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Cancelling Exams Will Not Make Learning Fun

Cancelling Exams Will Not Make Learning Fun

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244.

That was how I ranked out of 245 students in my secondary 1 cohort for the mid-term examinations.

It was a resounding kick up my arse. From there, I spent less time farming for mesos on Maplestory and more time learning about actual agricultural farming from my geography textbook.

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Slowly, my grades improved.

Today, none of this would have been possible, as new measures put in place by Ministry of Education have been implemented to shift the focus away from academic results in both Primary and Secondary Schools. Under these new rules, cohort rankings will no longer be revealed to students in their report cards, and examinations will be removed for students across various levels.

All this, so that a “joy of learning” can be instilled.

Yet as I realised way back then, exams are important, and having fewer of them in the academic calendar will not suddenly give students the time and impetus to pursue their “joy of learning”. The efforts by Education Minister Ong Ye Kung are admirable, but ultimately misguided.

If anything, it is our culture of chasing success as the bottom line that we direly need to change.

Before we get to that, let’s take a look at how exams, in spite of how much we dread them, are a necessary evil.

As adults, we can all agree that most of what we’ve studied for in exams have been useless as we slave away at our day jobs. Instead, it is the sense of discipline and self-ownership that we cultivated by studying religiously that stick with us. In other words, studying for an exam is a chance for students to learn the meaning of personal accountability.

By removing all examinations for Primary 1 and Primary 2 levels, as well as mid-term exams for the levels up to Secondary 3, we are depriving these students the chance of growing under pressure, no matter how young they may be.

For the students who have not done as well in their assessments, these exams serve as important wake-up calls. As a poor student, I knew how demoralising it was to receive bad grades, only to turn your head and see jubilant classmates comparing their As.

It is a terrible feeling, but it is the same one that will spur you on to take exams more seriously.

Wanting students to discover the joy of learning is great, especially when they want to feed their curiosities with information outside the boundaries of the syllabus. But how often do we even facilitate such learning opportunities?

When I was a Primary 5 student, I had science classes at a tuition centre. During one of the lessons, the tutor brought a live frog into the classroom, pinned its four limbs on a styrofoam board with needles, and started to dissect it part by part.

Needless to say, the girls were squeamish, and cramming themselves into the far corner of the classroom while the boys stared in fascination as the tutor placed each organ on the board with precision.

I distinctly remember the graphic image of the frog’s heart beating despite having been removed for a full minute. From then, I developed an insatiable appetite for all kinds of trivia related to the circulatory system. Information that to this day, has served me no purpose in life whatsoever.

Yet did I enjoy learning about it? You can bet your last dollar I did.

Therein lies the deep-seated problem we have in our culture. Despite all that we’ve heard about the joys of learning, there is still a constant need to turn any interest we have into some tangible result or measurable success.

Like to cook? Go be a chef!

Enjoy doodling during class? Hey, maybe you should be an artist!

We even prime our foetuses by blasting fucking Mozart towards the womb in the hopes that the child would one day become some kind of a musical prodigy. How ridiculous is that?

Why haven’t we learnt to do things for the sake of it? To pursue the pleasure of the experience rather than its economic potential?

We can change syllabi or remove examinations from the academic calendar, but nothing will change so long as the need for tangible results lies behind every single endeavour we embark on.

Remember your biology textbook which had ten chapters? You were made to study five chapters, only to realise in the exam paper that two chapters were chosen as topics. That is exactly what we should be looking to stamp out.

I might be the only writer in the Singapore who can point out where the aortic semilunar valve is on a map of the circulatory system, and it is information that is completely useless in my line of work. But is there anything so wrong with that?

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Author

Shaun Tan Staff writer