Mr Leon Perera (Aljunied): Mr Chairman, recent reforms such as the new PSLE scoring system, the introduction of some aptitude-based admissions and the removal of mid-year examinations are commendable steps to make education more equitable, holistic and less exam-focused. However, we should ask what more we can do to reduce unhealthy competitive stress in schools.
According to a survey by Rakuten Insight in Singapore in May 2022, 63% of those aged 16 to 24 had a higher level of stress or anxiety for the past 12 months, the highest of any age group. A 2017 OECD study found that 66% of students across all OECD countries said they were worried about poor grades at school but in Singapore, among Singaporean students, it was far higher at 86%.
Sir, I will make a few suggestions to better manage the unhealthy competitive stress that some students experience, especially the less academically able or financially better-off ones.
Firstly, to further improve access to enrichment programmes for lower-income children, we could leverage technology to scale up access to quality education. To address the fact that better-off children can access better private tuition and enrichment classes, MOE should facilitate the production of engaging and easily accessible educational materials that are freely available online to students such as podcasts and explainer videos. These could complement students’ in-school education.
For example, according to the 2014 publication, Regulating Private Tutoring for Public Good, from the University of Hong Kong, South Korea’s educational broadcasting system was established in 1990, with high-quality radio and television programmes, including, since 2004, lessons to prepare for standardised university entrance exams. In 2011, 3.9 million Koreans used the system, reducing private tutoring spending by about S$870 million.
Secondly, we can make internships compulsory for post-secondary institutions and consider this even for secondary schools. I have come across the perception in some quarters that students from better-off families have better access to internships due to their parents’ networks. This is where MOE can come in to better improve the link between companies looking for internships and those less popular post-secondary and secondary schools who can offer interns.
Spending time as an intern, imbibing work cultures and norms, helps divert some mental energy away from the excessive focus on academics.
Ministry of Education
28 February 2023