How the removal of all Primary and Secondary Mid Year Examinations in 2023 will affect your child?

As with all educational systems, there were many changes over the years that have been made to ensure that the learning conditions are conducive to a student’s development. And for the first time in Singapore's education history, both primary and secondary school students will no longer sit for mid-year examinations this year. 

With 2023 well under­way, you may already be aware of a major adjust­ment in your child’s school. For the first time in Singapore’s edu­ca­tion his­to­ry, your child, whether he/she is in pri­ma­ry or sec­ondary school, would not have to sit for a mid-year examination.This game-chang­ing announce­ment last year by edu­ca­tion min­is­ter, Mr Chan Chun Sing. The new rule that all gov­ern­ment schools must fol­low is that mid-year exam­i­na­tions are to be removed for “all Pri­ma­ry and Sec­ondary school lev­els” by 2023.

This removal of mid-year exam­i­na­tions also stretch­es to apply to Pri­ma­ry 6 and Sec­ondary 4/5 stu­dents who are sit­ting for the PSLE and GCE N and O Lev­el exam­i­na­tions respec­tive­ly. The ratio­nale for this major change is clear- The Min­istry of Edu­ca­tion wish­es to intro­duce a new learn­ing cul­ture in Sin­ga­pore. Quot­ing Mr Chan, the min­istry wants to see stu­dents “focus more on their learn­ing and less on marks”. This puts schools in a direc­tion to ded­i­cate more time to “self-direct­ed learn­ing and devel­op­ing 21st-cen­tu­ry com­pe­ten­cies”. The mes­sage is clear. A child should be groomed to be inde­pen­dent learn­ers who are equipped with the tools to suc­ceed in an ever-chang­ing world. Doing well for exam­i­na­tions is not the pri­or­i­ty and should take a back­seat. This posi­tion brings Sin­ga­pore edu­ca­tion clos­er to the mod­el of inter­na­tion­al schools.

In many inter­na­tion­al schools, gen­er­al learn­ing as opposed to exam-tak­ing is the pri­ma­ry focus. There are of course tests and exam­i­na­tions but they are com­par­a­tive­ly sparse and less rig­or­ous. How­ev­er, there is one sig­nif­i­cant fea­ture of the inter­na­tion­al school pro­gres­sion that is impor­tant to note. In inter­na­tion­al schools, stu­dents are vir­tu­al­ly guar­an­teed pro­gres­sion from Ele­men­tary school to Mid­dle school to High school. So although there is a final exam­i­na­tion to sit for, the results of the final exam­i­na­tion does not impact as much on what school the stu­dent would be able to get into. With less at stake, stu­dents, par­ents and teach­ers can afford to fix­ate less on exam­i­na­tions and focus more on learn­ing and hon­ing oth­er skills.

The same can­not be said of the sit­u­a­tion in Sin­ga­pore. The PSLE and the GCE N and O Lev­els car­ry a lot more weight. Your child’s per­for­mance in these exam­i­na­tions deter­mine the stream, the school and the sub­jects he or she would qual­i­fy for in the next step of his or her edu­ca­tion jour­ney. There is so much on the line. Thus, it is doubt­ed whether stu­dents, par­ents and teach­ers can tru­ly take their mind off tests and exam­i­na­tions. That is not to say that this new posi­tion adopt­ed by the Min­istry of Edu­ca­tion was a wrong or bad one. It just needs the fol­low­ing tweaks in our gen­er­al mind­set:

Be open about the importance of examinations in Singapore

As men­tioned, exam­i­na­tions in local schools car­ry much impor­tance and sig­nif­i­cance. Slash­ing the num­ber of exam­i­na­tions that stu­dents take in a year could cause more wor­ry. Mid-year exam­i­na­tions serve as moti­va­tion to stu­dents to revise their work. They also serve as a check on stu­dents’ progress and also help stu­dents fine-tune their exam-tak­ing skills. Hav­ing only one com­plete exam­i­na­tion at the end of the year might over­whelm stu­dents and give them too late a wake-up call should they not per­form up to expec­ta­tions.

Recognise that different stages of education should have a different emphasis

The move to direct teach­ing at impor­tant life skills as opposed to exam-tak­ing skills should be applaud­ed. How­ev­er, as the old adage goes, there is a right time for every­thing. The PSLE and the GCE N and O Lev­els are piv­otal. Stu­dents would want to (and should) do their best for them. As such, there should be ample time carved out in schools to pre­pare stu­dents for these exam­i­na­tions.

Pri­ma­ry 5 and 6 are cru­cial years. So too are the years from Sec­ondary 3, 4 to 5. As such, these years should be ded­i­cat­ed to exam excel­lence. As for the low­er years, this is when stu­dents have the time and the head­space to explore inter­ests and strength­en their love for learn­ing.

Being ‘real’ and clear about the objectives of every level

At Think Teach, we are clear on what we want to help stu­dents achieve at every stage of their learn­ing jour­ney. We have expert­ly designed our cur­ricu­lum to reflect this.

Primary 1 to 2: Discover your love for learning

This is the begin­ning of a child’s long (and hope­ful­ly) enjoy­able edu­ca­tion jour­ney. Let’s not kill the fun with exam­i­na­tions. Remov­ing all exam­i­na­tions at this stage is the right move. What we focus on is to intro­duce fun and hands-on activ­i­ties where stu­dents dis­cov­er the joy of and their love for learn­ing.

Primary 3 to 4: Explore your interest

Pri­ma­ry 3 and 4 are still con­sid­ered ear­ly years. Instead of the strong empha­sis on exam­i­na­tions, we sup­port stu­dents to explore their inter­ests in the lan­guages, math­e­mat­ics and/or sci­ence. They con­duct exper­i­ments in sci­ence, build shapes and form num­ber pat­terns in math­e­mat­ics and read chil­dren sto­ries, poet­ry and cur­rent affairs in Eng­lish and Chi­nese. We cov­er a lot of ground in the hopes that some­thing would strike a chord in your child and spur him or her to explore that even fur­ther.

Primary 5 to 6: Prepare for PSLE success

Alas, the PSLE looms large ahead. With 2 years left on the clock, it is time to turn our atten­tion to this major nation­al exam­i­na­tion. We are unabashed­ly exam-cen­tric in these final years of pri­ma­ry school. With so much on the line, we expose stu­dents to smart tech­niques and skills which would aid them to achieve PSLE suc­cess. We have our mock exam­i­na­tions and block quizzes to keep our stu­dents on their toes and get them used to the demands of exam-tak­ing. We believe in ear­ly and ample prepa­ra­tion.

Secondary 1 to 4: Prepare for streaming and the GCE N and O Levels

For­tu­nate­ly or unfor­tu­nate­ly, in addi­tion to the GCE O and N Lev­els, sec­ondary school stu­dents in Sin­ga­pore are streamed in Sec­ondary 2. Their per­for­mance in the end-of-year exam­i­na­tions would deter­mine the sub­jects and the lev­el of the sub­jects they are allowed to take in upper Sec­ondary.

Again, with so much on the line for these exam­i­na­tions, we want to come in to com­ple­ment the work done in schools. Stu­dents are encour­aged to explore and deep­en their inter­ests in school. And when they come to us, we pre­pare them for any test and exam­i­na­tion that they might encounter along the way. What we want is to make sure stu­dents are fir­ing on all cylin­ders. Why? Because one of the most defeat­ing and dis­em­pow­er­ing feel­ings is when a stu­dent is inter­est­ed in a sub­ject but that inter­est does not trans­late to grades.

In sum, this arti­cle is a response to the Min­istry of Edu­ca­tions’ new pol­i­cy on remov­ing mid-end exam­i­na­tions for all lev­els of Pri­ma­ry and Sec­ondary school. While we recog­nise the good inten­tions of the min­istry, we are real­ists at heart. At the end of the day, the PSLE and the GCE O and N lev­els con­tin­ue to hold much weight in deter­min­ing a child’s future direc­tion in his/her edu­ca­tion jour­ney. As such, these exam­i­na­tions should not be down­played. Stu­dents should also receive a good amount of coach­ing which puts them in the best pos­si­ble posi­tion for suc­cess.

The removal of mid-end exam­i­na­tions might allow teach­ers to focus on oth­er impor­tant skills. But hon­ing one’s exam-tak­ing skills is impor­tant too. The last thing we want is for stu­dents to enter the exam­i­na­tion hall and be caught with their pants down!

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