Cancelling year-end exams means more time to overcome disruptions caused by COVID-19, say teachers
SINGAPORE: Teachers are relieved that year-end examinations for Primary 3 and 4 students have been cancelled, but they told CNA that they still have concerns about catching up on the curriculum.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) announced the cancellation on Thursday (Oct 7), explaining that the move will allow more time for “curriculum recovery” due to disruptions from COVID-19 .
There are about 79,000 students in Primary 3 and 4 in total.
The Government had earlier placed all primary and special education schools on home-based learning from Sep 27 to Oct 6 amid a rise in COVID-19 cases. This was later extended to Oct 7 as an "added precaution".
“Actually (I felt) more of relief, because the HBL (home-based learning) is very near the exam period,” said a mathematics and English teacher to Primary 4 students. She only wanted to be known as Angeline*.
Leading up to this period, as cases in Singapore spiked, so did the number of children on quarantine order or leave of absence. There were also those who received health risk warnings and needed to stay home.
Students would often be unable to attend school because of COVID-19 related reasons, she added.
“There’s a lot of disruption in terms of their learning. And I find it a little unfair that these students didn’t get the whole learning experience. We send their work home, of course. For some students, their parents are able to go through it with them, but not all,” Angeline told CNA.
“No exams is a good thing, so we can concentrate on the teaching, rather than on the testing.”
Although the two-week period leading up to the year-end examinations is typically spent revising, teachers CNA spoke to said the disruptions throughout the year meant most of them are still trying to finish the syllabus.
The students were more unprepared for exams this year than previous batches, they said.
“Sometimes even when there was no home-based learning, there were kids who were in and out of school, on leave of absence, and everything was so disruptive for all of the students,” said Matthew*, who teaches mathematics and English to Primary 3 and 4 students.
All his students, regardless of whether they were strong or weak in the subjects, or whether they had home support or not, were affected by these disruptions, he added.
“And then there was the lingering fear from the kids, like oh, what will happen if I get COVID?” Matthew said.
“Without the exams, I hope that we can use the time to recover content, and not just recover content but maybe bring back that little bit of joy of learning back into the students’ education,” he added.
“It’s been quite a mad rush, the kids have been glued to their screens for quite a long time this year.
“I hope that with the removal of the exams for the P3s and 4s maybe we can have a little bit more experiential learning in the class, instead of just teaching for the tests, which is what we would have had to do if they didn’t cancel the exams.”
CONCERNS ABOUT COMPLETING THE SYLLABUS, GRADING STUDENTS
Although they agreed that cancelling the examinations was a beneficial move, there were concerns about finishing the syllabus.
Nicole*, who teaches mathematics, English and social studies to Primary 3 students, said that she and her colleagues were “really worried” about this. And that's even though her school had earlier decided to drop some topics from the end-of-year examinations.
“When I first heard the news I was really happy that we wouldn't have to rush to cover the syllabus, and also the kids wouldn't have to be so stressed about being assessed for something that they are not prepared for,” she told CNA.
She gave an example of the students in her English class.
She said they did not manage to do any composition writing in the first semester, and she could tell they were very unprepared after recently assigning them a composition writing exercise.
“So I could see that they were not ready for an exam. I think also coming out of the HBL, no one wants to come out and immediately go for an exam,” Nicole said.
Her colleagues who taught the previous cohort of Primary 3 students, who are now in Primary 4, said that the home-based learning periods of 2020 also disrupted their learning and coverage of the syllabus.
“What they found was that this batch of Primary 4 kids are very very weak, and they don’t have the foundations they would have had if HBL hadn’t occurred,” Nicole said.
Her colleagues found themselves spending time teaching the Primary 4 students concepts that they should have learnt in Primary 3, from scratch. And this affected the amount of curriculum time left for this year’s topics, she added.
“In that sense, calling off the year-end exams gives us the extra weeks to cover what we have to cover, and hopefully this batch of Primary 3 kids won’t have the same problem as the Primary 4s.”
Some teachers were also worried about having to grade the students based on previous assessments instead.
In its announcement on Thursday, MOE had said that schools can draw on information from “a range of school-based assessments” conducted throughout the year to report students’ learning progress and provide feedback.
They can also use such assessments to make recommendations on students’ subject combinations where necessary, it added. For example, when students move from Primary 4 to Primary 5, they can decide whether to take Standard or Foundation level for specific subjects.
“Though weighted assessments throughout the year are fair, they might not accurately reflect the progress the students have made over the year, said Rachel* who teaches Primary 5 students.
If the Primary 4 students enter Primary 5 next year and are differentiated according to the different kinds of learning support given, this may not cater closely to their learning progress, she added.
Teachers who taught the students in Primary 4 and Primary 5 would have to have deeper conversations to properly assess the students’ aptitude and attitude for learning more accurately, Rachel said.
“I think with fewer opportunities to take the full examination this year, students will be more overwhelmed when taking the full examination next year,” she added.
Primary 4 students may be affected by the year-end exam cancellations “to a certain extent” because there are elements in the exams that will decide whether they take a subject at the Standard or Foundation level in Primary 5, Rachel told CNA.
But teachers usually know the academic progress of their students, and would be able to advise parents with the student’s weighted assessment results, she stressed.
“Ultimately, after the school’s recommendation, parents usually do have a final say on the level of subjects the students will be taking.”
The COVID-19 measures in schools cause a lot of stress for students, and this may have affected their weighted assessments as well, said Nicole.
Other students may also have missed the assessments because they were on quarantine order, leave of absence, or had to stay home because a relative had acute respiratory symptoms, she added.
“No matter how much the school tries to bridge that gap by having online lessons, and using SLS (student learning space) to assign stuff, I think it’s still very hard for the child to really learn in that kind of environment,” Nicole said.
“It's really really sad. Every morning there's a series of questions that we have to ask, like any of your family members have to be swabbed, and so on. It's so overwhelming for them and during recess they cannot talk to their friends, they cannot play.”
Jane*, who teaches Primary 1 and 3 students, said there will probably be some form of informal assessments to see how well students have understood the topics and check whether they can be promoted to the next level.
“It (grading students) will definitely be a challenge because this is not something that we have experienced before, we’ve always had the end-of-year exams, so as of now, we’re also not sure as to how we’ll be assessing the students,” she said, adding that she expects to find out more when students return to school next week.
STUDENTS HAPPY EXAMS CANCELLED
With exams being cancelled, students were also “very happy” and even “overjoyed” at the news, teachers told CNA.
“It’ll also give teachers more time to focus on the emotional aspects of our students… The HBL has impacted them in some ways, be it lack of social connection… or there may not be a conducive environment for HBL to take place,” Jane said.
“The first thing we want to do as a school is of course check in with them, about how they are, how they’ve been dealing with home-based learning, how the situation is at home, so we’ll check in with them.”
There were groups of parents who were worried about their children losing steam and focus, and had pumped in more effort at home to prepare them for the year-end examinations, said Rachel.
“Without the last assessment of the year, some of them may be disappointed that their efforts may not come to fruit as they may not be able to gauge their learning progress. Some students may even lose the motivation to study hard without a clear goal in mind for the year.
“Nonetheless, I think students will generally be relieved that they do not have to face the stresses of further preparation and dealing with the results post-examinations.”
Parents may also be more concerned about the health and safety of their children, compared to whether they can take the examinations, Jane said.
“I think at this point in time, many parents want to prioritise the emotional wellbeing and the health of their children, as compared to their academic progress. But of course, that’s not to say that they’re not bothered,” she added.
“For children who have been studying, learning is a continuous thing, it shouldn’t just be for the exams. It’s fine if they’ve been revising because it will still be tested next year...It does not mean that there are no exams, learning should stop.”
* Not their real names.