The stakes tied up in assessments have gotten too high for Singapore

By CrumbAllowances

There is nothing inherently wrong with assessment - it is a necessary part of all education systems worldwide. If I don’t assess you, how do I know if you have properly acquired the necessary skills and content?

BUT. The problem (especially in the Singaporean context) lies in the fact that all assessment schemes are trying too hard to assign quantitative figures to qualitative traits. Problem-solving skills, hard work, critical/analytical thinking, understanding of a subject etc - all these things are inherently unmeasurable. So we do the next best thing, which is to come up with examination formats that can give us an approximate gauge of a student’s mastery and skills concerning the said subject matter.

BUT. The stakes tied up in these assessments have become overly high. There are many reasons for this (would take too long to go into), but suffice to say the result is a society where everything hinges on your ... well, results.*

The unwanted reverberations? Shortcuts. The tuition industry is a fine example. The method of measurement (the test) has become more important than what is being measured (skills and thinking). So, why bother with all that stuff? After all, true mastery is hard, at least compared to regurgitation and rote learning, plus there’s still no guarantee that the test can accurately measure a student’s mastery anyways. We are, after all, a risk-averse society, so its best to focus on ensuring students can ace the test rather than truly understanding and thinking. Which of course is ironic because the tests are supposed to measure understanding and thinking and blah blah blah.

I have no idea how to solve the above-mentioned issue, else wise I would be the education minister. Part of the issue is that this mindset is so deep rooted. Even when the Ministry of Education tries to mitigate the situation with policies like DSA, parents and schools game the system. If anything, I gather the solution would likely involve a combination of policy change (reducing emphasis on high-stakes testing, pushing schools to be more academically and demographically heterogeneous) and cultural shifts (promoting excellent performers in all fields instead of mediocrity in ‘preferred’ professions, redefining ‘success’ in Singapore).

But all that is going to take a while. Or it might never happen. Who knows. I think it has to reach a point where a critical mass in the country says “enough is enough” and decides to make some decently serious change. But until then, this is the system we are stuck with.

*One can argue the idea that your results and qualifications defining your level of success in life is merely just a perception, however my counterpoint to that is if a sufficient number of folks in the society abide by a certain perception, it essentially becomes a reality.

This first appeared as a response on Reddit Singapore. Do join in the discussion over there if you have thoughts to share.


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