Parliament: Nominated MP calls on MOE to give students option to view national exam results online

Students collecting their O-level results at Xinmin Secondary School on Jan 13, 2020. The collection of PSLE, O-level and A-level results is one setting in which students here feel the fear of failure most acutely, said Professor Lim Sun Sun. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A Nominated MP has urged the Education Ministry to give students to option to collect their results for national examinations online, and in private.

This is because the collection of Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), O-level and A-level results is one setting in which students here feel the fear of failure most acutely, said Professor Lim Sun Sun.

Noting that the atmosphere around these events is stressful and intense, she said allowing students to view their exam results online would lessen the pressure.

The suggestion was one of three that Prof Lim gave in her adjournment motion in Parliament, to reduce the fear of failure in the country's students.

She cited the Programme for International Student Assessment test results released last December, which found that Singapore had among the highest proportions of 15-year-olds who were anxious about failure, despite being ranked second in the world for how well they apply knowledge and skills, and solve problems.

Said Prof Lim: "Those who have performed beyond or up to expectations will be relieved but those who have not will find the entire (results collection) exercise excruciating.

"By turning off the glaring spotlight on the collection of results for high-stakes exams, we also send the important signal that ours is a culture of lifelong learning that does not end with attaining these certificates," she added, noting that the universities and polytechnics already successfully release their exam results online.

She suggested that schools can be open to students who wish to seek support or consultation after the results, or even those who want to celebrate with their teachers.

The methods that some teachers use to motivate underperforming students is another possible contributory factor to this fear of failure, said Prof Lim, who heads the humanities, arts and social sciences department at the Singapore University of Technology and Design.

A minority, she said, use harsh measures - "microaggressions" - like reading out the names and test scores of every student in class in order of the highest to lowest scorers, prolonging the ordeal for the ones at the bottom of the pile.

Fundamentally, these teachers have well intentions and seek to spur on their students, but more can be done to empower them to be proactive and sensitive in helping students manage failure and deal with setbacks, Prof Lim said.

"Our schools must feel like safe spaces in which to fail, and to try again."

Prof Lim also said that while class rankings in report books have been de-emphasised, teachers should also not place excessive focus on grades in everyday communication with parents.

She pointed to how teachers are communicating actively with parents about their children's grades through apps like ClassDojo, which allows scores to be assigned to children's in-class performance so parents can "track" how their child is faring.

This has led to some parents "obsessing over these scores and interrogating their children about what went on in school", she said.

Prof Lim noted that failure in itself can be rewarding, providing one with feedback and experience for future undertakings.

It is the fear of failure that may cause one to be more conservative, stick to the tried and tested, and hesitate to venture into new territory, she said.

"Our young Singaporeans are smart, capable and passionate. We must do our best to ensure that they are fearless too."

Responding, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education Faishal Ibrahim said his ministry is "continuously reviewing" how schools release results.

"We also want to build a support system where there are teachers and friends available to support a child. We want to make sure there are opportunities for kids to get guidance during the process," he said.

He added that experiencing failure is unavoidable, and schools and teachers today provide opportunities for students to face challenges and openly discuss success and failure.

"At the same time, parents and families also have a part to play. We, as a society, should also start to redefine how we measure success and react to failure."

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