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In his 1997 National Day Rally, then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong pointed out that Singapore needed more undergraduate students. He said: “In fact, we are short of students who can meet the entry grade of NUS and NTU.”$CUT$
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong now persuades Singaporeans not to “go on a paper chase for qualifications or degrees.”
It is this kind of confused approach to education that does so much damage to the country. Through the decades the PAP has used education as a tool to achieve its economic and, most unfortunately, political goals.
A snip here and some glue there has been the guiding principle of education policy formulation with the end-result that we now have to import foreigners in massive numbers without which, in Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s words, Singapore will fail.
Fortunately, Singaporeans have become more discerning (and bolder) and are pointing out the shortcomings, and even hypocrisy, of the Government when it comes to educating our children.
For example, Ministers run the line that all our schools are equally good. This earned the rebuke of Jurong West Secondary School Vice-Principle Pushparani Nadarajah who said: “How many of our leaders and top officers who say that every school is a good school put their children in ordinary schools near their home? (Only) until they actually do so are parents going to buy (it).”
The truth is that the PAP does not know how to take our education to the next level because it does not have a clear grasp of what education is and what an educated person looks like. Its cyclical pattern of making patchy revisions to our education system will lead us nowhere.
The SDP believes that education must be the process where an individual learns to discover herself and, in doing so, endeavour to improve the human condition. To this end, it is important that we teach our children that reading and learning can be enjoyable and intrinsically rewarding. The goal should be to lead our students to learn, not push them to study.
Based on these principles, we have drawn up, among others, the following alternative measures:
1. Scrap PSLE. The exam places an extraordinarily unhealthy degree of stress on children. One in three students say they sometimes think that life is not worth living because of the fear of exams. (Read the shocking statistics in Why do we do this to our children?) In addition, capability is not measured by one examination at the age of 12. Scrapping the PSLE will allow teachers to teach and students to learn in a holistic manner.
2. Stop ranking students. Segregating students according to exam results is counter-productive. Education is not about competition with one’s classmates but learning through collaboration and teamwork with one’s peers.
3. Reduce workload, broaden curriculum. Broadening the curriculum to include student-collaboration projects, speech and drama, music and humanities, and reducing the workload on core subjects will prepare them to be well-rounded and intelligent individuals, instead of merely efficient exam-takers.
4. Reduce class size. Reducing class to 1 teacher to 20 students will enable teachers to pay more personal attention to the development of the students.
5. Cultivate creative minds. Training our teachers to build confidence in students instead of drilling into them the right answers will enhance the development of creative skills in our children.
Instituting these reforms will help us cultivate not just a talented workforce but also, and more importantly, a thinking and caring people.
Our education policy paper Educating for Creativity and Equality can be read here.