'Over-reliant on this security blanket': Ong Ye Kung addresses exam reduction concerns

'Over-reliant on this security blanket': Ong Ye Kung addresses exam reduction concerns

Speaking at a conference on Wednesday (Oct 3), Mr Ong said he was relieved that there was "no negative uproar" to the changes, which were announced on Friday (Sep 28). But he also raised some "valid concerns" about the change that he said parents had expressed.

ong ye kung file
File photo of Ong Ye Kung. (Photo: Justin Ong)

SINGAPORE: A focus on the “true spirit of learning” is needed, said Education Minister Ong Ye Kung on Wednesday (Oct 3) as he addressed concerns over the recent announcement on plans to reduce examinations and assessments in schools.

Speaking at the Singapore International Technical and Vocational Education and Training Conference, Mr Ong said that by default, people tend to assess how well a child is doing in school by his examination scores, but noted that education is a holistic developmental experience that goes “far beyond grades and marks”. 

READ: Parents laud MOE's push to go beyond exams, grades but hope more can be done

READ: Teachers, principals welcome reduction in school assessments 

“Examinations have become such a comfortable security blanket that a large part of the education experience revolves around examinations,” he said. 

“As a system and society, we have been over-reliant on this security blanket.

“Before it smothers us, we need to start to withdraw it somewhat, and focus on the true spirit of learning,” he added.

“Between a child acing his examinations but hating the thought of going to school, versus another scoring average grades but delighted to attend school and learn – who is doing better?” he said.

“It is hard to say.”


Mr Ong noted that “to his great relief”, there was no “negative uproar” to the changes, adding that he was uncertain about how parents would react. In fact, he added, many parents wrote encouraging and supportive messages to him since he made the announcement.

However, he highlighted two concerns which he heard immediately following the announcements, pointing out that these are “valid worries and apprehension” about the changes.

The first concern, he said, was if the system was starting to slacken and lose its rigour. “I am very confident that this is not,” he said. 

He stressed that for students, the change does not mean that there is less or no need to study, pointing out that schools will have about three more weeks of curriculum time every two school years. 

“We will use this time to teach you better, so that you can learn better, because teachers don’t have to rush through the curriculum in order to prepare for examinations,” he said. “So take this opportunity to study well and enjoy school and learning more.” 

Speaking to reporters later on the sideline of the event,  Mr Ong stressed that while there is a reduction in the number of examinations, there is no reduction in rigour.

He said without the exams or tests at the Primary 1 and Primary 2 levels that count towards the student’s final-year results, the requirement for rigour is, in fact, even higher.

“As a teacher, as a parent, you really have to understand the child, their learning progress and their approach. And by understanding the child deeper, you can actually have more qualitative inputs and qualitative assessments.”

As for the other levels where one in four exams are being removed, Mr Ong said there is still a system of class tests and year-end examinations that allow rigour to be upheld.

“Remember, we are starting from a point of very high rigour,” he said. “Now, we are just calibrating it to have a better balance between joy and rigour.”


The second concern, he said, was the opposite of the first: Whether schools and tuition centres will undo the change by re-introducing other assessments like common tests or mock exams. 

“We can worry less about the schools,” he said, describing the change as a “concerted shift” by the entire education system. “Prior to the announcements, MOE spent three days discussing the matter with principals and vice-principals, and they supported the move.” 

He added that MOE has given guidelines to the schools to limit the number of tests that will count towards their students’ year-end results. 

He also strongly urged tuition centres not to simulate “examination-like conditions” for students to make up for the lost examinations, noting that there are a few who have said they will do so. 

“Doing so would just be preying on the apprehension and anxieties of parents and students,” he said. 

“Instead, try to understand why these changes are important to better prepare our young for the future, and help explain this to parents.”

“You are going against a very well-thought-out policy which I think has quite good support among students, teachers, and parents,” he told reporters later.

 “So please work with us.”  

Source: CNA/ng(mn)