Education is the bedrock of every successful civilisation and Singapore is no different. Since independence, the plenty of attention and effort and has put into developing the quality of education in the country to ensure that its people are able to succeed on an international level.

One of the most important aspects of education is, of course, the evolution of the system to ensure that students are well-prepared for the future we are guiding them into. But like many countries, change is a slow thing, and in Singapore, the education system is lagging behind times.

“Our education system is outmoded and does not prepare our students for the future. It is in dire need of reform,” said Singapore Democratic Party Chairman Prof Paul Tambyah at the launch of the party’s education policy, Educating for Creativity and Equality: An Agenda For Transformation.

Presented by Prof Tambyah and Mr Ben Pwee, SDP highlighted several changes which include:

  1. Cultivate creative minds
  2. Do away with the PSLE
  3. Broaden curriculum, reduce workload
  4. Reduce class size
  5. Introduce the Dedicated-Teacher System
  6. Scrap school and class ranking
  7. Nationalise preschool

The current system’s dependence on exams and rote-learning – a common gripe in discussions about education, says the party, is no longer effective in preparing students for a world that emphasises creativity and innovation.

Additionally, Mr Pwee highlighted that the current system in Singapore also contributed to the growing inequality in the country, attributed to the intense syllabi and teachers being are under pressure to complete the list of required topics regardless of whether the students understand the material or not.

Since success is graded based on exam performance, parents end up seeking help from private tutors to help their children cope, thus creating a billion-dollar industry. Rich families are able to afford expensive tutoring while poorer families are left at a disadvantage. This serves to exacerbate the growing social divide in Singapore.

Cultivate creative minds with a broader curriculum

To remedy these issues, SDP’s chairman proposes a series of changes to revamp the education system to foster independent and critical thinking among students. Thanks to the advancement of technology, everyone has a relatively easy access to information right in their pockets. This does away with the need and dependence on memorisation.

As such, they want to revise the school curricula to include activities that cultivate creativity in students and train teachers to build confidence in students, identify their strengths and passions, and facilitate the development of their creative skills.

Prof Tambyah argues that “we must teach our students how to think, not what to think.”

Besides that, the SDP is also proposing the abolishment of the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) which serves to stream students into different paths for their secondary education.

In fact, the government seems to agree with this as the Ministry of Education announced that they are doing away with the PSLE beginning 2021 to reduce the obsession with academic results.

This should be complemented by broadening the curricula and reducing the workload, says SDP, which will “enrich our students’ educational experience and prepare them for a future that will require them to be well-rounded, intelligent individuals.” SDP proposes also including more student collaboration projects, speech and drama, and humanities and the arts at both the primary and secondary level.

Small class sizes, more attentive teachers

Additionally, Prof Tambyah proposed a reduction of class-sizes to no more than 20 students per teacher to enhance teacher-pupil interaction.

SDP also wants to introduce a Dedicated-Teacher system in which a single teacher will take one set of students from Primary 1 to 3 before another teacher takes over from Primary 4 to 6, giving teachers three years to acquire substantial knowledge about the student’s developmental progress and implement effective interventions. This will also provide more opportunities for both parents and teachers to facilitate the holistic development of students.

In order to reduce inequality through education, Prof Tambyah also proposing scrapping school- and class-rankings so as not to segregate students based on exam results.

“This is because education is not about competition with one’s classmates but learning through collaboration and teamwork with one’s peers,” he noted. The competition to be a top-ranked school is unhealthy, argues the party. In fact, mental health professionals have highlighted how rankings have inflicted serious psychological damage on students, according to SDP.

In the policy brief of their education plan, SDP champions to “let children be children” while encouraging them to read, play and discover themselves and for themselves.

“The goal should be to lead our students to learn, not push them to study. The former will open up their naturally enquiring minds; the latter will kill curiosity,” SDP elaborated.

You can find SDP’s full education policy paper, Educating for Creativity and Equality: An Agenda For Transformation here.