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Topic: [ncsm-members] Why high-flying Singapore wants more than grades
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
[ncsm-members] Why high-flying Singapore wants more than grades
Posted: Mar 26, 2017 5:42 PM
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From BBC NEWS, 8 March, 2017. See
Why high-flying Singapore wants more than grades

By Dr Lim Lai Cheng
[Singapore Management University]

Singapore is top of education rankings - but now wants to focus on well-being

Singapore is in top place in the international
rankings for education. But it wants the next
upgrade of its school system to focus on keeping
students positive and resilient.

Dr Lim Lai Cheng, former head of the prestigious
Raffles Institution school in Singapore and
director at the Singapore Management University,
explains the push for character as well as

It was no accident that Singapore created one of
the world's highest performing education systems
in five decades.

Reminiscent of the examinations for selecting
mandarins in old China, the road to success in
Singapore has always been focused on academic
credentials, based on merit and allowing equal
access for all.

This centralised system helped Singapore to
create social cohesion, a unity of purpose among
its schools and an ethos of hard work that many
nations envy.

But the purpose of the education system has
changed and Singapore in 2017 is no longer the
fledgling state it was in 1965.

Schools have become highly stratified and
competitive. More advantaged families are better
able to support their children with extra lessons
outside of school, such as enrichment classes in
mathematics, English, dance and music.

Those who can't afford this have to depend on
their children's own motivation and the resources
of the school to catch up.
SIDEBAR PHOTO: Image caption. Dr Lim Lai Cheng
says the school system needs to encourage
This social divide continues to widen because the
policies that had won the system its accolades -
based on the principle of meritocracy - no longer
support the social mobility they were meant to
bring about.

So work is in progress to tackle anything in the
system that seems to be working against social

This time around, it will no longer be enough to
develop a highly-skilled workforce to plug into
the global economy.

The next update of the education system will have
to ensure that Singapore can create a more
equitable society, build a stronger social
compact among its people while at the same time
develop capabilities for the new digital economy.

Government policies are moving away from parents
and students' unhealthy obsession with grades and
entry to top schools and want to put more
emphasis on the importance of values.

Schools have been encouraged, especially for the
early elementary years, to scrap standardised
examinations and focus on the development of the
whole child.
SIDEBAR PHOTO: Image caption. Singapore wants its
school system to help with character as well as
qualifications. Image copyright iStock
"Character scorecards" and "reflection journals"
have become the staple in many primary schools,
to allow parents to follow the social and
developmental progress of their children.

A number of schools have also adopted an approach
centred on well-being, as promulgated by Dr
Martin Seligman, director of the Positive
Psychology Center at the University of
Pennsylvania in the United States.

Dr Seligman's model advocates that academic
success and well-being form a double helix, and
that the best schooling must include educating
children on values and character, as well as how
to interact well with others, set goals for
themselves and work towards achieving those goals.

Positive education, a movement that is gaining
momentum across the world, works to create a
school culture that supports caring, trusting
SIDEBAR PHOTO: Image caption. Singapore has
built its modern economy on investments in
education. Image copyright iStock
It is an approach that focuses on specific skills
that assist students to build positive emotions,
enhance personal resilience, promote mindfulness
and encourage a healthy lifestyle.

This approach has worked well with schools that
are trying to implement the new syllabuses for
character and citizenship education, launched in
the last three years.

An important segment of the new curriculum, at
the primary level is family time, and how parents
should play an important role in inculcating the
right values in their children.

At the secondary and high school levels, "values
in action" programmes lie at the core of
educating young Singaporeans to be empathetic,
socially responsible and active citizens in their

For example, students work on projects that serve
the elderly, reach out to migrant workers and
read to latch-key children in day-care centres.
SIDEBAR PHOTO: Image caption. The emphasis is on
character and resilience as well as exam results.
Image copyright iStock
There have also been calls for more flexibility
over admissions to local top schools and
universities to encompass selection based on
character traits such as drive, resilience and

To enhance equity, the education ministry has
also attempted to spread resources more evenly
across schools by rotating experienced principals
to schools that need more attention and paying
more attention to academically weaker students by
strengthening vocational and skills training.

All round, government leaders have expounded a
wider definition of success beyond academic

The media and elite schools have been discouraged
from showcasing top students and their academic

There has also been a nationwide initiative
called SkillsFuture which puts, in the first
instance 500 Singapore dollars (£290) in the
hands of every Singaporean from age 25 onwards,
for them to pursue lifelong learning, build
personal mastery and pursue their passion.

An online databank with at least 10,000 courses
that Singaporeans can sign up for, to broaden or
deepen their skills or take on new hobbies, is
easily accessible.

School-based education and career guidance
counsellors are also provided at the primary to
tertiary levels, to nurture students'
self-awareness, self-directedness and life skills.

Drawn from people with industry experience, the
counsellors help students to explore education
and career options.

They should be able to help students with
information about the skills needed for the
digital economy, so that students can go beyond
what they learn for exams.

This is a softer approach - emphasising values
and character and trying to improve the link
between school and work. It's the search for the
next formula for education in Singapore.
Dr Lim Lai Cheng is executive director of SMU
Academy, Singapore Management University, former
head of the Raffles Institution in Singapore and
consultant on the board of Winter's International
School Finder.
Jerry P. Becker
Department of Curriculum & Instruction
College of Education and Human Services
Southern Illinois University Carbondale
625 Wham Drive / MC 4610
Carbondale, Illinois 62901

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