Parents should take the cancellation of year-end examinations for Primary 3 and 4 pupils, announced this week, in their stride. That is because there are a range of assessment tools to ensure that those who do not have to sit examinations will have their academic achievements recorded scrupulously nevertheless. The Ministry of Education's (MOE) reason for cancelling the year-end exams is to allow more time for curriculum recovery because of disruptions brought about by Covid-19. Schools will be able to draw on information from school-based assessments conducted throughout the year to report on pupils' learning progress and provide feedback, as well as make recommendations on their subject combination where necessary. However, the year-end exams for Primary 5 pupils will proceed so as to allow pupils and parents to get a better understanding of pupils' learning progress in relation to the Achievement Level scoring system prior to taking the Primary School Leaving Examination next year. This way, the school system can answer to the wider imperatives of fighting the pandemic through a calibrated approach of holding tests only when necessary but making it possible for pupils to climb the next step of the ladder even without year-end examinations.
The MOE also announced the resumption of face-to-face classes for Primary 3 to 6 pupils. This reflects the need for a return to normal routines as far as possible. Having lessons in school provides a socialising environment for cognitive development. Face-to-face interactions with teachers and peers help children develop a keener sense of the world around them, understand how they fit into that environment, and question the way in which they do so. That extracurricular knowledge feeds back to their studies, enabling them to grow into thinking adults.
Covid-19 interrupted that process across the world. Hence the need for home-based learning (HBL), which is an attempt to make the best of a difficult situation. Indeed, HBL succeeds well in keeping pupils abreast of the curriculum - it is school away from school - but it does exact a psychological cost in terms of their social interactions in school. Also, parents who might already be under pressure from the economic and familial fallout of the pandemic are placed under greater stress by the need to ensure that their children do not fall behind in HBL. They would be relieved up to a point now.
The MOE's latest moves are in sync with the wider national need to modulate the life rhythms and patterns of Singapore so as to survive the pandemic medically and socially. Pupils, educators and parents should see fluctuating developments on the school scene, even if frustrating at times, as part of the wider effort to keep Singapore safe, and functioning, in exceptional times.