Why It Matters

Nurture joy of learning

Singapore students may be topping the charts in mathematics, science and reading, but a study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) suggests they also score high on test anxiety.

The 2015 study polled 540,000 students from 72 countries and economies to look at the connection between well-being and academic achievement. The results were released recently.

The 5,825 Singapore students polled were asked to respond to statements such as "I often worry that it will be difficult for me to take a test" and "I worry I will get poor grades at school". It emerged that their anxiety levels were significantly higher than the OECD average for all five questions.

For example, 66 per cent of students across all OECD countries said they were worried about poor grades at school, but among Singapore students, it was 86 per cent. The study also shows that countries where students are highly motivated to achieve also tend to be those where many students feel anxious.

And students here were among the most driven, with 82 per cent indicating they wanted to be top of their class. The OECD average was 60 per cent.

The high anxiety levels among our children must be checked. After all, as OECD's chief of staff Gabriela Ramos said: "If you feel good, you learn better."

Too much pressure can be counterproductive for a child's cognitive development and psychological well-being. Both teachers and parents have to find ways to motivate students to learn and achieve without generating an excessive fear of failing.

Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng has said much about the importance of nurturing the joy of learning, so that every child can discover his interests and grow his passions.

As he rightly pointed out, schools should not just be about doing well in examinations. They should be exciting places to acquire knowledge and skills, and where learning is fun.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2017, with the headline 'Nurture joy of learning'. Print Edition | Subscribe