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My wishlist for Singapore education in 2020

2020 — the start of a new decade with new hopes for the future.

Singapore's education system is amongst the best in the world, but there is always room for improvement, writes the author.

Singapore's education system is amongst the best in the world, but there is always room for improvement, writes the author.

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2020 — the start of a new decade with new hopes for the future.

In the 2010s, Singapore made considerable changes to the education system. These include plans to remove i) the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) T-score; ii) streaming of students into express and normal (academic) and iii) mid-year examinations for most levels.

Though our system is amongst the best in the world, there is always room for improvement. As an educator who interacts daily with parents and students, this is my wishlist for 2020 on the education front.

1. CULTIVATE A CULTURE FOR QUESTIONING AND CHALLENGES

Singapore students, even though ranked amongst the top in the Programme for International Student Assessment tests, are not used to questioning authority.

Students tell me they fear being “marked” by teachers if they ask too many questions. Even at tertiary institutions, some students dare not give truthful feedback about the lecturer’s teaching until they fill up an anonymous 180 degrees evaluation after the semester, which may be a tad late for any improvements for the student’s class.

One should always question and we should encourage it from young — that’s what learning is about. Blindly accepting what’s taught isn’t learning.

With the rise of artificial intelligence, we should be raising a new generation of critical-thinking Singaporeans to get ahead in the game, not a bunch of sheep.

The top-down approach is outdated. Getting students to query and challenge will not only help the students learn, but also enrich the teacher.

2. MORE INTERACTION BETWEEN THE DIFFERENT SCHOOLS

We live in a capitalist society. Inequality is inevitable, but let’s not widen the gap by consciously creating the difference.

Let’s not teach social constructs like low and high social-economic status in social studies class. One is only of a higher social-economical status if you see it.

Currently, Secondary 3 students are to attend an Outward Bound Singapore camp and they will be paired with students from different schools, resulting in opportunities for the teens to mingle.

Let’s have more of such activities.

A student with a PSLE T-score of 260 should not just hang around with people with a T-score of 260 and above. Similarly for a student with a T-score of 200.

More interaction will close the gap between the so-called elite schools and neighbourhood schools, boding well for both, as this provides a better worldview for the students.

3. ADVOCATE MORE VOLUNTEER ACTIVITIES

There are Values in Action programmes in school which encourage students to perform volunteer work every year. Let’s do more of these.

A one-off visit to an old folk’s home will not change one’s perspective much. An annual trip to a third-world country to build a home (even though you are not an expert in it) will not benefit them.

Let’s have more regular programmes. Only with frequent interaction with the less fortunate will we have more understanding of what others are going through and only then will one be more empathetic. It is extremely important for students to learn to be compassionate.

4. STOP FOCUSING ON THE NITTY-GRITTY DETAILS IN EXAMINATIONS

That said, I hope for exams to focus on the more important parts of learning.

If you have a child in primary school, you will know how stringent the marking scheme sometimes is.

Try this primary school science question: What is the white mist coming out from a kettle?

If your answer is “steam”, you are wrong. While a layman won’t fault you, it’s unacceptable in primary school. Steam is hot water vapour, that is, water in the gaseous state, and it is invisible. The white mist is formed when the steam gets cooled down by the surrounding air and condenses into tiny water droplets.

Or this: A beaker of water is placed over a flame. Explain why the temperature of water increases.

If your answer is "It gained heat", it is incomplete and will be marked wrong. The correct answer is that it gained heat from the flame.

Despite the Ministry of Education's (MOE’s) good intentions to move towards more inquiry-based learning, and to cultivate inquisitiveness, it does sometimes seem like the exam format is penalising those who do not memorise and regurgitate model answers.

In “creative writing”, I have primary school students who tell me their teachers forbid them to write about deaths in their compositions.

Perhaps it is not an MOE policy, just a teacher being careful for the national exams. However, if the students have the maturity to write about the fragility of life, why not?

5. TEACH MORE THINGS THAT ARE RELEVANT TO THEIR ADULT LIFE

There’s a 10-hour compulsory coding classes for upper-primary students from 2020. This is a step in the right direction.

Let’s teach students skills such as emotional intelligence and get industrial attachments for students as young as 14 and not just those in vocational schools.

Let them have a glimpse of work life to prepare them for the future. Teach them how to invest. Get more teachers with industrial experience to join the team. This will make our students more well-rounded.

6. PROMOTION OF THE LIBERAL ARTS

Science and Mathematics are important but the social sciences promote the thinking of the mind. Start secondary school students on philosophy, political science and sociology.

They may not need to take them for an exam but at least get them exposed to such modules to broaden their mind.

That is my wishlist for 2020.

In short, I hope we can have quality teachers guide and mentor our younger generation so that they are able to think critically for themselves, be empathetic and prepared for their future. That is my dream.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Lim Wei Yi is the co-founder of education centre Study Room. He was a former correspondent with Bloomberg News and had taught journalism at the National University of Singapore.

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