As this article is published, thousands of pupils would have gone back to school to collect their PSLE results. Some students will celebrate; others will be in tears, crushed in spirit.
What sort of system inflicts such travesty on 12-year-olds? What sort of education do we have that treats academic performance like a trophy sport: Glory in victory and agony in defeat?
What values are we imparting to young minds? What happens to the self-esteem and the sense of self-worth when he or she discovers that she is only a 'Normal' or 'Technical' student?
And then they can streamed to 'elite' or 'neighbourhood' schools. The really 'smart' ones, who are usually also the richer ones, get extra help in independent schools and gifted programmes.
A radio DJ yesterday had to sound this caution to pupils: “Whatever score you get, your parents love you.” What kind of society have we built where our children have to be reminded that their score in one exam does not mean that their parents hate them?
If they don't do well, whom have they let down? Themselves? Their parents? The Government?
This subject is not just a theoretical one, good only for an academic discussion. It affects real lives:
- 22% of Singaporean children between 6-12 yrs thought of killing themselves. (ST, Jan 2014) Sadly, many actually carry out the act.
- The no. of children warded for “aggressive, suicidal or hallucination tendencies” at IMH jumped by 35% between 2005-2010. Mental health professionals attribute these problems to academic stress. (CNA, 2 Feb 2013)
- One in three students say they sometimes think that life is not worth living because of the fear of exams. (FEER, August 2001)
There are a few ways that we can do this and they are spelt out under the SDP education policy titled Educating For Creativity and Equality:
1. Remove PSLE. As pointed out, the stress of exams inflict horrific psychological trauma on our children. What’s more, it is not an intelligent approach to assess the abilities of primary-school students on a single exam.
2. Cultivate creative minds. Build confidence in children by helping them adopt an attitude of independent thinking, willingness to make mistakes, and persevere in the face of failed attempts.
3. Reduce syllabus, broaden curriculum. The syllabi for existing subjects will be reduced while subjects such as music appreciation, speech and drama, literature, etc. as well as periods for students to collaborate and interact to develop creativity will be introduced to provide a well-rounded curriculum.
4. Reduce class size. The SDP will reduce class size in our schools to 20 pupils/class from the current 40 to provide students the individual attention they need to succeed.
5. Scrap school and class ranking. Comparing exam results and ranking students and classes will detract from the real purpose of education which is self-improvement and self-actualisation.
To read the full paper with other proposals, click here.