What do record O-level results really mean?

Si Ling Secondary School students reacting after they receive their GCE O-level examination results, on Jan 13, 2014.
Si Ling Secondary School students reacting after they receive their GCE O-level examination results, on Jan 13, 2014. ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

Our students have coped admirably with exam stress and pressure to improve, and deserve praise for achieving record O-level results ("Class of 2016 scores best O-level results in at least 3 decades"; Jan 12).

But what do these record results mean?

The O levels is fundamentally a rationing system for colleges and other opportunities that are limited.

Better O-level results will only raise cut-off scores.

The benefits the O levels give are a zero-sum game, and celebrating a better average result is tantamount to celebrating an inflation-adjusted income raise.

Certainly, we should not put down the hard work that many teachers and students put into doing well in the exams.

However, we should celebrate real achievements and create a culture that places less focus on maximising a single value and more on developing strengths to achieve.

The O levels has its place as a measure to make sure those who are best suited for higher education receive it, but it should not be the pride of Singapore's education system.

We should celebrate the accomplishments we have made that help people and society, not tests.

Zubin Jain

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 17, 2017, with the headline 'What do record O-level results really mean?'. Print Edition | Subscribe