Pisa 2018: 15-year-old students in Singapore express greater fear of failure compared to their peers overseas

The latest Pisa study also showed that 60 per cent of Singapore students had a "growth mindset", or believe that their intelligence can change with effort they put in. PHOTO: ST

SINGAPORE - Students in Singapore are more afraid of failure compared to their 15-year-old counterparts overseas, the results of a study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released on Tuesday (Dec 3) showed.

The Republic had one of the highest proportions of students - more than 70 per cent - who expressed concern about failure in a questionnaire that was part of the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa).

All were asked to indicate how they felt about failure through three statements. These related to whether they were worried about what others thought of them if they failed, or that they might not have enough talent. The third statement concerned whether failure made them doubt their plans for their future.

In comparison, the OECD average was slightly more than 50 per cent. Taipei had the highest score of 89 per cent in one of the three statements, while less than half of students in European countries like Montenegro and the Netherlands expressed some fear of failure.

In response, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said on Tuesday that an excessive fear of failing could be "disabling" and it is making changes to the education system to dial back on the obsession with grades. This includes introducing a new Primary School Leaving Examination scoring system that aims to reduce the emphasis on precise scores, and phasing out of academic streams.

Mr Sng Chern Wei, MOE's deputy director-general of education (curriculum), said the results suggest that students are "a bit worried about not doing well in different parts of school life, and worried about how others view them when they experience setbacks".

"I think we can help more students to view such setbacks as a natural part of learning and growing, and to view them constructively and use them as opportunities for learning and growth. I think this will allow more of them to try new things and be confident of learning from experiences."

The latest Pisa study also showed that 60 per cent of Singapore students had a "growth mindset", or believe that their intelligence can change with effort they put in. The opposite is a "fixed mindset", where people think that their talent or intelligence is limited.

While Singapore's figure is slightly lower than the OECD average of 63 per cent, it is higher than most other top-performing Asian systems like China, South Korea and Hong Kong, where 43 per cent to 56 per cent of their students believed in having a growth mindset.

Said Mr Sng: "We're always looking out for areas for improvement... and where we think we can do better in is actually encouraging more students to have a growth mindset, and also helping them to see failures constructively.

"So, in particular, (having a) growth mindset is important because that's a mindset where students believe that through their efforts, they could improve their intelligence, which will then actually prepare them better when they face challenges in life."

Pisa 2018 found that students in Singapore sensed a high level of competition among their peers - 76 per cent, compared to the OECD average of 50 per cent. It also noted that most students here, or 69 per cent of them, considered competition to be important.

At the same time, the results found that a high proportion of students, like their OECD counterparts, valued cooperation and said that they worked well with their schoolmates.

The Pisa study noted that both cooperative and competitive behaviours can work together to motivate students and help them enjoy learning.

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