Grade Foundation-level subjects on pass/fail basis

A student doing revision at home.
A student doing revision at home.PHOTO: ST FILE

Associate Professor Caroline Koh raised many pertinent points, including the importance of intrinsic motivation in pupils and boosting their self-confidence when it comes to the Foundation-level subjects (Motivating pupils at the Foundation level, Aug 26).

She also acknowledged that the teachers' efforts may not be adequate without the support of parents and society at large.

I couldn't agree more. However, I believe that a possible solution to the stigmatisation of Foundation-level subjects may lie in changes on a systemic level, more specifically in terms of assessment.

What if Foundation-level subjects were graded with pass/fail grades and not included in the overall scores of the Primary School Leaving Examination?

Perhaps pupils would then be able to truly enjoy learning the subjects and develop an appreciation for these subjects without having to worry about the high stakes of getting the highest possible score.

This would also reduce competition and the pressure to constantly compare themselves with their peers. Instead, they could focus on collaboration and learning with and from their peers.

I remember fondly an incident during my own master's studies at Harvard University, when I learnt that a particular module would be given only a pass/fail grade.

I thought to myself that if I were to put in the effort, I would surely want to see that effort rewarded with an A or at the very least a B grade. After all, that was all I knew, having been raised in a grades-centric society.

None the wiser, I confronted my lecturer about it and asked him for a justification.

He patiently explained how he wanted the focus to be on the learning and not on the pursuit of a grade.

I didn't understand it fully at that time, but in hindsight, because I did not feel pressured to get an A, I was more willing to take academic risks and be braver in asking difficult questions for that module.

Knowing that I would not be getting an A did not deter me from working hard, but it made me enjoy the entirety of the module and what it had to offer.

If we truly want our children to embrace learning for what it is, and to love it in the process, something has got to give. And if it means replacing letter grades with pass/fail options, then why not?

Claudine Jean Fernandez

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 30, 2019, with the headline 'Grade Foundation-level subjects on pass/fail basis'. Print Edition | Subscribe