents are hiring tutors to not to teach their children but to do their children’s homework – even at the primary school-level.

The children, the report says, are “inundated with so much tuition, co-curricular activities and school assignments that they are struggling to cope.” (here)

3. How is the education system helping our economy?

The emphasis on content and rote-learning has left our graduates unable to cope with a knowledge-driven global economy. Education minister Heng Swee Keat has admitted that top CEOs feel that Singaporean graduates lack the drive and confidence to try new ventures and take risks.

Perhaps the gravest indictment of our education system is (ironically) made by PM Lee Hsien Loong when he said in 2011: “Without the foreign workers, we would not have attracted [investments].” After 50 years of PAP’s education system, why have we not produced citizens who can drive our economy?

The truth is that as much as our education system has been vaunted, it has failed Singapore. To paraphrase educationist Diane Ravitch, Singapore is trapped by western praise.

Singapore needs to reform our memorisation-oriented school system that stifles creativity but the PAP is using global test scores that produce sterling results that ignorant Westerners praise to justify its policy. (See here, for example)

Clearly something needs to be done – and urgently. The SDP has come up with an alternative education policy. We highlight below some measures that should be taken. For the full paper, click here.

1. Remove PSLE and delay streaming. The stress of exams inflicts psychological trauma on children. 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 develop independent thinking, willingness to make mistakes, and perseverence in the face of failed attempts.

3. Broaden curricula, reduce syllabi. Subjects such as music appreciation, speech and drama, literature, etc. as well as periods for students to collaborate and interact to develop their creativity will be introduced. 

4. Reduce class size. The SDP will reduce class size in our schools to 20 pupils per class from the current 40 to provide students with the necessary individual attention to help them develop academically. 

5. Scrap school and class rankings. Comparing examination results and ranking students and classes detracts from the real purpose of education, which is self-improvement and self-actualisation.


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