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Singapore’s Attempt at Holistic Education

Singapore’s Attempt at Holistic Education

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  • Current Affairs
Asians are typically seen as being good at math, adept with computers, and sometimes placed within the stereotype of being square.

It seems though, that the Singapore government is attempting to change this stereotype. The latest policies by the education ministry in Singapore have the goal of gradually shifting the education system to one that is more well-rounded and holistic.

Specifically, the new changes include a new GPA-like grading system which translates into wider scoring bands and an increased use of randomised balloting. As a result of the new scoring method, PSLE candidates will no longer be as finely differentiated as there will be only a total of 29 possible PSLE scores compared with the current 200+ permutations

The intention, as stated by the Singapore Ministry of Education, is to encourage students to discover their strengths and cultivate their interests, ensuring they have the knowledge skills and values to succeed. It seems well-intended. However, it is not readily apparent how these actual changes contribute to the goal.

If the aim is truly to place stronger emphasis on the all-roundedness of young Singaporeans, a mere superficial tweak in the grading system is not adequate; on its own, changing the grading system will not shift attention away from grades – if people have been ingrained with competitiveness, it will merely cause them to analyse the new system and try to work it to their advantage.

The underlying rationale for this is to move away from a system of ranking. This sounds like a good idea – although it is hard to see how the new system can ultimately ensure this: it’s still a system of ranking – the only difference is that there are less ranks.

To be fair, the administration is also attempting to, in the coming years, help every secondary school build a unique set of strengths. It is hoped that students will begin to select schools considering these other factors as well. Details on these, however, are scarce.

Whatever the case may be, the general narrative emerging from the island state is primarily focused on “how does this affect my child’s chances of getting into a “good” school?” or “will I be losing out?”. Clearly, changes in mind-sets take time.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Especially so in Singapore – a country where the civil service is notorious for an over-emphasis on the rankings of universities, level of education (whether you obtained an honours or a masters), and grades.

[Side note: Promotions and pay-scales are directly correlated to these factors, and there are detailed (albeit sometimes off-the-record) guidelines and restrictions on how far a can progress career wise if they don’t have, for example, an honours degree.]

Although guised under the lofty goal of holistic education, overall the changes to the PSLE grading system and the intention to develop specialised programmes for lessor known schools are not unwelcome.

If indeed, however, the policy-makers are really intending to value other traits besides academic merits, changes have to be applied from a broader perspective in order for the system of education to truly be described as “holistic”.

Perhaps pages from the playbooks of Australia and America could be used, where entry to top schools require evidence of a student’s interests outside of the classroom or notable achievements in extra-curricular activities.

Until then, most Singaporean children will still be spending their after-school time in tuition or in music lessons – the sole purpose of the latter being to develop the right brain so as to ensure the left brain scores higher in examinations.

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Adriel Ho