Schools reopened for the first term yesterday with the rollout of the 2-6-3-3-3 education system in the lower classes to eventually phase out 8-4-4, introduced in 1985, where students take eight years in primary school and four each in secondary school and university.
The 2-6-3-3-3 system (two years in lower primary, six in upper primary and three each in junior and senior secondary and then university) is expected to address shortcomings identified in 8-4-4 as it places a premium on skills acquisition as opposed to rote learning.
However, as stakeholders in the education sector ready themselves for the competency-based curriculum, they can draw a few lessons from Singapore — the wealthy Southeast Asian island city state that is a thriving global financial hub and one of the “Asian Tigers”.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Programme for International Student Assessment — an authoritative body on worldwide study on educational systems — ranks Singapore’s international education among the best.
Singaporean children attend preschool up to the age of six and spend six years in primary school before joining secondary school.
At this point, students are allowed to chart their own career path, guided by their unique abilities and aptitudes.
But even with its long-held reputation of academic brilliance, Singapore is not sitting pretty.
Its policymakers continue to refine their education system for it to effectively respond to the emerging challenges and realities of the 21st century.
One of the most obvious changes is the easing of pressure on students sitting national examinations.
Besides banning the league tables for secondary schools in 2012, where schools would be ranked according to their performance in national exams, the government also stopped the publishing of the names of top scorers as it felt that teachers prioritised rote learning over a learner’s holistic development.
The names of top candidates in last year’s KCSE were published in the local dailies.
The criteria to join the best secondary schools should not be limited to scores in national exams, but should be widened to take into account a student’s performance in co-curricular activities.
In Singapore, primary school leavers will no longer receive a precise score starting 2021; instead, they will get a broad grade capturing many aspects of learning.
More importantly, the education ministry in Singapore is championing the reframing of exam questions to be more open-minded and encourage critical thinking and complete mastery of the subject.
Such a technique will engender creativity among our learners and boost subject knowledge.
Like in Singapore, our teacher appraisal systems should not solely measure academic performance but encompass the development of pupils’ social development skills.
Pedagogical techniques should encourage seamless teacher-student interaction in classroom dynamics to foster inquisitive and explorative minds.
Crucially, the cure for skills mismatch in the labour market lies in aligning university courses with the needs of the industry to produce graduates able to fit into the workplace without the need for prolonged probation periods of training.