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Schools should do away with graded tests and exams for rest of 2020

On April 3, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said schools would do away with mid-year examinations to reduce anxiety for students amid the pandemic. But after the May holidays, my students said a few secondary schools started announcing test dates in June for non-graduating cohorts, while some primary schools increased the weightage of the remaining tests to make up for the “lost” mid-year examinations.

The author argues that there should not be any tests this year except for the graduating cohort.

The author argues that there should not be any tests this year except for the graduating cohort.

2020 is an unprecedented year for most industries, including education. School teachers conducted home-based learning in April and the mid-year holiday was brought forward to May.

It has been a tough few months for both parents and teachers. Teachers are trying to digitise everything, help students and parents resolve technical errors and ensure students still learn.

Parents, on the other hand, have had to juggle both work and guiding their kids at home. Very often, parents end up pulling their hair out because children are children and need close monitoring.

In a nutshell, and at the risk of making an understatement, it has been a wild ride for families and educators.

The education ministry had sought to reassure parents. On April 3, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said schools would do away with mid-year examinations to reduce anxiety for students amid the pandemic.

He added: “Education is a social process and a social journey. But we must make the best of it, given the current situation we are in.”

Parents were grateful. They could ease a little, focus on getting their kids to pay attention in class, but perhaps not necessarily scrutinise the child’s work and maintain the usual “kiasu” quotient.

However, as we all know, Singapore cannot chill.

After the May holidays, I was told by my students that a few secondary schools started announcing test dates in June for non-graduating cohorts, while some primary schools increased the weightage of the remaining tests to make up for the “lost” mid-year exams.

One parent told me she felt “cheated”. While being “cheated” is a strong word, I can understand how she feels because it negates any impact of the removal of the mid-year exam.

The education ministry has stated in the past that while it has cut exams and assessments to reduce emphasis on academic results, exams such as the Primary School Leaving Examination remain useful in assessing a student’s understanding of key concepts and academic strength.

Yet I would argue that there should not be any tests this year except for the graduating cohort.

In this climate where everyone is under a lot of pressure, it would certainly help the parents to have one less thing to worry about.

Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam had said early this month that the next six to 12 months is going to be a “major and urgent challenge” as more jobs will be lost.

Some economists believe retrenchments here could cross 100,000 in 2020.

Imagine how the stress of seeking or securing a job is exacerbated by the need to ensure your child is in top form for standardised exams.

More importantly, this is the best time for us to slow down the pace and enjoy learning.

For far too long, we have been too fascinated with rote learning, grades and the awards that we are getting at international rankings.

During the pre-Covid days, it was a vicious cycle that we could not pull ourselves out from — the culture was too ingrained.

Now there is a legitimate reason for us to withdraw ourselves from this insidious problem and slow down. After all, Mr Ong said education is about “staying curious”.

Have we been doing that?

This year, instead of implementing tests, teachers should be focusing on maintaining the interest of the child in learning.

This is not an easy feat, lest you think I am setting the bar low.

With many students still staying at home, it takes more effort on the teachers’ part to encourage students to study and ignite their love for learning.

This is the year we should go back to basics.

For myself, I started webinars for students to speak to interesting and inspiring people including a Wuhan reporter, a former Syrian refugee and a man who sheltered 80 men during a Black Lives Matter protest.

My aim was to get the students to learn about life.

For other teachers, they can work on what’s most interesting for the students. Have more Kahoot quizzes. Use more online games.

Some would immediately lament that this would be too impractical, as the students would “suffer” next year if they do not build a strong foundation.

Just to be clear, I am not saying we do not teach the syllabus. I am saying we should not have standardised tests.

We have been so obsessed with tests for so long that we have become addicted to them and don’t have the conviction that it is possible to learn without them.

Before Covid-19, we didn’t think it was possible to work from home for all days, get everyone on board with learning online, produce television shows from one’s home. But we have adapted and changed on all these counts.

Why shouldn’t the way we learn adapt and change too?

Moreover, it is not something that is ahead of its time. There are no standardised tests in Finland apart from the one they take at the end of their final year of senior high and they are still amongst the top in international ranking.

We have always bemoaned that it is hard to change the kiasu mentality of Singaporean parents. This is the perfect time.

If schools insist on tests, at least take away the grades. Or administer open-book exams to test application instead of memory, or give comments on where to improve instead of marks so students and parents could not turn it into a competition.

Covid-19 has eradicated industries, propel companies to become higher tech and make us learn how to live comfortably with ourselves.

The other silver lining of this pandemic, hopefully, is that it helps us to see past tests in education.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Lim Wei Yi is the co-founder of education centre Study Room. A former journalist, he also teaches at tertiary institutions.

Related topics

education exams students school Covid-19 novel coronavirus

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