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).
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.