I thought I heard synchronised screams of joy which electrified the whole Singapore on Sunday night when Prime Minister Lee announced the removal of aggregate scores for the Primary School Leaving Examinations in a few years.
OK, not everyone was happy. Perhaps there were a few tears from the parents whose children are taking PSLE next year and are not affected by the change. There’s also the super-kiasu parents who insist it’s the survival of the fittest and we should see more, not less competition. And some from nostalgic and sentimental “fools” who proclaimed the “end of an era.”
After all, PSLE T-scores are a big part of the Singaporean identity that’s no less important than Hainanese chicken rice or the BCG mark we have on our left arm or butt (depending on how old you are.) When Indonesia’s haze hit us a few months ago and our pollution index reached a hazardous 290, we linked it to PSLE T-scores and wished our results were as high as the index. It has become a part of us.
I think this change is one for the better. I am not saying I didn’t benefit from the system. I did do well for my PSLE, got into a top independent school and took advantage of the great facilities provided. The stiff competition from young did train me to be more aggressive in my career, hence giving me an edge over many of my international peers in this globalised workplace. But I was lucky. There were so many of my peers who were smarter than me, but were deemed worse students as they were late bloomers.
This new policy is headed for the right direction and I applaud Mr Lee and the government for their courage to implement such a change. It was a well-thought plan but I wonder if it was a step that was too cautious and too small.
It’s great that there’s no more T-scores but we would still have a band system. Instead of “how much did your dear son score for PSLE ?”, we will be hearing a lot of “How many A* did he have?” during the Chinese New Year gatherings. In Chinese, we have a saying 斩草除根，which means to remove the grass, one has to rid the roots too. The “roots” of kiasuism is deeply entrenched in Singapore— perhaps the removal of this fervent need to compare and win is complementary for the new system to work. Even former Raffles Girls’ school principal Carmee Lim said in a recent Straits Times interview that parents must realize that not every child needs to go to a top school .
(credit photo: http://www.smithsonianmag.com)
Finland, which topped Pearson’s survey of the best education system in the world (Singapore is at number five), doesn’t have a mandatory standardized test for their children until they are 16. And it’s not mandatory to give grades to children until they are in grade 8. (our Secondary 2) While I am not saying we should replicate everything or remove all examinations, it’s good to see what we can learn from them.
Besides the lack of examinations, Finnish culture focuses on independence. Children go to school themselves and there’s no “helicopter parenting.” Helicopter parenting, for the unconverted, refers to parents who hover over their children like helicopters, paying extremely close attention to their child’s experience. In Finland, the focus is on the individual child- if a student falls behind other kids, the teacher devises a plan to help him/her. This is in contrast to our 40-student-a-class system where the teacher is often overworked, burdened with administrative work and no energy left to care for each individual student. And these are just a few of the many differences.
Some questions to ask yourself: Are you able to “let go,” and let your child go to school by himself? Can you not take any leave when your child is having exams? Can you not compare your child’s grades with another kid when PSLE’s reduced to just grading?
The government does have the resources, the comprehensive measures and sheer will power to improve our system, but one reason it is moving so carefully at a snail’s pace in the liberalization of the school system could very well be due to the fear of backlash from parents/electorate.
Indeed, kiasuism was instilled because our system had required it. We used to be streamed at the tender age of nine years old in the 80s. But things have improved and we need to start thinking like it’s 2013 too to accelerate the reforms. While the removal of PSLE will be unlikely to come anytime soon, if we are progressive in our thinking, perhaps we will be the catalyst for change, rather than be the passive receiver of one, for the sake of our children.
Wei is a financial journalist who has recently started a Facebook site with his buddy to answer PSLE queries.His job requires him to be kiasu too so he’s well-trained by the Singapore education system. Please like them here: https://www.facebook.com/studyroomjr