How should schools and teachers approach MOE’s cut-back on exams?
In light of the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) recent announcement on reducing examinations and graded assessments for primary and secondary schools, it would be unfortunate if mindsets would still bifurcate along the lines of “core” examinable subjects while treating everything else (such as interdisciplinary projects, research skills) as “extra-curricular” and less important. Here, we focus on how schools and teachers can approach the changes.
Following the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) recent announcement on reducing examinations and graded assessments for primary and secondary schools, there has been much attention on how the news was received by educators, parents and the tuition industry.
The ministry has taken bold steps to reduce the emphasis on grades and re-kindle the passion for learning, but it will only be successful if the ecosystem of players embrace this push.
It would be unfortunate if mindsets would still bifurcate along the lines of “core” examinable subjects while treating everything else (such as interdisciplinary projects, research skills) as “extra-curricular” and less important.
Fundamentally, what is critical to fulfilling the aims of all the impending changes are higher quality of instructional programmes and willingness to continue to innovate and ‘teach less’ so that students actually ‘learn more’.
MOE has said that it will “continue to support schools and teachers in familiarising themselves with the changes, and in turn, enabling them to give that same support to affected parents and students”.
What MOE can do in this is a subject to be tackled on its own, but here, we focus on how schools and teachers can approach the changes.
With up to three weeks of curriculum time freed up in each two-year block (for instance in Pri 3 and Pri 4 or Sec 1 and Sec 2) after the removal of mid-year exams, there will be even more room for innovation in curriculum design and implementing instructional programmes to help students deepen understanding of subjects, discover themselves and appreciate the environment in which they live, learn and play.
This is a golden opportunity for departments to recalibrate, refine and (sometimes) redraft their schemes of work for the entire course across related levels so that more age- and level-appropriate tasks can be introduced.
Schools may be missing the point and opportunity if individual departments instinctively, and readily, replace mid-year exams with ‘performance tasks’ with ‘qualitative descriptors’ for students to complete.
Rather, the departments should make use of the freed up time to explore collaborating with one another for more meaningful interdisciplinary instruction and learning.
For example, the History and Science departments can go beyond the textbook and help students learn about the evolution of scientific thought over time.
Or perhaps the English and Mother Tongue departments can join hands to critically de-construct Singlish and how students can successfully code-switch.
By reducing the risk and stress of a weighted assessment, this policy change is a good impetus for students and teachers to indulge in imagination and being inquisitive.
Yet, a creative and effective instructional programme is contingent on how enterprising, purposeful and resourceful school departments are. And these qualities are partly, yet largely, the functions of the attitude and aptitude of school’s middle management and teachers.
Only when teachers have a focused sense of mission to teach for understanding, a will to overcome inertia, and can prioritise professional competency, can departments enjoy the synergy and shared success of their programmes.
Tackling the tension between coverage of subject syllabuses and uncovering concepts, cultivating creativity and fostering innovation demands teachers to have a determined desire to explore, experiment and execute.
Some guided direction can help teachers strike a good balance among these conflicting demands.
In my time in school, I still fondly remember my teacher’s exhortation to consider the value of arranged marriage: “Should you marry who you love, or love who you marry”?
The teacher was not suggesting a particular marriage model, but to help a student, blinded by societal assumptions, critically think outside the realm of perceived possibilities.
Without the immediate stresses of exams, many such challenging moments can be allowed to grow.
This is not an easy task, as the reduction in exams are at once concrete but in some areas, such as assessment, seemingly nebulous.
But this is also a chance for school leaders to exercise good wisdom in creating the environment and right culture for all staff to perform.
This includes all efforts to encourage, nurture and reward departments and teachers reasonably. More importantly, they must also have the moral courage to manage performance in all hierarchy levels and intervene impartially, when necessary.
All schools are good schools in Singapore. But not all schools can equally tackle constant policy changes nimbly and well.
Clearly, there are schools that are notably better at continually meeting the needs of their students and expectations of parents and alumni, fulfilling the aspirations of their community and achieving the targets set by MOE.
For the policy change to be successful, more schools need to have a supportive management and high performing teachers whom parents can trust and partner with to bring out the best in their children.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
Benjamin Goh is a freelance writer who wrote this piece alongside his former teacher Su Deming.
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