Singapore's education system is changing so that it moves beyond achieving strong academic results to instil in students the joy of learning and an enterprising spirit as well, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said yesterday.
More will be done to achieve this goal. For one thing, his ministry will look at ways to curb what he terms "effort inflation", which is when "a lot more effort is put into learning the same stuff or less stuff".
"This happens not just in our schools, but also (with) time spent on tuition and doing additional homework given by tutors," he said.
The combination of the load from curriculum, assessment and tuition may be the reason students here suffer from high test anxiety despite doing well academically, he added.
Speaking at the Economic Society of Singapore's annual dinner, Mr Ong said the central economic question in education is how to prepare young people for the future.
Before delving into the issue, he reiterated that lifelong learning is now vital because of rapid technological advances and disruptions in the workplace.
We need to continue to strike a balance between letting students learn at their own pace and staying motivated without stigmatisation. Wherever possible, we should allow more integration and mingling, without losing the positive impact of customising education.
EDUCATION MINISTER ONG YE KUNG
Meanwhile, the education system needs to change to equip the young with the skills and attributes they will need. And in doing so, four trade-offs must be considered, he said.
Essentially, the right balance needs to be struck between the rigour of education and the joy of learning; between the sharpening and blurring of academic results; between customisation and stigmatisation; and skills versus degrees.
On balancing the rigour in education so that it does not kill the joy of learning, Mr Ong said subject content in schools has been trimmed over the years to provide space to introduce non-academic aspects of education such as thinking skills.
But post-primary students and their parents are unlikely to feel the difference, which he blames on effort inflation. For this reason, curbing it is "the right thing to do in this era of lifelong learning", he said.
On academic results, Mr Ong said Singapore had sharpened the role of examinations over the decades to differentiate students. But this has raised the stakes of exams and led to excessive time spent preparing for them, he noted.
Children will be better served if excessive exam preparation time can be freed up for them to develop essential soft skills, he added.
"We know something has to change, but it is very hard to do when you are already on the treadmill running very hard, and every other parent is running the treadmill and there is a genuine fear of losing out when admission exercises come," he said.
Parents and students cannot be expected to suddenly switch their mentality. The system has to send a clear signal, he stressed.
While exams such as the PSLE are still needed, "we won't over-rely on exam scores for admission purposes", he added.
Mr Ong also noted that customising teaching to students' needs - for instance, through different secondary school streams - give them a greater chance to do well.
But certain customisations have the unintended result of stigmatisation and labelling by society.
"We need to continue to strike a balance between letting students learn at their own pace and staying motivated without stigmatisation. Wherever possible, we should allow more integration and mingling, without losing the positive impact of customising education," he said.
As for skills versus degrees, he said the question to ask is whether a young person necessarily needs a degree to do well in his career.
An academic degree helps open doors, but employers are increasingly looking beyond academic qualifications for demonstrated skills and competencies, he said.
"It may take a while for this human resource approach to be truly widespread," he said. "But the macro trends, to me, are very clear."