Examine exams' role in education rat race

Central to the discourse on the "educational arms race with scholastic slavery" is the role of examinations (Stop education arms race; Aug 3).

The average Singaporean student takes between two and four national exams within the education system.

Tests and exams can be useful barometers of academic progress if they are designed well, are not just evaluations of rote memorisation, and are coupled with post-mortems for students to reflect on their performance.

But often in Singapore, there are other factors tagged to exam results that narrow and even determine future pathways.

The $1.1 billion spent a year on tuition reflects the anxieties of many students: to pass a "detested" subject, to achieve that extra grade and to get a leg-up on the competition, because to score well is to do well in the long run.

If we want to reduce stress, competition and the unhealthy obsession with exams, the role of exams must be examined.

Research provides an opportunity to better understand the concerns surrounding exams.

Research provides an opportunity to better understand the concerns surrounding exams. Perception surveys with parents and children can answer questions about choices and well-being.

Perception surveys with parents and children can answer questions about choices and well-being - whether they feel unduly stretched, the ramifications of competition, and the reasons for tuition, for example.

Do primary school pupils with a confirmed offer under the Direct School Admission exercise feel less stress in the lead-up to the Primary School Leaving Examination, and how do they perform thereafter?

Do secondary school students in the Integrated Programme immerse themselves in broad-based endeavours?

The perspectives of teachers can be productive, too.

Progressively, the recent tweaks to education policy can be compared and evaluated.

The results of such research could be helpful starting points to guide policy discussions and implementation in future.

Kwan Jin Yao

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 07, 2017, with the headline 'Examine exams' role in education rat race'. Print Edition | Subscribe