The Straits Times
Published on Nov 22, 2012

First the youth festival, now exams...


EDUCATION appears to be stricken by a curious zeal for reform lately.

First came the abolition of the Singapore Youth Festival awards system ("Schools' SYF scheme revamped"; Nov 12). Instead of the customary gold with honours, gold, silver and bronze standards, participants will now be awarded distinction, accomplishment and commendation.

In this aspect, the Ministry of Education's efforts to shift the public paradigm to one that de-emphasises awards and academics is laudable but wrong.

For many students, taking part in the festival is arguably one of the most memorable and meaningful experiences of student life; unique in its ability to induce unparalleled unity and a sense of purpose so strong that it cannot be replicated.

The pride a student feels from receiving a gold with honours award can only be understood if one experiences it personally.

It is the promise of maintaining or striving towards better awards that infuses the festival with energy and palpable excitement.

To dilute this deeply rooted tradition will demoralise arts students and potentially sideline the arts in favour of sporting co-curricular activities.

Education reform in general may suffer from public receptiveness. This by no means suggests that the Government should not rebalance the education system, but that such efforts must be complemented by an equally emphatic social message: Singaporeans must take ownership of their lives and their country.

For instance, the move to stop naming students who top national examinations ("MOE stops naming top students"; yesterday) is only a stop-gap measure, and will not address the far more serious problem of a cultural inability to believe that academic achievements in school are not the absolute markers of future success.

To relieve Primary School Leaving Examination stress effectively, parents must embrace government efforts to turn every school into a good school, and believe that their children will be guided to success by their ability, even if they do not study in top schools.

It is time for Singaporeans to end the irony of deriding the Government for building a "nanny state" while continuing to rely on it to move society forward.

Before criticising or suggesting new policies for the Government to implement, Singaporeans must take it upon themselves to change their own attitudes and truly embrace a paradigm shift in their perceptions of grades and what it really means to be successful.

Lee Jia Wen (Ms)