Scrap PSLE, delay streaming and foster creativity

By The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP)

The SDP launched our alternative education policy paper yesterday presenting the many issues and challenges that our present education system faced and spelling out alternative ideas to overcome them.

Ms Chee Siok Chin presented the primary and secondary school system which stifled creativity in out students and causing the widening inequality in Singapore. She presented the following measures to remedy the faults:

1. Cultivate creative minds

Build confidence in children by help their students adopt an attitude of independent thinking, willingness to make mistakes and learn from them, and persevere in the face of failed attempts. Teachers must be trained to help students develop creative skills by:

  • encouraging students to ask questions and express their views rather than passively absorb classroom material

  • discouraging punitive action and criticism for mistakes made by students

  • facilitating discussions of ideas and possibilities among students

  • teaching skills to critically evaluate ideas

  • raising the awareness that creative work takes time for development

2. Remove PSLE and delay streaming

The effort to cultivate creative skills will be undermined if we continue to emphasise on intense competition among students in the form of examinations and streaming. There is no benefit by insisting on assessing the abilities and talents of primary schoolchildren from how they perform on a single examination.

By removing the PSLE and delaying streaming until upper secondary school, students will receive a well-rounded education and not suffer the horrific psychological trauma and suicides that are current taking place.

3.Broaden curricula, reduce syllabi

The SDP will introduce a wider range of subjects including allocating time for music appreciation, speech and drama, literature, art, and physical education. Traditional subjects will have roughly the same amount of class time (about 3 hours) per week.

Regular periods will also be set aside for students for collaborative and interactive activities where the children are encouraged to communicate with each other and work in teams rather than compete with each other as individuals. This is crucial to developing creativity.

The content for each subject will also be reduced so that students are not saddled with homework. Teachers will be required to assign revision and exercise work that must be completed in school under staff supervision and guidance. When students are dismissed, they should spend the time at home with their families and for recreation. Students should also be able to go to bed early.

4. Reduce class size

Research has shown that smaller class sizes promote better quality educational experiences for teachers and students. The SDP will reduce class size in our schools to 20 pupils per class. Currently, many schools have nearly 40 students per class.

The reduction will be able to provide students with the necessary attention to help them develop academically. Also with less students to take care of, administrative work will be reduced which will free up more time for educators to concentrate on teaching.

5. Encourage reading

Reducing the syllabus will also free up time for students to read for pleasure. Students, under the present system, develop an aversion for books because they are associated with examinations. It is the love of reading that encourages life-long learning and cultivates a creative mind.

Under the SDP policy, MOE will, in collaboration with the National Library Board (NLB), make the books available in school libraries. The NLB, through the Community Libraries, will make regular visits to schools to give talks and encourage the habit of reading among students.

6. Lengthen school hours

All schools will adopt single sessions. School hours will be extended to eight hours starting at 8 am and ending at 4 pm. As mentioned, time will be put aside for students to complete their assignments within school hours. This will also allow teachers to provide guidance for their students in their school work thereby ruling out the need for private tuition.

7. Provide school lunch

The MOE will arrange for schools to provide healthy lunches for students. This will ensure that students from poorer families are not deprived of nutrition needed for healthy development.

8. Introduce Dedicated-Teacher System

The SDP will introduce the Dedicated-Teacher System where a teacher will be assigned to a class and that same teacher will take the set of students from Primary 1 to 3 before another teacher is assigned to teach the students from Primary 4 to 6.

This will not only allow the students to build up better bonding with the teacher and their classmates, it also provides more time to build trust and cooperation between parents and teachers.

9. Scrap school and class ranking

Classes will not be ranked with better performing students placed in separate classes from weaker ones. Parents are driven to push their children to out-score their peers so that they can get into good classes and, eventually, good schools which will determine their streams and, consequently, their career paths.

Such a practice is detrimental to the psychological and physical health of our children. Comparing examination results between individual students and classes will only result in principals, teachers, parents (and even students themselves) competing in a way that detracts from the real purpose of education which is self-improvement and self-actualisation.

Ms Chee also highlighted other measures including upgrading teacher status and training, reinstating aptitude testing, organising secondary schools according to strengths, and involving parents more.

Early childhood and special needs education

SDP Treasurer, Ms Chong Wai Fung, spoke on early childhood education and special education. She said that education in these two areas should be nationalised.

Presently, many poor families don't send their children to kindergarten because they cannot afford it. This puts the children at a disadvantage when they enter Primary 1.

By nationalising pre-school education, we will ensure that every child will get the start they need and enter primary school able to compete fairly with everyone else.

Also, pre-school educators will be trained at the NIE with graduates having extensive training in educational psychology and early childhood development. Presently, many caregivers in our kindergartens are not adequately trained and do not possess the necessary qualifications.

Similarly, under the SDP plan, education for children with special needs will be taken over by the Government from VWOs in order to provide the necessary backing for mainstream education for these students.

Tertiary education

Dr James Gomez presented the SDP's alternative in tertiary education. He said that universities must be completely independent from Government interference.

Currently, the MOE still dictates how many graduates Singapore can produce. In a leaked document from Wikileaks, the PAP stipulated that our universities can only produce 23%-25% of graduates of the population per year.

He also cautioned about the influx of foreign students. He cited alarming figures that showed that since 2010, foreign students came in at about 50,000 per year while outbound Singaporean students occurred at around 20,000 per year.

The SDP will also abolish the Tuition Grant Scheme (TGS) for foreign students. The TGS gives out about $200 million per year to foreign students studying in Singapore.

While foreign students enjoy such a benefit, many Singaporeans cannot afford the university education because they are poor. The SDP will scrap the TGS and instead introduce an interest-free student loan scheme for Singaporean students.

Dr Gomez also highlighted the concern of local academics about the disproportionate number of foreign staff in our universities.

To right the imbalance, the SDP's Singaporeans First policy will be used to ensure that Singaporean academics are given priority for academic positions and grants be provided local students who wish to pursue an academic career.

Read the entire paper Educating for Creativity and Equality: An Agenda for Transformation here.

This article was first published over at the SDP website on 18 May 2014. It is reproduced with permission. Note that The Domain of Singapore Tutoring Experts is not politically affiliated with any party/organization.


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