Singapore has been over-reliant on the "security blanket" of the examination score, and "before it smothers us, we need to start to withdraw it somewhat, and focus on the true spirit of learning".
This, said Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, is part of the reason behind last week's announcement on key changes to the education system, including fewer mid-year exams in primary and secondary schools, and the removal of class rankings from report books.
At the same time, he hoped that tuition centres do not end up simulating examination-like conditions for students to make up for the lost examinations. "Don't undo what we intend to do," he urged.
He was speaking to a 400-strong crowd at the Singapore International Technical and Vocational Education and Training Conference at Raffles City Convention Centre yesterday, on the importance of mastering both cognitive and technical skills.
The two-day conference, organised by the Institute of Technical Education, ends today.
He also addressed the concerns raised after last week's announcement by the Ministry of Education (MOE).
"I knew most students would cheer the move... But I was quite uncertain about the reaction of parents," he said.
"Fortunately, and to my great relief, there was no negative uproar, and I am deeply grateful to all the parents who wrote encouraging and supportive messages to me since I made the announcement. However, they have expressed valid worries and apprehension about the changes."
The first, he added, was whether this is the start of a "slackening" of the education system, and whether children will cut back on studying hard.
"I am very confident that this is not," said Mr Ong, pointing out that fewer exams does not mean no exams. Instead, it provides better balance between rigour and the joy of learning.
"This change does not mean that there is less or no need to study," he said, as he sent out a message to students. The time freed up from fewer exams will be used "to teach you better, so that you can learn better, because teachers don't have to rush through the curriculum in order to prepare for examinations".
"So take this opportunity to study well and enjoy school and learning more."
The second worry of parents was that schools or tuition centres will re-introduce other assessments such as common tests and mock exams.
"We can worry less about the schools," said Mr Ong, explaining that before last week's announcement, the ministry had spent three days discussing the changes with school heads.
MOE has also given guidelines to schools to limit the number of tests that will count towards year-end results.
As for tuition centres, he said, adding their own exams "would just be preying on the apprehension and anxieties of parents and students".
"Instead, try to understand why these changes are important to better prepare our young for the future, and help explain that to parents."
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