Singapore, world leader in education, bans student rankings

Singapore already one of the world’s top performers in education announced education reforms to de-emphasize competition and focus on individual development.

Singapore’s Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said students must begin to understand that “learning is not a competition.”

Singapore favours individual development over competition

According to the country’s Ministry of Education, the decision to abolish exam and class performance ratings is to enable each student to focus on individual learning progress. This change will ultimately discourage them from being focused on competition as opposed to learning and will decrease worry about how they perform compared to others.

As from next year, pupils in Primary 1 and 2 will no longer sit for any examinations. Any assessment scores they have for class placement will have little to do with their final grading. This, however, does not mean class teachers will not measure how young pupils and older students perform. Teachers will use interactive sessions, homework and class quizzes to gather information on students’ learning processes.

Rather than use exam marks and grades to evaluate how a student performs in his classwork, teachers will provide “qualitative descriptors” for pupils in Primary 1 and 2 classes. For those in higher primary classes and secondary schools, marks scored in each subject will be rounded off to a whole number without any decimals points. Parents will also be able to obtain information about their children’s class progress at parent-teacher meetings.

While speaking to about 1,700 school teachers and officials, the education minister said coming first or second in class will no longer be the sole determinant of a pupil’s brilliance. He said it is necessary to remove this traditional grading model so that students can understand that learning must not be about competition and comparison.

“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,” Ong Ye Kung said.

According to a 2012 survey of worldwide education called the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) Singapore ranked number two in math worldwide, only Shanghai-China ranked higher. Singapore was also the third-highest performing country in science and reading, after Shanghai-China and Hong Kong-China.

The U.S. ranked 27th in math, 17th in reading and 20th in science despite spending more than all but four countries per student. The move, announced by the Ministry of Education (MOE) will provide students with more time to adjust during “key transition stages”. Older students will also get more time to adjust to new subjects and higher content rigour, the ministry said.

Schools have done this without affecting results: Ong Ye Kung

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung described the changes as a step forward in improving the balance between the joy of learning and the rigour of education.

“It will send a strong signal that we are at a strong position of rigour, and can afford to unwind a bit without undermining the performance outcomes,” he said at a press conference.

This will also encourage teachers to explore more optimal ways of teaching, he said. For example, with an additional three weeks of curriculum time every two years, there could be more hands-on learning or investigative lessons.

“On the ground, teachers are on a high-speed train. Rushing, getting curriculum taught, and then do assessments, drills, and preparing the students for exams which is deemed as high-stakes,” he said. “I think it’s time to take a pause.”

“Judging from the schools that have already tried this, it hasn’t affected their PSLE, O-Level results or posting,” he said. “So I am confident that when implemented across the system, it should have a similar outcome.”


Learn for Life’ – preparing students to excel beyond exam results

* Building on efforts to move away from an over-emphasis on academic results, the Ministry of Education will be adjusting school-based assessment structures at the Primary and Secondary levels from 2019. To meet the challenges of an increasingly complex world, our students need to be lifelong learners. To nurture lifelong learners, we need to help our students discover more joy and develop stronger intrinsic motivation in learning.

* The adjustments to reduce school-based assessment load and perceived examination stakes aim to free up more time and space in schools to strengthen holistic development, self-discovery and engaged learning. These changes will provide more opportunities for student-centred teaching and learning approaches. This lays the groundwork for nurturing life-long learning attitudes and skills.

(A) Reducing the number of school-based assessments

* Schools will be making changes to school-based assessments in primary and secondary schools, to provide students with adequate time and space to adjust during the key transition stages. For the older students, it will also allow them more time to adjust to new subjects, and/or higher content rigour and expectations. These changes will be effected in stages.

* Currently, there are no semestral examinations for P1 and no Mid-Year Examination (MYE) for P2. From 2019, all weighted assessments and examinations for Primary One (P1) and Two (P2) students will be removed, and assessments conducted will not be counted to form any overall mark or grade. This includes removing the year-end examination at P2. Teachers will continue to leverage assessments to check for students’ understanding, and provide timely feedback to improve learning.

* Primary Three (P3), Primary Five (P5), Secondary One (S1) and Secondary Three (S3) are transition years, during which students will be exposed to new subjects and/or higher content rigour and expectations. We want to provide them with adequate time and space to adjust to the increased curriculum demands. Hence, the MYE for these levels will also be removed over the next three years (2019 to 2021), starting with the removal of MYE at S1 in 2019.

* This removal of MYE will free up to about three weeks of curriculum time for each two-year block (i.e. P3 and P4, P5 and P6, S1 and S2, S3 and S4). Schools will use this time to pace out teaching and learning and leverage engaging pedagogies to deepen understanding, and develop 21st Century competencies in students.

* In addition, besides the MYE and year-end examination (at levels1 where this is applicable), schools will conduct no more than one weighted assessment per subject, per school term for all levels starting from P3 to S4/5.

* Scores from weighted assessments count towards a student’s overall result in a subject for the year. Each weighted assessment may be assigned different weightings and can take various modes, e.g. class tests, quizzes, presentations, group projects.

(B) Refreshing the Holistic Development Profile

* The Holistic Development Profile (HDP), commonly known as the ‘report book’, will also be adjusted at all levels to better support a student’s learning progress. From 2019, the HDP will no longer present certain academic indicators such as class and level positions of the students. This is to enable each student to focus on his/her learning progress, and discourage excessive peer comparisons.

* With the removal of weighted assessments at P1 and P2 from 2019, MOE will guide schools to use qualitative descriptors to report students’ learning at these levels.

* For the other levels, where marks are used to report students’ learning, these will be rounded off and presented as whole numbers, without decimal points.

* With these changes, the reporting of each student’s progress in various domains will be better balanced, reducing excessive focus on marks.

* With the removal of all weighted assessments at P1 and P2, MOE will adjust the academic criteria for awarding the Edusave Merit Bursary (EMB) to P1 and P2 students and Edusave Good Progress Award (GPA) to P2 and P3 students.

(C) Revising the Criteria of Edusave Academic Awards for Lower Primary

* The selection of the EMB and GPA at these levels will no longer be based on academic scores, given that weighted assessments in P1 and P2 will be removed. Instead, the eligibility criteria for P1 and P2 EMB and P2 and P3 GPA will be adjusted to recognise positive learning orientations such as diligence, curiosity, collaboration and enthusiasm in daily lessons and learning activities.

(D) Shifting mind-sets, embracing change together

* Schools, educators and parents have important roles to play in preparing our children for the future. In addition to the values, skills and knowledge taught in the classroom, it is also important that our children have an enjoyable educational experience where they have the time and space to discover their strengths and become independent lifelong learners.

* MOE will engage parents, students and other stakeholders to help them understand and appreciate the changes. We will also continue to support schools and teachers in familiarising themselves with the changes, and in turn, enabling them to give that same support to affected parents and students. 

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