(Article Source: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/view/405140/1/.html)
S$4.5b to be spent in next 10 years to revamp primary school system
By Hoe Yeen Nie, Channel NewsAsia | Posted: 27 January 2009 1917 hrs
SINGAPORE: Big changes are in store for Singapore's primary school system. Over the next ten years, more schools will be built and more teachers recruited on a budget of S$4.5 billion.
But what will surely get the attention of parents is a plan to do away with examinations for students in Primary 1 and 2.
Senior Minister of State for Education Grace Fu, chairperson of Primary Education Review and Implementation (PERI) Committee, said: "We'd like our students to enjoy the process of learning, and therefore having assessment that is tailored to the way that we teach is important.
"Having them sit through very important year-end exams may not be the best idea and I think there are better ways of assessing their progress. We can find better substitutes than just a one-off examination at year-end."
Instead of examinations, the PERI Committee has recommended that schools introduce bite-sized tests for Primary 1 and 2 students, and for parents to be given regular updates on the children's progress.
Telok Kurau Primary School did just that in 2006, but some parents were concerned about the changes where assessments take the form of project work and oral presentations.
Wilbur Wong, principal of Telok Kurau Primary School, said: "They say, 'Oh! Now you don't have the mid-year exams, how do I know how my child is? How do I know how much they have learnt?' But the reassurance needs to go out to the parents that no final year exam doesn't mean no assessment."
To change the way children learn in schools, all Primary 1s and 2s will also get more exposure to sports and the arts through their curriculum.
This comes under the new Programme for Active Learning (PAL) where students will have to participate in modular activities in two broad areas – Sports & Outdoor Education and Performing & Visual Arts. These activities will take up to two hours each week.
The broad strokes of these initiatives were announced at the Education Ministry's (MOE) Workplan Seminar last September. Since then, the taskforce led by Ms Fu has held several public consultation exercises to hammer out the details.
The PERI Committee has recommended that 18 new primary schools be built to aid the move towards a single-session structure by 2016. It has also suggested that schools should have the flexibility to decide on their start and end times.
MOE will work with the Land Transport Authority and school bus operators on transportation issues once the recommendations are accepted by Education Minister Ng Eng Hen.
More facilities will also be added for more voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) to provide student care services.
Ms Fu said: "We have a segment in our society where the children may not have a good home environment to go back to. It could be that their parents are working or they may have problems at home. So the child needs a safe environment in the school where a VWO could help them."
The report by the PERI Committee was the result of discussions with educators and the public.
A lot of public feedback was given to the suggestion to recruit only degree-holders for teaching positions by 2015.
The committee said it recognises the need for MOE to improve the standard of its teaching pool, but it said interest and aptitude should always take priority, no matter how academically brilliant the applicant may be.
And besides plans to beef up MOE's pool of teacher aides, more training will also be given to existing teachers.
废除低年级考试 小三生负担或增(Article Source: http://www.xin.sg/article.php?article=28313&st=dtl)
29 January 2009 2123hrs
Second, my personal thoughts:
1) Format adjustments - Bit-sized tests for Primary 1 and Primary 2 students may not be effective because unless bit-sized tests are also introduced throughout the entire primary school systems all the way and abolish PSLE, those tests will not prepare the students for the very different form of learning from Primary 3 to Primary 6. Imagine the chaos when the students who had gotten used to learning bit-sized tests are then to change to textbook based and final exam formats? Nothing has been mentioned about how to help those who may be maladjusted to the system switches at such a young age. It seems that the Ministry of Education just assumes that the students can smoothly transit to a completely different form of learning.
2) Suitability - Bit-sized tests will add even further pressure on the Primary 1 and Primary 2 students because they will have to be constantly at their toes throughout the entire two years to make sure their "continual assessments" are not poorly done to drag down their overall changes.
Of course, proponents say this will be a good way to push students to work hard throughout the year rather than cram for the final couple of months but we are talking about very young students who may not even be getting used to public schools, let alone project work and oral presentations which involves complex team and presentation skills.
3) Training of teachers - It may sound cool to train very young students who are able to form into teams, actively research and present their findings in stunning presentations but are our school teachers properly-trained to know how to handle teams, team-related problems and accurately assess the quality of the research and presentations?
I already have ongoing complaints from people around me that there are problems of free-loaders during project work, conflicts between team members, research being aided by overly-protective parents and marred presentations due to stage fright. Does the Ministry of Education have enough experience in tackling such issues before allowing these new myriad of problems plague those young students?
4) Psychological Barriers - Let's face it - not every student is suitable for teamwork, research work, oral presentations, sports, outdoor education, performing and visual arts. Imagine that kind of psychological strain when students, especially at their nascent study years, start to realize that they may be so far behind those who are exceptionally talented in one or more of those areas.
Of course, one may argue that it is a blessing for the nation to discover the truly talented ones and nurture them from young but what about the average Joe or Jane? Are these students to suffer the possibly self-imposed, peer-imposed, teacher-imposed or parent-imposed sense of inferior complex and start to wane in their interest in being basically educated since they realized their average creative competencies will never be able to match those talented peers?
Are the education system or the school teachers ready and properly-trained to address and dispel such a possible pervasive sense of hopelessness in the average Joe or Jane, or just leave them to their fates as what it is being done now in schools with "bit-sized tests"?
5) Implementation feasibility - Let's look at the infamous workload of teachers in Singapore. If the new proposals go through as being said, teachers will have to provide even more regular updates on the progress of each individual student to their respective parents. My personal thoughts now shift to the following questions: How much more time can we squeeze from the average school teacher away from lesson planning time, lesson time, marking time, department meeting time, CCA time, upgrading time, seminar & workshop time, parent-meeting time to do those regular progress updates?
Are the school teachers trained to properly communicate such minute progresses to the parents who may not understand how such minute progresses work at all? What happens if there is a conflict of opinions about those minute progresses between the teachers and the parents? How much more time and effort are needed to resolve those conflicts and do the Ministry of Education have the means to do so?
To conclude - I think the Ministry of Education has good intentions to vary the education system to make it more interesting and nurturing. But if they try to actualize such a drastic change to these young students without considering the above-mentioned questions, it may actually make things worse.
As of now, schools with such bit-sized tests have already forced students to sleep far fewer hours every night just to make the datelines each week or even every few days and these older students are already suffering from education trauma because they neither have enough rest for their bodies, enough time to digest the information and skills which they might have acquired or enough space to flex those skills because weighing on these bit-sized tests are still the looming shadows of the final exam papers - PSLE, O Levels and A Levels.
Is our education environment, students, teachers and parents even ready for the bit-sized tests at any school level? We seem to be still struggling with no clear solution in sight. Dare we impose such chaos on our young Primary 1 and Primary 2 students?
I hope not.