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New year, new ways of learning: How parents can cope without examinations for P1, P2 pupils

How parents can cope without examinations for P1, P2 pupils

Singapore's education system is known to rank among the top in the world.

And central to these achievements has been the nation's thoroughly curated examinations and assessment format.

While undoubtedly demanding, the testing of students' ability to apply learned knowledge year on year from a young age has proved to be an effective driver of academic excellence, and has helped Singaporeans move up in the global education curve.

Against this backdrop, the recent announcement by the Ministry of Education to remove weighted assessments for Primary 1 and 2 students from this year, as well as the elimination of mid-year exams for several other levels, marks a significant shift in the nation's approach to education.

What exactly does this change mean for young learners and their equally invested parents who are about to be directly impacted by it?

A NEW WAY OF LEARNING

Traditionally, the introduction of rote learning begins when students enter primary school.

This involves memorisation, drilling and high-stakes examinations, the rigour of which has been known to build students up to become highly disciplined young learners.

While there have been benefits to this method, one of the biggest drawbacks is that it leaves little room for freedom and time to explore topics in greater depth.

This exploration is key to the development of critical thinking.

At Primary 1 and 2, children should be building collaboration skills, nurturing their curiosity and learning to reflect on their learning and the progress they have made.

To that end, the move away from weighted assessments is a leap towards encouraging holistic learning, where the hours freed can be paced out and channelled towards quality pedagogies focused on inculcating 21st century competencies.

This means placing an emphasis on not just on hard skills, but on soft skills such as teamwork, problem-solving, and even emotional management - skills that are transferable and increasingly more important in work and career life.

The change will also enable more time for children to self-assess, an important element to learning which can be overlooked in a busy classroom.

Learning to assess oneself develops self-discovery and self-awareness, both of which raise the student's consciousness and makes learning meaningful.

It also makes young students more independent and autonomous learners, a crucial skill for their overall development in their academic years as well as their later professional careers.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR PARENTS

For a long time, examinations have been the strongest, if not the only, indicator by which parents monitored their child's progress.

If grades did not improve over a period of time, the understanding was that the child had not made progress.

The fact of the matter is the child most likely did advance intellectually, but the test was only checking for specific knowledge rather than a consolidation of overall learning.

The move away from the narrow focus on grades is thus a solid step towards demonstrating that learning isn't confined to school subjects and examination success, and a reminder to parents that grades, while perhaps indicative of a child's academic knowledge on a certain scale, are not a comprehensive benchmark of a child's overall growth and development.

All parents wonder and worry about their children's performance out of love and the best intentions.

MORE PARENT-TEACHER INTERACTION

To help parents understand their child's progress without examination grades, increased interaction between parents and schools will be important.

Teachers have a good idea of children's development even without official assessments. Classes always have some form of informal assessment and teachers notice how children progress in their classroom.

During conversations with the teacher, it is good for parents to ask specific questions such as, 'Is my child showing confidence in class? What can I do to help them feel more willing to contribute in class?'

On the other hand, it is also essential for parents to engage their children in conversations about school.

Ask them how they are coping.

What do they like in school?

What interests do they have?

Recognising children's interest in certain topics and noticing aptitude for a subject will foster love and passion.

This kind of encouragement has a much more enduring impact in the long term and the interest could become an endeavour well worth pursuing.

The writer is head of primary courses at the British Council with input from Lia Testa Teismann, head of secondary courses

Education