Schools: Moving away from overemphasis on grades

Report books: No class and cohort positions

Such indicators will be removed from next year to discourage excessive comparison

The changes are meant to allow each student to focus on his or her learning progress and discourage them from making excessive comparisons. PHOTO: ST FILE

Fewer mid-year exams, no more class rankings, and two test-free years for children when they start primary school - these were among the changes announced by the Education Ministry yesterday to help students become lifelong learners.

Who finishes first, second or last will no longer be indicated in primary and secondary school report books from next year - a move which Education Minister Ong Ye Kung hopes will show students that "learning is not a competition".

In addition to not showing a student's position in relation to class or cohort, other academic indicators such as students' mean subject grades and maximum and minimum marks across the class as well as cohort will be a thing of the past.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) said yesterday that the changes are meant to allow each student to focus on his or her learning progress and discourage them from making excessive comparisons.

But this has left some parents, such as Madam Grace Chua, 37, worried that they would not be able to gauge where their child stands in relation to his or her peers.

The business development manager and mother of a Primary 3 boy and a daughter turning two said: "I am all for removing class and cohort positions, but it is necessary to know the mean score, or minimum and maximum scores, so that parents have a certain benchmark.

"There are good passes, and there are bad passes. It is important that we know where our children stand."

Madam Karen Lim, 41, who works in the banking sector and has two children in primary school, said: "Even if the school doesn't tell us, I am sure teachers will know who the stronger students are, and if mindsets don't change, students will keep comparing between themselves."

In an address to about 1,700 school leaders earlier this week, Mr Ong said: "I know that coming in first or second, in class or level, has traditionally been a proud recognition of a student's achievement. But removing these indicators is for a good reason, so that the child understands from a young age that learning is not a competition, but a self-discipline you need to master for life.

"Notwithstanding, the report book should still contain some form of yardstick and information to allow students to judge their relative performance, and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses."

Other information to be dropped from report books will be students' L1R5 or L1R4 scores - which are based on results of subjects. These will not be reflected for the lower secondary levels.

Failing marks will also not be coloured or underlined, and a student's final pass or fail result will not be shown.

Marks for each subject will be kept, but rounded off and presented as whole numbers, without decimal points - to reduce the focus on academic scores.

Other aspects like conduct, form teacher comments, physical fitness records, school attendance and community and co-curricular activity involvement will be retained.

National Institute of Education don Jason Tan said the changes to the report books are in line with MOE's shift in policy rhetoric - to move away from being "extrinsically motivated" to do well to having a genuine interest in learning.

"With fewer exams, schools will have to develop other ways of informing parents about their children's progress and give them a more detailed picture of their learning experiences, besides cursory remarks from teachers about examination results and personal conduct."

Parent Lim Wee Ming, who has three children in primary and secondary schools, believes the changes will reduce stress among school-going kids.

"Not knowing your class or cohort position is good. For weaker students, it will help not to lower their self-esteem even more."

The 43-year-old, who works in the enrichment sector, added: "There is really no need for comparisons, which just add to stress."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2018, with the headline Report books: No class and cohort positions. Subscribe