WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Education that prepares children for the changes in the decades to come is vital, and Singapore have one of the most ambitious education visions of any country.
By whatever yard stick you care to measure it by Singapore has one of the highest achieving education systems in the world, even as China attempts to de-throne it by rolling out the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) across its entire school system to monitor and improve the performance of students, and this week their Education Minister Ong Ye Kung announced the country’s government is eliminating all forms of student performance rankings in all of its schools, dropping exams for younger students and de-emphasising, but not entirely eliminating, individual subject grades, effective immediately, and yes, you heard that right – in Singapore will no longer matter whether a child comes first or finishes last in their class.
It’s a revolutionary idea that has all the hallmarks of either visionary thinking, or a catastrophe in the making, and only time will tell which, but that said the idea of eliminating, or at least de-emphasising grades, as we head into an era of accelerating and almost unprecedented technological and societal change, thanks, for example, to the developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics to name but two, isn’t a new one. It’s also one of the foundations of Elon Musk’s private school Ad Astra that I’ve discussed before in my Future of Education 2020 to 2070 report, and the idea is also catching on elsewhere too. In theory at least if not yet in practise.
According to a 2012 survey of worldwide education called the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) Singapore ranked number two in maths worldwide, with only Shanghai in China ranking higher. Singapore was also the third-highest performing country in science and reading, again after Shanghai and also Hong Kong. The US meanwhile ranked 27th in math, 17th in reading and 20th in science despite spending more than all but four countries per student.
Ong Ye Kung said the main driver behind the idea was the fact that in Singapore they believe students shouldn’t see education as a competition but as a life long experience to be cherished and nurtured. Furthermore, to drive the point home he also announced the following performance details will also be dropped in class report sheets effective immediately, including class and level mean, minimum and maximum marks, underlining and, or, colouring of failing marks, pass and fail for the end of year results, mean subject grades, and overall total marks.
“The decision behind the wide ranging initiative to abolish exam and class performance ratings came from our desire to enable each student to focus on their individual learning progress,” he said. “This change will ultimately discourage [students] from being focused on competition as opposed to learning and will decrease worry about how they perform compared to others.”
As of next year pupils in Singapore’s Primary 1 and 2 classes will also no longer sit any kind of exams, and any assessment scores they’re given will have little to do with their final grading.
All of this, however, does not mean that teachers won’t measure how their young pupils and older students are performing though because they’ll still be using class quizzes, homework, and interactive sessions to gather information on their students’ learning processes and progress. And rather than using exam marks and grades to evaluate how their students are performing teachers will now instead provide “Qualitative descriptors” for pupils in Primary 1 and 2 classes.
For those in higher primary classes and secondary schools their marks for each subject will be rounded off to a whole number and parents will still be able to obtain information about their children’s progress at their regular parent-teacher meeting sessions.
“Coming first or second in class will no longer be the sole determinant of a pupil’s brilliance,” said Ong Ye Kung, talking in front of over 1,700 teachers at a recent conference, adding, “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.”