For decades, Singapore’s Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE) have been a rite of passage, marking the Singaporean child’s transition into teenhood. Many adults still remember their PSLE scores, which is a testament to their significance. But in April this year, Singapore’s Ministry of Education announced it would be doing away with PSLE aggregate scores, possibly in favour of letter grades, and this would take effect in 2021. The news was met with mixed reactions from parents: Some feared the change would disadvantage top-performing students as the grades would not reflect their high scores, while others were sceptical that the move would encourage Singaporeans to recognise talents beyond academic achievement.
On May 26, local current affairs programme Talking Point dedicated an episode to the PSLE, and among its highlights was an interview with Acting Minister for Education Ng Chee Meng, who reiterated the need for a more inclusive education system. However, it was the following video from the show that was widely shared—it has since garnered over 700,000 views and features the daily routine of 12-year-old Amelia, who has 15 hours of enrichment classes a week on top of school commitments. On the day her segment was filmed, Amelia had spent 12 hours on academic-related activities, and this did not include homework time:
Apart from views, the video elicited a barrage of comments from Singaporeans. Some felt Amelia appeared mature and motivated, and would have no trouble excelling under the present system. Others bemoaned the state of the Singaporean childhood, asking:
When do Singaporean children get time to relax and play?
With such a schedule, where does personal development fit in?
What values are parents promoting when they prioritise academic achievement?
What happens to children whose parents are unable to afford enrichment classes? How do they get support, if they need it?
How do we address the widening gap between the resources that children are able to access, based on wealth?
What are the stress levels of our local schoolchildren?
To what extent do parental and educator expectations contribute to academic stress?
Will children rely on the external validation of exam grades to prove their self-worth, and what are the consequences of this?
Former SPH journalist Ian Tan responded to the video with a blog post titled “What Are We Doing To Our Children?” He said he had watched Amelia’s video with “much sadness” over the “foolish circumstances our children and parents have become trapped in.” He urged parents to reconsider their “ridiculous expenditure of effort and time on over-preparation,” and to choose not to assimilate their children into such a lifestyle.
Parents’ Guide Asia shared the video with a chilling reminder:
“You have a choice. Don’t blame the education system. Take control before our children take their own lives.”
In a Facebook update, Nominated Member of Parliament Kuik Shiao-Yin posed several rhetorical questions:
“What would it be like if I helped my child feast on mindful wonder instead of the dry bread of anxious toil? … If we parents are somewhat like warriors fighting for a better future and our children are… our most powerful arrows of change, how would that shift the way we approach their education? Is it more tuition they need from us or more tenacity to fight for principles, truths, hopes we hold dear?”
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