New ideas should start at schools
Singapore's focus on creativity in education is the way to go
Whatever Singapore does when education is concerned, the world stops to watch.
Thailand, in particular, should seriously consider the Republic's revolutionary move, which gives conventional exams less importance.
The experiment is fledging, of course, but nobody can write it off as a future global norm.
Institutions around the world have used grades to measure students' capabilities from the very beginning.
One key argument for that is that there is no other way to effectively rate or "pass" students from one level to the next.
That is largely true, but educators have virtually admitted that grading, in many ways, is counter-productive when "new ideas" are concerned.
Hundreds of Singaporean schools now reportedly have courses with no grades.
And at least a tenth of admissions to universities are now based on aptitude assessment rather than results.
Everybody loves “new ideas” but many do not like the idea of “rebellion” that much, although both things often go hand in hand.
Singapore's public service is also reportedly scrapping a long-standing practice of classifying officers by educational qualifications.
The Republic is not abandoning its educational philosophy that strives for academic excellence. But the term "academic excellence" is veering away from the traditional mindset.
The new thinking is that grades "force" students to stay in line, which can hamper the formation of new ideas.
Additionally, an education system that highly values grades often tempts students to go for courses they do not actually like, but provides an easy stepping-stone for "recognition".
The world needs no explanation on why new ideas are important.
Economic success is heavily linked to innovations, which are impossible if everyone is thinking the same way.
Singapore, with its scant natural resources, relies more on innovations than most other countries.
In Thailand, the importance of grades has also been ridiculed, but it is largely comedians who have mocked it.
According to a well-known joke, the "best" students end up serving the "second-best" ones, who will in turn end up serving the "third-best" ones.
In this joke, "the best students" become academics or business owners, who have to kowtow to politicians, or "second-best students", who in turn are controlled by the "third-best students" - mobsters or the mafia.
Make no mistake, giving grades less importance requires a highly technical adjustment on the part of the educators, as well as an overhaul of social mindsets.
To start with, parents who always want their children to be "the best" and make a lot of sacrifices for that goal must accept a system that has less regard for scores.
We are living in a world where people often formulate "new ideas" after they have graduated.
Most schools have confined radical thinking outside the box although it should have been encouraged more.
Charity begins at home, they say, but new ideas should start at schools.
There is still a long way to go for both Singapore and the whole world.
Everybody loves "new ideas" but many do not like the idea of "rebellion" that much, although both things often go hand in hand.
And it is adults, who are bound by or are familiar with the status quo, that are the ones tasked with mapping out something drastically new.
Yet, the change in Singapore looks like a long-term trend, not least because it has begun in a country whose academic excellence has been the envy of the developed world.
The change has also come at a time when the information technology is generating unprecedented educational opportunities in various unorthodox means.
Most of all, such a change in Singapore makes sense because a world of clones is the last thing we want.
This editorial appeared in The Nation yesterday.