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Ong on education changes: Time to unwind without losing fundamental principles of meritocracy

SINGAPORE — There is one Singaporean parent you would never find in a parents' WhatsApp chat group, and that is Education Minister Ong Ye Kung.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung (third from left) at a forum with parents and students that was filmed for Channel 5’s Talking Point.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung (third from left) at a forum with parents and students that was filmed for Channel 5’s Talking Point.

Singapore

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SINGAPORE — There is one Singaporean parent you would never find in a parents' WhatsApp chat group, and that is Education Minister Ong Ye Kung

Not when the group is used as a channel for comparing the time children spend studying or taking part in co-curricular activities.

Speaking at a forum with parents and students that was filmed for Channel 5’s Talking Point, which examined the Ministry of Education’s (MOE's) efforts to reduce emphasis on grades and exams, Mr Ong said that stress is usually generated externally. And parents have to re-evaluate if being in that WhatsApp group will add stress to their and their children’s lives.

During the discussion, chat groups were brought up as one of the various things considered to bring stress to a child.

Others included examinations being used to measure a person in this country, as an audience member remarked.

In response, Mr Ong said: “It’s a fair comment because we value meritocracy so much. Meritocracy means you have to allocate places, jobs (and) promotions by performance.

“And for children, what is the best way to gauge performance? It’s really through exams... But I think we have reached a stage where we might be overdoing it and I think it is time to unwind without losing the fundamental principles of meritocracy.”

Participants of a forum taking a photo with Education Minister Ong Ye Kung. The forum was filmed for Channel 5’s Talking Point, which examined the Ministry of Education’s efforts to reduce emphasis on grades and exams. Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY

While cutting exams would not “change the system fundamentally”, Mr Ong said that it is a step towards introducing an alternate mode of entry to secondary school and beyond, based on the individual talents a child possess.

“That means I don’t boil (them) down to one number,” he said, adding that the authorities are trying their best to “make a sea change in the system”.

While there has been an attempt to reduce the emphasis on paper qualifications, some employers in the public sector still look at grades when hiring.

Asked by programme host Diana Ser if the Government should “walk the talk” by eliminating such practices, Mr Ong said that every time he spots a ministry or private sector company that still hires based on grades, he would ask whether it can be removed.

This has always been met with the reply by the employers that they need their employees to have some level of literacy or numeracy.

However, Mr Ong said that it is reasonable to ask for qualifications, especially when a job requires knowledge in a specific subject, just like a doctor needs a doctor’s licence.

“I’m trying to give a fair and balanced view. I think educational qualifications are not irrelevant to an employer, especially if you’re hiring a fresh grad and there’s no work experience to talk about, no track record,” he said.

“But it cannot be the only yardstick, right? Increasingly, you have to decide what kind of skills, what kind of competencies, what kind of character suits (your) company and you must have more sophisticated techniques to sieve out such people.”

T

he Public Service Division (PSD) has clarified that applicants are not required to provide their subjects and grades in the Public Service Job Application Form (PSAF), which is the default application form on Careers@Gov, the recruitment portal used by most public agencies.

PSD said it provided optional fields on subjects and grades in the form so that applicants have an avenue to support their application by highlighting specific subjects that can help them to demonstrate that they have acquired knowledge and skills relevant to the job. For certain jobs, education qualifications are relevant, PSD added.

“Henceforth, we will make it clearer on the PSAF that the fields on subjects and grades are optional and applicants can choose to include this information if they think it is helpful for their application,” PSD said.

Talking Point’s Special Forum with Education Minister Ong Ye Kung airs on Thursday (Aug 29), 9.30pm on Channel 5.

Related topics

Ong Ye Kung examination stress students education meritocracy employers

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