It's the big­gest change to the Sin­ga­pore school sys­tem in decades, and it sounds great – ex­cept, how do you tell if your child is learn­ing, and at the right pace? EVELINE GAN finds out how you can be sure your child is up to speed in learn­ing.

Young Parents (Singapore) - - Contents -

Make sure your child is on the right track now that there are no more ex­ams and graded as­sess­ments.

In a bid to rein in overem­pha­sis on grades, the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion (MOE) un­veiled a slew of changes to the pri­mary school exam sys­tem last year, among them re­mov­ing ex­ams and weighted as­sess­ments in Pri­mary 1 and 2, as well as omit­ting cer­tain aca­demic in­di­ca­tors in re­port books (See Pri­mary School Exam Changes at a Glance for the full list of changes).

When this ki­asu mum here first heard the news, I won­dered if the changes would make it harder to track my kid’s progress in school when she en­ters Pri­mary 1 next year. And what if she be­comes com­pla­cent about her stud­ies?

How­ever, ed­u­ca­tors say that less em­pha­sis on marks and scores is a step in the right di­rec­tion in help­ing kids be­come bet­ter learn­ers.

At the tri­en­nial Sin­ga­pore In­ter­na­tional


(Tech­ni­cal and Vo­ca­tional Ed­u­ca­tion and Train­ing) Con­fer­ence last year, Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Ong Ye Kung urged Sin­ga­pore­ans to fo­cus on “the true spirit of learn­ing”.

“Ex­am­i­na­tions have be­come such a com­fort­able se­cu­rity blan­ket that a large part of the ed­u­ca­tion ex­pe­ri­ence re­volves around ex­am­i­na­tions,” he shared.

“As a sys­tem and so­ci­ety, we have been over-re­liant on this se­cu­rity blan­ket. Be­fore it smoth­ers us, we need to start to with­draw it some­what and fo­cus on the true spirit of learn­ing.”

Still, if you have chil­dren in the lower pri­mary lev­els like my­self, you may won­der: how to take stock of Ju­nior’s aca­demic progress and en­sure he’s on the right track in school?

Here, we get the ex­perts to share what’s truly im­por­tant for your child’s learn­ing, and tips on how to do it with­out re­ly­ing on ex­ams and grades.

Look at the big pic­ture

Although sin­gle-point as­sess­ments, like semes­tral ex­ams, are given less em­pha­sis now, schools have adopted more holis­tic as­sess­ment prac­tices to sup­port learn­ing, says for­mer pri­mary school teacher Belize Chan, an ed­u­ca­tional sup­ply de­signer at Eh, Cher! Sup­ply Co.

Holis­tic as­sess­ment may in­clude mini trop­i­cal tests, per­for­mance tasks, project work and oral pre­sen­ta­tions. “These as­sess­ments aim to pro­vide rich in­for­ma­tion on your child’s learn­ing progress,”

Belize says.

“They also em­pha­sise qual­i­ta­tive feed­back, in the form of teacher’s com­ments on strength’s weak­ness and ar­eas of im­prove­ment, over quan­ti­ta­tive feed­back (in the form of grades and marks), which would help par­ents sup­port and track your child’s learn­ing bet­ter,” she adds.

TIP Look through the holis­tic as­sess­ment port­fo­lio to­gether with your child, the var­i­ous per­for­mance tasks as­signed and dis­cuss the strengths and weak­nesses, Belize says. Do­ing so will help you and your child bet­ter un­der­stand what he is good at and trou­ble spots that he can im­prove upon.

Billy Clu­cas, a teacher at Bri­tish Coun­cil, sug­gests com­mu­ni­cat­ing reg­u­larly with your child’s school­teacher, en­rich­ment teacher or tu­tor. “Try ask­ing spe­cific ques­tions and fo­cus on skill-based ar­eas, rather than gen­eral class­room per­for­mance,” he says.

Give kids hand­son learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ences

With fewer ex­ams, Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Ong Ye Kung has said that schools will have around three more weeks of cur­ricu­lum time every two years.

This would free up more cur­ricu­lum time for teach­ers to con­duct more in­quiry-based learn­ing, such as field trips, ex­cur­sions as well as other hands-on ac­tiv­i­ties.

TIP Your child’s learn­ing doesn’t have to stop af­ter the school bell rings. Fol­low up on ac­tiv­i­ties your child has done in school, says Mathini Se­gar, aca­demic direc­tor (Science Olympiad) at the Sin­ga­pore In­ter­na­tional Maths Con­test Cen­tre.

You can help your child re­vise what he has learnt by

“Ex­am­i­na­tions have be­come such a com­fort­able se­cu­rity blan­ket that a large part of the ed­u­ca­tion ex­pe­ri­ence re­volves around ex­am­i­na­tions...”

Rather than make kids do past year exam papers, in­still a love of learn­ing at a young age as that would spur them to prac­tise ques­tions on their own.

do­ing a sim­i­lar ac­tiv­ity at home. But don’t overdo the prac­tice and drill to avoid snuff­ing out your child’s love for learn­ing. In­stead, opt for more fun, experiential ac­tiv­i­ties.

While every child learns dif­fer­ently, Belize finds that most stu­dents gen­er­ally learn best from ac­tiv­i­ties and games in­stead of lec­tures and work­sheets.

“Hands-on ac­tiv­i­ties and games are able to cap­ture their at­ten­tion and in­ter­est,” she says.

Rather than make kids do past year exam papers, it is bet­ter to in­still a love for learn­ing at a young age as that would in­di­rectly spur them to prac­tise ques­tions on their own, adds Mathini, who is also a pri­mary and sec­ondary science as­sess­ment book au­thor.

To get them to in­ter­ested to learn more about Science for ex­am­ple, in­tro­duce fun, re­lat­able ac­tiv­i­ties like “the science of the hu­man body”, “the science of cook­ing”, watch Na­tional Geo­graphic pro­grams to­gether, Mathini sug­gests.

That said, it is still im­por­tant for you to check your chil­dren’s home­work reg­u­larly so that you can spot and track com­mon mis­takes, as well as their strengths, says Belize.

English lan­guage skills mat­ter, even for other sub­jects

What’s the link be­tween English and Stem (Science, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and maths) sub­jects?

A solid foun­da­tion in English can have a pos­i­tive im­pact on a wide range of sub­jects such as science and maths, Billy shares.

Stu­dents of­ten mis­read or do not fully un­der­stand the ques­tion types and be­come prone to mak­ing er­rors. Strong read­ing strate­gies are a great as­set dur­ing exam sea­son, es­pe­cially in Pri­mary 4, he adds.

“Learn­ers with the abil­ity to pin­point key words in ques­tion are at an ad­van­tage and can get to the root of the an­swer quicker. With time man­age­ment be­ing a key com­po­nent of suc­cess in ex­ams, a strong English com­pre­hen­sion skillset is highly de­sir­able,” Billy ex­plains.

TIP En­cour­age your child to read out loud, Billy says. “By do­ing so, you have the op­por­tu­nity to track your child’s progress of flu­ency, pro­nun­ci­a­tion and read­ing per­for­mance skills, which would be im­pos­si­ble to do if he read silently,” he ex­plains.

Ask your child ope­nended ques­tions start­ing with words like “why”, “how” or “what”.

“By avoid­ing yes or no ques­tions, the learner is en­cour­aged to give rea­sons and even of­fer an opin­ion. This form of crit­i­cal think­ing is a vi­tal skill for mid- and

No ex­ams, but Ju­nior may still ben­e­fit from ex­tra help

All chil­dren can ben­e­fit from hav­ing some­one re­view the school syl­labus and ex­plain learn­ing points they do not un­der­stand or missed in school, says Belize.

“If you are able and will­ing to con­sis­tently go through your child’s school work, and sup­port his learn­ing, tu­ition would not be needed. How­ever, in cases where par­ents feel they are un­able or un­will­ing to do so, tu­ition would be the best way to sup­port and ex­tend their child’s learn­ing af­ter school,” Belize adds.

TIP Be­fore you con­sider ad­di­tional help, it is im­por­tant to set up a healthy study en­vi­ron­ment at home for your child. Help your child cre­ate own “of­fice space” or per­sonal study area – this helps him get in the frame of mind when tack­ling home­work and re­vi­sion, Billy says.

With the on­go­ing changes, en­rich­ment and tu­ition cen­tres, and even as­sess­ment book au­thors, will need to en­gage stu­dents dif­fer­ently.

When look­ing for ad­di­tional help to sup­port your kid’s learn­ing, look for those that fo­cus on en­gag­ing chil­dren and en­cour­age ac­tive learn­ing, in­stead of those that carry out prac­tice and drill, says Mathini.

For in­stance, an as­sess­ment book that de­liv­ers con­cepts in an in­ter­est­ing man­ner, pro­vides fun science facts and ac­tiv­i­ties that can be done at home may be more en­gag­ing for lower pri­mary stu­dents, she says.

Don’t over­look the soft skills

It takes more than just sub­ject mas­tery to do well in school. In­creas­ingly, re­search shows that soft skills mat­ter when it comes to pre­dict­ing suc­cess in school, at work and for life.

Hav­ing good time man­age­ment skills, team­work and the abil­ity to work un­der pres­sure are im­por­tant skills for chil­dren in up­per pri­mary lev­els, says Billy.

Stu­dents with a de­ci­sive at­ti­tude, clar­ity of thought and or­gan­i­sa­tional skills of­ten have an eas­ier ride, while those who can man­age their time well can ef­fi­ciently pri­ori­tise tasks and or­gan­ise their study sched­ules for more pro­duc­tive re­vi­sion time, Billy shares.

TIP Teach your kid to get or­gan­ised and stay on top of things. Work with Ju­nior to cre­ate a sched­ule or timetable to help him man­age his home­work, CCA and tu­ition sched­ule, Billy sug­gests.

This may in­clude mak­ing a check­list of things that need to be done, shop­ping for tools that will help him be more or­gan­ised such as binders, files or a note­book.

Con­sider a buddy sys­tem where you let your child study with a friend or fam­ily mem­ber – learn­ing to ask for help and be­ing able to work in a team are im­por­tant skills.

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