The Straits Times
Published on Nov 24, 2012

Will focusing only on academic excellence produce next Steve Jobs?


LIKE Mr Ang Peng Seong ("PSLE: Don't change for the worse"; Thursday), I believe firmly in meritocracy. But more often than not, the children fighting for places in the best schools are proxies for their parents, who think that what they want is what's best for their children.

We cannot assume that Primary 6 pupils, at age 12, would know what is relevant to their ambitions.

The fulcrum of these dreams pivot on the belief that academic excellence begets success.

So, the change that is being sought to the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) - and the education system - is to correct the extreme lengths to which parents feel they must go to achieve it.

A review does not necessarily translate into a change for the worse; towards greater laxity in the criteria for educational quality, or as Mr Ang puts it, an attempt to dumb down the system.

An education review serves to overhaul the obsession with academic grades, and perhaps seeks a finer balance to accommodate and recognise other areas of excellence, such as creative and critical thinking, character building, sports and cultural excellence, which schools might have placed lesser emphasis on in the steadfast pursuit of academic excellence.

As Mr Ang pointed out, resilience, adaptability and competitiveness are important traits, but these can be fostered not only via the academic route.

These qualities can also be developed through greater student-teacher engagement in non-academic subjects, or through sports, whereby our children can also learn that winning is not everything.

The ability to accept defeat or failure, learn and rebound inculcates resilience far more effectively than sitting an examination.

Life's simple lessons will leave a more indelible mark on children through experience, rather than rote-learning to score in the PSLE.

Where is our next Mozart, our next Messi, and our next Steve Jobs if we simply just focus on academic excellence? How do we cultivate talent in other fields if all we choose to recognise is academic excellence?

As parents, we should view the recent change positively, and the top-down approach adopted by the Education Ministry will help evolve the new mindset among principals and teachers as well.

Alan Ong