MOE needs to address more fundamental issues

I am writing in response to the changes announced by the Ministry of Education (MOE) (Fewer exams for students, less emphasis on grades; Sept 29).

I applaud the ministry's efforts over the past few years to move away from an overemphasis on grades.

However, many of the changes announced may come across as mere rhetoric if the more fundamental issues are not addressed.

First, if the MOE does not relook the curriculum and make significant changes to how major exams like the PSLE or the O levels are assessed, it will not change the way students and parents treat education.

We have heard about how students have to answer science questions in a certain way to obtain the maximum marks. Any deviation is penalised.

Mathematics questions in the PSLE have evolved in a way that teachers themselves find some of them challenging.

What are we really trying to achieve by testing our children in such a way?

If the PSLE is here to stay, taking away mid-year exams or not having one's school ranking known does not take away the stress.

While taking away exams for Primary 1 and 2 pupils is a good way to give them time to enjoy learning, it may just push the stress further down the road, since they would still have to deal with the rigours of the PSLE.

If we want our children to become resilient, adaptable, creative individuals who have a love for lifelong learning, we need to ask ourselves if the curriculum and how students are assessed are in line with those objectives.

Second, make every school a good school.

A lot of the stress felt by students stems from their desire to get into the best schools.

Many of the so-called branded schools have the benefit of a longer history and have built a reputation of excellence through the years. We should not diminish that.

Instead, the MOE should focus on raising the profile of the lesser-known schools and help these schools find niche areas they can excel in. By doing so, we can level the playing field and make all schools attractive to students with different abilities and interests.

Last, just as we honour students who have done well in sports, music or the arts, we should also give credit to those who have done well academically.

Not naming the top students does not change how people view academic excellence, but we should aim to honour students with different abilities.

Jason Lee Wei Him

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 02, 2018, with the headline 'MOE needs to address more fundamental issues'. Print Edition | Subscribe