The Straits Times says

Ensuring no one lags in education race

Singapore students as a whole deserve to take a bow for sparkling results in three separate measures of academic excellence. The ranking and high scores are to be savoured, of course, but there is a more compelling reason to take pride in their achievements: It was a group performance that made the crucial difference.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) test, dubbed the "World Cup for education", put Singapore students in first place for mathematics, science and reading. The international benchmarking test offers countries an opportunity to assess how their young are faring in standardised assessments.

The Pisa victory came in the wake of the announcement that Singapore students are the world's best in mathematics and science. That is according to the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, another benchmarking examination recognised by educators and policymakers.

These international affirmations of the Republic's educational credentials affirmed the worth of another record: About 98.4 per cent of pupils who took this year's Primary School Leaving Examination can move on to a secondary school.

The Pisa test is not without controversy. A Forbes magazine commentator, for example, decried the practice of allowing China to "let certain regions stand in for the performance of the entire nation", namely Shanghai, Taipei and Hong Kong. However, Pisa's directive to assessment contractors is to make random picks and ensure the "selection of schools and students is kept as inclusive as possible".


What matters is the assessment of children with a broad range of backgrounds and abilities to determine if an education system is preparing them adequately for the global workplace. For the maths and science study, for example, the Education Ministry here took a representative sample of students from all primary and secondary schools, and from all academic streams.

The fact that all the students did well is a vindication of the broad-based approach of educators - captured in the fundamental tenet of Singapore's education system that every child matters.

It is also a plus that attention is being directed beyond book learning. "The modern world no longer rewards people for what they know... but for what they can do with what they know," noted an educationist associated closely with Pisa.

Pooling knowledge and its application, and working well as a team, represent a competitive advantage. That is why it is critical to lift academic standards across the board, and not just focus on certain groups.

On a national plane, it would be impossible to restructure the economy if workforce skills at all levels are not lifted sufficiently to take advantage of significant changes like the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Education holds the key to transformation, and it must unlock every mind.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2016, with the headline 'Ensuring no one lags in education race'. Print Edition | Subscribe