by Richard Leong
I have not written anything regarding the educational landscape for some time. I would like to take this opportunity to address the three biggest changes in the educational landscape from this year (2019) to 2021.
2019: Cutting Down on School Examinations and Removal of Grading from Report Cards
In September 2018, the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced that they were cutting down on school examinations. All students from Primary 3 to Secondary 4 or 5 would also NOT have more than one graded assessment per subject per school term.
In addition, report books would no longer indicate information such as class / level mean, minimum / maximum marks, underlining / colouring of failing marks, and so on. It would be rolled out in 2019 and would be fully implemented in 2020.
According to MOE, this move would free up as much as three weeks of curriculum time for each two-year block (P3 and P4, P5 and P6, S1 and S2, S3 and S4). Schools would use this time to pace out teaching and learning.
I admit that any extra teaching time will really benefit students. As a former school teacher, I remember the days when I had to cram content down in a desperate attempt to finish the syllabus.
Assessments Are Still Weighted
However, whenever there is change, there are always positives and negatives. What are the negatives then? Firstly, the assessments are still weighted. In other words, students are still given marks, just that the marks are spread out throughout the year instead of a heavy concentration on the two examinations. Hence, I feel that this is a mere cosmetic change.
Assessments Do Not Give Context
Secondly, I would like to share my own personal experience regarding weighted assessments. My son’s school never had the typical mark indications, way before MOE announced it. I only received raw scores. I always wondered what does the score mean? Does scoring 20/25 in one section mean that he had mastered the subject? Surely scoring 20/25 when all his other classmates scored above 21 is different from if all his classmates all scored 19 and below. In other words, the context of the assessment is important. However, there is no context at all with this system.
Difference Between Assessments And Examinations
Thirdly, we should recognise the difference between assessments and examinations. Assessments are designed to test whether the student has learnt the required content. However, examinations are used to rank students and would include some challenging questions to test the better students. Under this system, it seems like we are trying to ‘surprise’ our children at the end of the year by using a more difficult paper to rank them, while avoiding any attempt to do likewise in the earlier part of the year. It seems to me that MOE is trying to satisfy the need for ranking, yet trying to remove the stress of examinations. These two are contradictory objectives, and I believe MOE has not adressed either needs in a satisfactory manner.
Actually, I am in favour of less emphasis on academic achievement. However, the reality is that competition is present in our current educational system. Regardless of whether I like it or not, I have to accept it. Hence, I want to know how well my son is coping. This is not to compare his grades with his peers or to set unrealistic goals. But I hope to have some idea that he is getting there. While I think parents should not insist on more examinations or overly pressure their children to ace all their exams, parents should seek to understand how well their children are doing. I always take the opportunity to discuss my son’s performance with his school teachers or tutors so that I know exactly how is he performing. So parents should take some time to check with their child’s school teachers or tutors on how their child academic performance, so as not to get a nasty surprise at the end-of-year examinations.