Singapore’s education system has traditionally been extremely demanding; a meritocratic framework that pushes stakeholders to achieve academic excellence, so that students can be moulded into productive units of labour in the future. From the strict design of pedagogies and curriculum to the series of standardised examinations, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has undergone great pains to not only make ten-year of basic education compulsory for all Singaporeans, but also to maintain the reputation of a premier teaching-learning hub. The entire organisation calls for individuals to consistently do their best year after year; through which the crème de la crème would be sieved out.
And the sacrifices have paid off. Even though there have been controversies over our students’ true linguistic abilities, Singapore’s overall literacy rate is one of the highest in the world, students excel in international rankings and universities, and the workforce is generally well-equipped with the fundaments and the relevant knowledge required. Nonetheless, all this assortment of benefits blind many to the real question that should be asked of the administration: at what costs are we enjoying these takeaways?
The recent deaths of two junior college students have once again highlighted the primary ramification from a highly-competitive and rigid education system: tremendous stress and pressure. Many might conveniently brush off such assertions as ludicrous, establishing the opinion that kids need to get used to stress sooner or later, and that they should be taught how to manage such pressures per se, instead of being lulled into false senses of comfort. However, when this stress originates from rote-learning, memorisation and the regurgitation of facts for the sake of acing examinations, where exactly are the positives? Most students who have experienced multiple major examinations should share the sentiments of painful preparations in the hope of fulfilling expectations from within and without: parents and teachers who expect nothing but the best.
The school needs to be more than a place for the dispensing and dull feeding of information; it needs to be a platform for students to shine in their areas of expertise, providing channels for questioning, interaction and discussion. How often have we felt that we were fed up with school: it had taught us how to read, write, think and analyse – so was there really a need to pedantically cloud our mind with information and textbook narratives that we may never come into contact with ever again?
With the evolving global landscape, it would not be soon before pure academic excellence and mere superiority within a school-based sanctuary would cease to be the accepted recipes for success. People who would truly find joy and triumph in life would be those who have stuck close to their passions regardless of the peripheral pressures, moving beyond the antiquated notions of traditional Singaporean pragmatism. Parents too must accept that there is no fixed script for success; failing an examination would prove to be insignificant if their child can dedicatedly find a way to make things work.