Before I begin, I would like to make it clear that these are all my own opinions which I have formed after spending 4 years studying in a secondary school. A typical person studying in Singapore would spend 4-5 years in Secondary school before graduating with a Cambridge O/N level certificate, and while our education system is known for being a world class, there have been many complaints from various groups of people from students to parents to even teachers about the system being en route to failure if it hasn’t already failed, and I cannot help but agree. While there are those out there who will criticize me and these groups of people for lamenting about a world class education system, these are what I feel are 3 big flaws plaguing the education at the secondary level.
1. Syllabus encourages students to be more rigid and become less open minded
One thing which really put me off was how teachers keep encouraging students to “stick to the textbook” for the more general subjects such as Social Studies and History. In school, I always faced a failure in humanities, just very simply because I chose to express my answer more openly with some out of the topic related out of textbook context and that I preferred not sticking so strictly to so called answer formats. However, I refused to believe that Cambridge markers were so narrow minded and during the O levels and I went ahead to express my answers in my History paper with more out of the textbook knowledge whilst adhereing less to the answer formats which earned me an A2 for combined humanities, while many of those who followed the teachers’ answer formats and textbook rigidly got a less than desirable mark. My intention in describing this example is to show how the secondary level education system’s pressing of students to follow formats and textbooks is not the best way to help students but it in turn harms them, as after being given a lower mark for not doing so, many students give up trying to think out of the box and become like robots, following only what they are told or taught. I am glad that I was never influenced by this robotic style teaching, but seeing so many people being victims of it and hence getting a not so good result is not exactly a good thing since O levels can pretty much influence the rest of your life. Finally, should students all grow up being ‘robotic’ and doing only what they are told or taught, Singapore’s society would have too many individuals who lack independent thinking which would hamper their future and the country’s future.
2. Critical Thinking Is Not Encouraged
As I had mentioned earlier, students are being pressed to do only what they are told and taught to do. However, besides that, students are also not really encouraged to think critically. What many teachers do (and I think that its what they were taught to do too) is to teach something, and it suddenly becomes a fact, and students who challenge the ‘fact’ or give their own points of view are put down and told to just stick to what they are taught. This prevents students from developing an apt sense of critical thinking and become ‘slaves of knowledge’ who accept whatever they are told and taught and not challenging doubtful areas or forming a personal opinion. While I am glad that I think I am not one of these ‘slaves of knowledge’, having a large number of people who only accept what they are told and taught will inadvertently affect not only their personal potential but also lower the intellectuality of our society as a whole where many do not try to question doubts or improve understanding of something in particular. This huge flaw in our education can lead to some very serious consequences if not changed.
3. Impact Of Streaming
Singapore’s secondary level education system has two main points for every student, streaming and the O/N levels. I feel that students’ futures are sealed too early, for when they are Secondary 2, they are streamed to take different subjects and their fate is already almost sealed. Their stream indirectly affects their ability to do well in the O/N levels because it is very obvious that there is bias in the assignment of teachers in many schools where the pure sciences streams classes tend to get the better and more devoted teachers than the combined sciences streams classes. Furthermore, the subjects in a stream determine your tertiary education, as only those who take pure sciences and additional mathematics have a chance to take a science stream course in Junior College(which opens up more university course choices), while those in arts streams with combined sciences and perhaps no additional mathematics are forced into taking an Arts stream course in Junior College or a polytechnic course should they want to do pure sciences which is not easy to get into either. In a way, streaming partially seals one’s fate, and I am the perfect example, for even though I achieved a better score than many of my schoolmates in the pure sciences stream, my lack of additional mathematics and pure sciences cut off a science stream option in Junior College, though I was lucky to get a pure science course in a polytechnic.
However, there is no telling how many peoples’ futures have been cut off by streaming and even after vast improvement after the streaming year their fate was already sealed and no second chance can be available for them. In my opinion, Junior Colleges should accept secondary arts stream students into a science stream course which may be 3 years instead of 2 to cover the gaps in their knowledge if they did rather well in the O levels so as to give a second chance to those who have improved. I also feel that while the O/N levels is a good end of secondary education qualification, it should not be so important and overwhelming that an undesirable or average result pull a person down for the rest of his/her life when seeking further studies and employment by the impression created on an employer or school.