United Inscriptic Committee
· Features : SG

Singapore universities want more than just academic achievements

When it comes to international rankings in education, Singapore comes out top. But it wants its schools to focus on keeping students positive and resilient. There is always a need for character as well as qualifications.

It was no accident that Singapore created one of the world's highest performing education systems in five decades.

The road to success in Singapore was always focused on academic achievements, based on merit and giving everyone equal access. This system helped Singapore to create a unity of purpose among its schools, social cohesion, and an attitude of hard work that is envied by other nations.

But it's now the year 2017, and Singapore is no longer the fledgling state it was in 1965. As Singapore has changed, so has the education system.

Schools have become more diverse and competitive. Well off families are able to support their children's education by paying for extra lessons outside of school, such as in mathematics, English, dance and music.

Those who can't afford the additional tuition depend on the resources of schools and their children's own motivation to match their peers.

This social divide continues to widen because the education policies, based on a meritocracy -  no longer support the social mobility they were meant to bring about. So Singapore wants to iron out anything in the system that may be working against social cohesion.

However, it will no longer be enough to develop a workforce that integrates into the economy. The next update to the education system will have to ensure that Singapore can build a stronger social unity among its people while at the same time develop skills for the new digital economy.

Government policies are moving away from parents and students' unhealthy obsession with grades and entry to top schools and want to put more emphasis on the importance of values.

Schools have been encouraged, especially for the early infant years, to scrap exams and test, and instead focus developing children as a whole.

"Character scorecards" and "reflection journals" have become the staple in many primary schools, to allow parents to follow the social development progress of their children.

A number of schools have also adopted an approach centred on well-being, as promoted by Dr Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania, USA.

Dr Seligman's believes that academic success and well-being form a double helix, and that the best schooling must include educating children on values and character, as well as how to interact well with others, set goals for themselves and work towards achieving those goals.

Positive education, a movement that is gaining momentum across the world, works to create a school culture that supports caring, trusting relationships.

To enhance equity, the education ministry has attempted to spread resources more evenly across schools by move experienced principals to schools that need more attention and paying close attention to academically weaker students by strengthening vocational and skills training.

All round, government leaders have discussed the need for a wider definition of success beyond academic grades.

The media and elite schools have been discouraged from showcasing top students and their academic achievements.

There has also been a nationwide initiative called SkillsFuture which puts, in the first instance $500 SGD (£290) in the hands of every Singapore citizen at age 25, for them to pursue lifelong learning and pursue their passion.

An online platform with around 10,000 courses, to broaden or deepen skills or take on new hobbies, is easily accessible to Singaporeans.

School-based careers guidance is provided from as early as primary school to nurture students' self-awareness, self-directedness and life skills.

The search for the next formula for education in Singapore has begun.