Right direction on education changes, but tread carefully

A pre-university seminar held at the National University of Singapore on June 5, 2015.
A pre-university seminar held at the National University of Singapore on June 5, 2015. ST PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH

I support, in principle, the decision taken by the Ministry of Education (MOE) to continue its efforts to reduce the emphasis on academic results ("More time and space for students' interest"; Wednesday).

However, as we move into uncharted terrain, we need to be cautious as we take each step.

The reduction of emphasis on academic results translates, in practical terms, at least for now, to institutions of higher learning expanding the way they select students, by assessing them on a range of attributes rather than just examination results.

First, we must be careful not to let the pursuit of these other "attributes" become new sources of stress. With the knowledge that academic results may no longer be enough for admission into higher learning institutions, students may now be even more pressured (possibly by their parents) than before to take up leadership positions or compete with peers to sign up for community projects.

This is because they would perceive that excellence beyond academic results is no longer just desirable for admission into higher learning institutions, but is now "compulsory".

Second, we must be careful not to let even greater emphasis on non-academic excellence disadvantage any student.

It is possible that academically weaker students may feel disadvantaged, since it is likely that participation in the more sought-after non-academic activities (for example, overseas volunteering trips) would still be made available only to students who are coping well academically.

Academically weaker students may perceive that even if they do well in their final examinations, they would now "lose out" even more to students who shine in both academic and non-academic activities, considering the greater emphasis on excellence beyond academic results.

Finally, we must be careful not to equate a reduced focus on academic results to a reduction in examination stress.

It is possible that the level of examination stress would be unchanged, even if it is of reduced importance, because ultimately, students still have to do well in the examinations to gain admission into higher learning institutions.

The MOE is moving further in the right direction; it must now tread carefully.

Ng Chia Wee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2016, with the headline 'Right direction on education changes, but tread carefully'. Print Edition | Subscribe