Singapore students fear failing more than their overseas counterparts
But they do well in reading, maths and science in Pisa education study, despite losing top spots to China
Singapore's 15-year-old students are more afraid of failure than their overseas counterparts, a study has shown.
But they still emerged among the top performers in the triennial Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), which tested students on how well they apply knowledge and skills and solve problems.
Results from the 2018 benchmarking study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) were released yesterday.
Singapore came in second in all three subjects covered in the study - reading, mathematics and science, losing its previous top spots to China, which did not make the top five in 2015. (See table on Page 2.)
A total of 79 countries participated in the latest study, with Singapore randomly selecting 6,676 students, all aged 15 and mostly in Secondary 4, to take part.
In a new category to test their perception of failure, students were asked to respond to three statements to assess how they felt when faced with failure.
Among Singapore students, 72 per cent would worry about what others thought of them, 73 per cent feared they might not have enough talent and 78 per cent doubted their plans for the future.
In comparison, the OECD average is about 55 per cent for the three statements.
Among the least fearful were the Netherlands and Switzerland, with scores ranging from 35 per cent to 45 per cent, while Taiwan and Hong Kong were among the highest with scores of up to 89 per cent.
In response, the Ministry of Education noted that "excessive fear can be disabling", but said educational reforms such as the new PSLE scoring system from 2021 and the removal of streaming by 2024 are aimed at tackling this.
'A BIT WORRIED'
Mr Sng Chern Wei, MOE's deputy director-general of education (curriculum), said the findings suggest students are "a bit worried about not doing well in different parts of school life, and worried about how others view them when they experience setbacks".
He added: "I think we can help more students to view such setbacks as a natural part of learning and growing, and to view them constructively."
Mr Sng also noted the overall results were heartening but acknowledged there were areas where Singapore can do better.
The study also showed that 60 per cent of Singapore students had a growth mindset, which means they believe intelligence can change with application of effort.
This is slightly below the OECD average of 63 per cent.
Since Singapore started participating in Pisa in 2009, it has remained in the top five in all three subjects.
In the latest Pisa, Macau was third in the three subjects, and other top participants include Hong Kong in fourth for reading and mathematics and Estonia in fifth place for reading and fourth for science.
Singapore students also had a marked improvement in literacy skills compared with 2015.
As the main focus of Pisa 2018, the reading component tested students on locating relevant information, discerning between fact and opinion, as well as assessing the credibility of information.
Singapore's mean score for reading was 549 this year, compared to 535 in 2015.
The improvement was attributed to the strong literacy foundation in primary schools and a focus on critical reading skills in the secondary curriculum, said MOE.
On Singapore losing top spot in the rankings, Mr Sng said: "We didn't take part in the Pisa to try to beat every country. We take part in Pisa to learn important areas of improvement for ourselves."
Singapore also had one of the highest proportions of top performing students in all three categories, and one of the lowest proportions of low performing students.
Associate Professor Jason Tan of the National Institute of Education said he was not surprised that Singapore students were afraid to fail.
"I think Singapore's education is a high-stakes system. One's performance in national exams will have consequences for the next stage of schooling."
But he also noted there are different perceptions of the word "failure", which may extend to non-academic areas.
As MOE has put in place measures to reduce the emphasis on grades, he said: "It would be interesting to look at the next Pisa results to see if these changes will change the way parents and students think."
Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung said on Facebook: "Doing well in international rankings is not our end goal.
"But such benchmarking is useful to gauge where we stand internationally, and to reflect on where we can improve, such as making education more holistic, inculcating greater joy for learning, and creating an environment where failure is more accepted."