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Singapore Abolishes School Exam Rankings: 'Learning is Not Competition'

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung hopes changes will encourage children to want to learn more

 on 31st December 2018 @ 9.00pm
singapore has some of the smartest children in the world © press
Singapore has some of the smartest children in the world

Singapore has abolished the use of children's exam results for ranking students.

From 2019, whether a child finishes first or last will no longer be indicated in primary and secondary school report books in Singapore.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung hopes the move will show students that “learning is not a competition.”

Report books will not just stop revealing a student’s position in relation to class or cohort.

The information to be dropped includes:

  • Class and level mean
  • Minimum and maximum marks
  • Underlining and/or coloring of failing marks
  • Pass/fail for end-of-year result
  • Mean subject grades
  • Overall total marks
  • L1R5 (English plus five relevant subjects), L1R4, EMB3 (English, maths, best three subjects) and EMB1 for lower secondary levels

The Ministry of Education (MOE) announced that the change is to allow each student to focus on his or her learning progress and discourage them from being overly concerned about comparisons.

From early 2019, all examinations for Primary 1 and 2 pupils will also be removed, and whatever forms of assessment they have will no longer count towards an overall grade.

the move aims to encourage children to focus on learning without being overly concerned about comparisons © press
The move aims to encourage children to focus on learning without being overly concerned about comparisons

The MOE said that teachers will continue to gather information about pupils’ learning through discussions, homework, and quizzes.

Schools will use other ways like “qualitative descriptors,” in place of marks and grades, to evaluate pupils’ progress at these two levels.

For older students in primary schools and secondary schools, marks for each subject will be rounded off and presented as a whole number, without decimal points – to reduce the focus on academic scores.

Parents will continue to receive information about their child’s progress in school during parent-teacher meetings.

In an address to some 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 young that learning is not a competition, but a self-discipline they 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.”

singapore s academic success has helped it become a thriving economy © press
Singapore's academic success has helped it become a thriving economy

In 2015, Singapore was officially revealed to be the country with the smartest high-school kids in the world.

The country's academic success has helped it become a thriving economy, and the way it has built its education system could hold lessons for the rest of the world.

If Singapore's rags-to-riches transition was built on education, the secret of its education system is the quality of its teachers.

"They source their teachers from among the best kids coming out of their high schools," explained Tucker.

'Creative use of knowledge'

In the post-war years, Singapore had a low-cost, low-skill labor market, and it was enough for its education system to aim for universal literacy.

But starting in the 1970s, Singapore's economic needs shifted.

It was quickly moving toward high tech, white collar jobs and the education system needed to keep up.

Soon, the aim was for a world-class education for every single child, and that meant moving on from rote learning to encouraging creativity.

"They had a drilling system when that was the only option -- they had to expand education quickly," said the OECD's education director, Andreas Schleicher.

"But as they had achieved this, they were the first to think about, what is it that our children need to be successful ... (in) tomorrow's economy?

"One thing that's been clear to them is that the world economy no longer rewards people just for what they know. Google knows everything. The world economy rewards people for what they can do with what they know.

"The emphasis on the application, the creative use of knowledge is very, very strong in Singapore and other Asian countries."

Schleicher says it's part of the culture of many Asian countries for parents to prioritize their children's education.

"It starts with resources, the priority they assign to education," he explained.

"In these countries, parents and grandparents are going to invest their last resources, their last money into ... the education of their children.

"This is sort of a question of priorities. You can see in all tiers of public policy, education comes first. That's your future."

[RELATED] Florida School Drops Common Core, Soars to Number One

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