Start at the beginning to change mindsets on grades

Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung has emphasised the need for educational institutions as well as employers to accept students not only on academic merit but also on other qualities, such as aspirations and aptitude for their vocations ("Consider individuals' aspirations, not just academic qualifications: Ong Ye Kung"; ST Online, Nov 3, and "'Admit students based on more than just grades'"; Nov 4).

What he said couldn't be more true.

In the past two decades, the focus of our education system has slowly shifted from getting quality grades to a more holistic approach. Notable changes include scrapping the practice of naming the top pupil in the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), as well as the eventual removal of the point grading system for the PSLE.

These changes are all fine, but we have yet to address the root of the problem: the mindset of the people.

Singaporeans generally believe that the only road to success here is to have an exemplary academic record.

This belief is further ingrained by our educators and parents. Teachers tend to favour academically inclined students, while parents notoriously fill their children's schedules with enrichment and preparatory classes.

It is no wonder Singaporeans grow up with the mindset that to excel and succeed in life, grades are of the utmost importance.

The only way to change mindsets is to start at the beginning - at the National Institute of Education.

Inculcate in trainee teachers the value of looking beyond academic excellence in students.

Teach them to embrace the creativity of each child - instead of insisting that the child follow a model answer, guide him and let his creativity blossom.

Let us also do away with the system where a teacher's worth is based on the academic performance of his student. Instead, let us count the number of students he has helped succeed in life.

Parents, too, should learn to embrace the uniqueness of their children, nurture them in their chosen path and not assume that what they think is good is also what their children want.

Only when these main pillars of support are not reinforcing the belief that grades equal intelligence and success can the Singaporeans of tomorrow start to have free aspirations and chase their dreams.

Kayden Koh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2015, with the headline 'Start at the beginning to change mindsets on grades'. Print Edition | Subscribe