Why the World's Best School System Is Getting Rid of Grades

Students should be able to focus on their own learning and not on their ranks.


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Singapore’s education is one of the world's best. In fact, children in Singapore ranked first in the international PISA tests the last time it was given. This is a great achievement for the city-state, but the competition for grades and scores can lead to a lot of high stress on students and parents.

Parents frequently enroll their children in enrichment classes believing that higher test scores equal future achievement. Research shows that standardized tests are not a true indicator of intelligence or future success. That is why Singapore schools want to become even better.

The Education Minister, Ong Ye Kung wants to move Singapore schools into the next phase in Education excellence aptly named “Learn for Life” where there is a much broader role of education and grades and exam scores will become far less important or relevant.

Kung said in an address to 1,700 school leaders in late September. "I know that coming in first or second in a class or level, has traditionally been a proud recognition of a student achievement but removing these indicators is for a good reason, so that the child understands from a young age that learning is not a competition, but a self-discipline they need to master for life." This is why Singapore schools are abolishing school exam rankings.

Besides standardized exams, minimum and maximum marks, class levels, pass/fail, and subject grades will be dropped over the coming years. Beginning next year, all Primary 1st and 2nd level students will no-longer take exams.

Teachers will, of course, continue to track students’ learning by their participation in class discussions, worksheets, homework, and quizzes. Older primary and secondary students will still receive modified grades. Parent's will still be updated about their child's progress during parent-teacher meetings.

Abolishing standardized testing is something that has been successfully implemented in Finland and Wales and many more countries are debating going that route. Singapore schools will be taking this one step further.

The new changes in Singapore will free-up class time so that teachers and children can focus on learning and not test preparation.

"We know that students derive more joy in learning when they move away from memorization, rote learning, drilling and taking high stakes exams," Kung said.

He challenged other nations to take the lead and be agents for change, to explore new ideas and to make bold and meaningful changes in preparing students for the future.

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