Singapore: Are We Too Focused on Academics?

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Singapore is known for being the poster child of Asia’s success stories. The country not only developed itself but pushed into being one of the best economies in the world. With its development, the country also took the education system to its rise and made it one of the best in the world as well.

The Ministry of Education oversees the development of the national curriculum which includes “Desired Outcomes of Education.” The outcomes include students’ excellence in life skills, knowledge skills. And subject discipline organized into eight core skills and values.

The eight core skills and values include character development, self-management skills, social and cooperative skills, literacy and numeracy, communication skills, information skills, thinking skills and creativity, and knowledge application skills.

The education structure in Singapore is controlled by a well-developed curriculum and syllabus for each course aligned to an end-of-course exam. Students are expected to attend six years of primary school, four years of secondary school, and one to three years of post-secondary school.

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Students are taught in a wide variety of subjects. At the end of the fourth year of primary school, students take school-based test that determine what level students will study for English, Mathematics, Mother Tongue (instruction in mother tongue language is available for Chinese, Malay and Tamil speaking students), and Science for the next two years.

At the end of the sixth year of primary school, students take the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) in English, Mathematics, Mother Tongue, and Science. This is the basis that determines where students will be admitted to one of the four pathways in secondary school.

From this, we can say that the curriculum and education system in Singapore is one of the best and most well-developed in the world. However, are we focusing too much on grades and academics?

Too much pressure

As a country that puts a great deal of development in its education system, its expected to have a great payout. The adult literacy rate in Singapore as of 2018 is at 97.34% which sees a 0.14% increase from 2017.

However, with the recent studies by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), it was found that Singaporean students were significantly more anxious about tests and grades compared to their international counterparts.

This intensified dread over academic performance may be due to the more competitive culture in Singapore.


For a well-developing country, the ideology of meritocracy is still alive and present. Although, the faith in it is weakening due to scrutiny of the modern time, it still plays a large part on some Singaporean success stories.

Tales of the best and brightest rising to the top and leaders emerging form humble background working by their own merits are still considered large testimonies that the educational system works well.

However, this isn’t always the case to base the achievements the students will make in the future.

How grades affect students’ well-being

As grades play a large part in determining how the students will proceed in future levels, parents tend to push their children to always be on top. Due to the pressure of grades students are fearful of getting bad grades or anything below their expected ones.

Even the Ministry of Education believes we’ve taken grades and testing too far. According to a report by The Strait Times, there are even incidents of putting undue stress to students making them take drastic measures to not show their grades to their parents.

Less fun in learning

With all the emphasis put on achieving higher grades, students tend to be very serious about their studies and forget the joy of learning. Singaporean students reportedly spend 9.4 hours a week on homework versus the global average of only 5 hours.

Students will then have lessor time for play and discovery of who they are. Because their academic life is too hectic, this can also lead to lesser social interactions outside of school. Students, especially the youth, should interact with their peers for healthy social life.

They are also more prone to spending their free time on school work, thus lessening their time spent on hobbies and interests outside of school.

The Ministry of Education announced recently that mid-year examinations for Primary 3 and 5 as well as Secondary 1 and 3 students would be scrapped by 2021. Their reasoning is to move away from the narrow focus on grades and help students discover the joy of learning.

Toll on mental health

An overly competitive education system will undoubtedly put students’ mental health at risk. The higher the expectations for our students, the more excessive stress and anxiety will be, especially on major examinations such as the PSLE.

Students and parents even have a misplaced notion that academic success only lies in performing great on examinations. When it happens that students perform “poorly” in exams, this could trigger a stress response in students as they haven’t met their and their parents’ expectations.

There are also some reported case of students suffering in emotional stress from the toll of achieving good grades. Students suffer from symptoms such as fear, anger, depression, or helplessness. These symptoms can also destroy a large chunk on our students’ confidence in their abilities.

Students may have a hard time regarding their intelligence if it doesn’t help get them the grades they want or expect. They might also suffer from self-doubt which will turn to anxiety over their skills and abilities.

Worse it, because of test anxiety, students may be distressed more during examinations and thus, lead to a poor performance. The cycle goes on with only the students’ mental health being affected negatively every time.


Every child should be nurtured

Parent only want the best for their children. However, the best that we want for them may be actually the trigger that will lead to unhappiness on their part.

So how can we help them be the best version of themselves and lessen the gargantuan burden of academic excellence resting on their shoulders? Are there measures we can take as parents and even outsiders to help ease this burden?

This brings us to the understanding that every student learns differently. Each student has their own pace in learning. Pressuring them to learn faster or at the same pace as other students will only enhance their anxiety and stress.

We should put into consideration Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences. This theory states that every student has a different area of intelligence. There are nine intelligences in the theory that students may exhibit not just inside the classroom. This means that though some students may not excel in subjects such as Math and Science (Logical-math), they may excel in Music or Art (Visual-Spatial).

A student might be fearful of speaking in large crowd and enunciating his words (Verbal-Linguistic) but he/she may be gifted in talking and relating with other people (Interpersonal). A student may even be gifted in dancing and performing (Bodily-Kinesthetic) which is another intelligence not just honed in the classroom.

Knowing and understanding this can lead to more compassionate and flexible instruction for our children. The Ministry on Education has also made available a wide range of learning resources on the Student Learning Space. They also believe in holistic development for our students.

Nurture the greatness in every child

We all want greatness for our children and a bright future for them. However, we should also understand that greatness doesn’t just happen. And that intelligence is not just testing the student’s IQ or basing on their test results. We need to explore and develop their intelligence in their own pace – not forcing it to them.

As parents, it is our responsibility to see and understand where we can provide more for our children. If we see that out child is experiencing challenges in Science, we can bring them to science centers or do experiments with them on their free time. If they show interest in music or arts, we should also develop this while still maintaining the balance to not push them further than they are ready for.

With this in mind, we can guide our children to hone their skills. We also need to show our love and support for them. Getting good grades may be rewarding for us if we want our children to be on top of the class. But it’s more rewarding and fulfilling as a parent to see our children excel in something they genuinely enjoy and cherish.

A long road ahead

Although Singapore is already regarded as having one of the best education systems in the world, we still have a long way to go. Academic excellence is still very much valued though we are becoming more aware and proactive in its toll to our students.

The Ministry of Education has recognized tuition as a service to primarily improve academic results. However, the MOE also recognizes that students require additional support.

If a child is struggling with regard to a certain academic subject, it’s only right to make sure to take measures to improve them in that regard. They can hire home tutors to help them overcome it.

FamilyTutor provides the best home tutors in Singapore. We also believe in honing our students’ potential even outside the academe. And yet, we are also here to provide the proper assistance for them to reach their academic goal.

We understand how stressful and daunting taking examinations is. We also understand that some students feel left behind in classrooms. Therefore, we offer personalized lessons for every student.

FamilyTutor as home tuition in Singapore makes sure that students are matched well with only the best home tutor for their personal needs. We also have a very careful selection process and open communication with the parents ensuring that every son and daughter is in safe hands.

We believe it takes more than just a “perfect” educational system to raise a child and help them achieve success. We also need to value their time and interests as well as develop them. At the end of the day, we don’t want the perfect success stories if it means students have to suffer to live it.

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Carelle is a teacher who has been through the ups and downs of the teacher and learner life. She wishes for every learner to gain educational satisfaction that will help embody the people they want to be in the future.

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About FamilyTutor!

FamilyTutor is an established home tuition agency in Singapore! We match suitable home tutors for our clients not just to improve the students' academic grades, but also to build a strong rapport and meaningful relationship with the students and even the their whole family. FamilyTutor put every student in good hands!

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