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Singapore Youth Festival: So, What Exactly Has Changed?

1. Several news platforms broke the story that Chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, Mr. Lim Biow Chuan, had confirmed changes to the structure of the annual Singapore Youth Festival (SYF). At first glance, this move appears to be in line with the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) intent to minimise competitive sentiments with the performing arts in school, as it did in 2005 when it replaced two-tiered assessments with a single-tiered benchmarking exercise; however, upon closer inspection this time round, what exactly are the changes? These sentiments were articulated on cyberspace (here), and their concerns were not unfounded.

A quick comparison (above) shows that nothing has really changed. The Straits Times noted that the mark range for the highest standard has been lowered (from 85 marks), the Gold (with Honours) award has been removed, and the event will be known as SYF Celebrations. By persisting with the status quo of “no-change”, the Ministry of Education (MOE) ends up pleasing nobody.

2. Proponents for making the SYF non-competitive argue that students should experience and appreciate the joys of performance, instead of being unduly obsessed with the results they obtain. I am more inclined to take an opposing view, because I believe that elements of benchmarking and friendly contests would heighten motivation, they encourage participants to aim higher, and provide impetus for a collective group of students to work hard for each other. They say that long hours of practice could be detrimental to a child’s academic-scholastic progress, but I – on the contrary – believe that it emphasises the value of discipline (to get something, you have to work hard at it), and the importance of time management and straddling between commitments (which has to be intelligently facilitated by the teachers-in-charge).

There are so many ways to make changes meaningful, but we have ended up right back at where we started.

Some might also say that you cannot “judge” art; nonetheless, realistically, one would be hard-pressed to find instances – in our arts and culture domain – where competition is absent. Critics may contest the selection processes of international competitions or rankings, but it is hard to deny that for individuals and groups who possess so much finesse, an award or recognition would do their talents tremendous justice.

3. I am slightly miffed that the changes have been largely cosmetic, and that we did not take the opportunity to explore other recommendations for the SYF. For instance, do the participating bodies think it is important to have qualitative feedback from the judges on how the performance went, instead of just an award / certification / whatever the organising committee comes up with? If the judging panel can explain to the contesting orchestras or casts their expectations and justifications for decisions, rendering the SYF criteria more stringent could actually be constructive. Participants understand why particular schools have been awarded the highest honour, and consequently aspire to increase their personal proficiency and coordination to attain that level, and beyond.

[Correction: SYF provides schools with comments and remarks from judges in an evaluation report. I stand corrected (unless this report is not communicated to students for reflection or sharing purposes).]

For groups that might not have performed as ideally, should they be given a second chance to present their pieces again? Could there be sharing sessions for educators and students to publicly share their SYF experiences, and they lessons they might have learnt through the years or months of hard work? There are so many ways to make changes meaningful, but we have ended up right back at where we started.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.


9 thoughts on “Singapore Youth Festival: So, What Exactly Has Changed?

  1. Actually, the participants and mentors are notified on how well they have performed, and the paucity of skills and artistry that are still inherent in their performances, with a follow-up judges’ report on their overall performance.

    And yes, I do agree that the only thing that has changed is the title of the awards (like honestly, isn’t it pretty obvious that Certificate of Distinction = Gold, Certificate of Accomplishment = Silver, Certificate of Commendation = Bronze).

    Posted by Popper's Penguin | November 12, 2012, 11:16 am
  2. I feel that although the rationale for such a move is reasonable and well-intentioned, there is a misconception as to the key issue behind all these unhealthy competition and how we should go about eradicating this problem. I do agree with the fact that today, many students are faced with much stress and are engaged in unhealthy competition, being forced by their parents and teachers to strive for the best. Some are made to suffer even more when they fail to meet their parents’ expectations, despite trying their best, and are reprimanded for not working hard enough, or worse still, not being capable enough. But i think the key to solving this problem is not by removing ranking and positions, nor is it by renaming a ‘festival’ to a ‘celebration’. Instead, we have to tackle the mindset that firstly, success is determined by what you ultimately get and not the amount of effort you put in. Next, the mindset that if one fails, one will not be recognised and will not succeed in life. The result of having such negative mindsets is that students suffer from much stress and are willing to resort to any means just so as to get their hands on the ultimate prize. We should learn, that the fault is not with assessment. There is nothing wrong with giving students prizes, awards. Not only does that drive them to work harder to achieve the result they want, but it also acts as a form of reward for those who have willingly put in the effort and have worked hard. What needs to change is the attitude towards the results. Students, and parents, have to dare to fail. Students and parents, have to understand that the student should try his or her best, and put in his utmost effort, but if he fails, there is nothing to be ashamed of, there is nothing to be embarrassed about, its merely another step closer to success. It is truly ironic that in comprehensions or discussions in class, we are taught numerous case studies of great people who have become successful because they never said never, yet we are not emulating their examples in real life. Jin Yao, I agree with your proposals on what can be done to actually improve the SYF so that the students can benefit more from the activity itself. But in addition to that, I believe it is time for us to shift the mindsets of Singaporeans, so that we can progress as a society.

    And I will still lovingly refer to SYF as SYF, not SYC.

    Posted by JY | November 13, 2012, 10:26 am
  3. And now that the SYF 2013 is almost over. You’d realise how adjudicators have become more lenient too. In quite a number of CCAs, not a single Certificate of Commendation (the lowest — “bronze”) was given. More Distinctions given than Accomplishments. I wonder if there would be a long-term lowering of skills and standards effect in the following years, except for the very motivated.

    Posted by karmeleon | April 28, 2013, 8:36 pm
    • Those are fascinating observations. Do you have the document detailing the awards? Not a single CoC was issued across the board?

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | April 28, 2013, 8:46 pm
      • There’s no such document lah. You can just go to the SYF results website to look at all the results to-date. All results in except for JC Chinese Orchestra/GZ Ens which run this week and JC Band which is next week. Of course some of the Categories show some CoCs were given, but some categories, eg. CL drama, ML dance, gamelan, angklung, strings, chinese orchestra, … no CoCs. It’s just an observation.

        Posted by karmeleon | April 28, 2013, 9:23 pm
  4. I disagree. I was with River Valley Concert Band in the early 2000s and took part in SYF 2003. The obsession with achieving the top honours was taking its toll on the students. Practices can take place for 6 times a week, sometimes 7 in the penultimate week. Each training is 4 to 6 hours long. The conductor Chan Peck Suan will spend hours perfecting a single bar. I used to love music before that but I hate it afterwards.

    I do not appreciate the piece of music playing music like Spartacus which is beyond our level. I get scolded for the stingiest of mistake.

    Ever since the SYF has made changes, I heard from the later batch that the school cease focusing on the top grades and students were afforded breathing space. No more 6 times a week training.

    Posted by Boy | September 23, 2015, 4:30 am


  1. Pingback: Singapore Youth Festival: Why Mollycoddle Them? « guanyinmiao's musings - November 14, 2012

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