Every Singaporean knows that the GCE O and A Level Examinations are one of the greatest challenges (and bugbears) that students are facing year after year. But students in England — the spawning-ground of such examinations — have just received news that the GCSE exams and syllabus have been replaced by the English Baccaleurate (EBacc).
If you think British students have it tough in their GCSEs, you may be mistaken. In fact, according to Education Secretary Michael Gove, there has been a “dumbing down” in the examination system that Britain has offered to its children.
How so? The British education system has different examination boards offering similar qualifications. Just imagine it as not just having Cambridge, or the International Baccalaureate (IB) but altogether more than 4 or 5 examination boards touting their own academic certificates and each school gets to pick and choose which examination board’s certificate to offer their students.
With a bunch of options to choose from, Principals in UK schools tend to end up choosing the exam boards that can offer the easiest exams to ace. It’s like a night market, where shoppers get to compare prices and select the most value-for-money exam (in other words, the exam that the students are most likely to score the most ‘A’ grades in) available.
The concern is that although students are getting As in their GCSE exams, the work that they had to put in might not even amount to as much as a JC1 student in Singapore has to do for his promos. A History student in Singapore has to learn international history from the Cold War, the history of the global economy and religious fundamentalism for their A Levels. However British students could study just one topic like the Cold War and take the exam.
Fearing that education standards are dropping, the Conservative-Liberal coalition government has finally decided to step up education reforms. The Baccalaureate examination in Britain is now said to be emphasizing a lot more on the end-of-year exams (nothing new for us Singaporeans) and like how the British press has suggested, it is back to the old system of the 1980s.
Singapore can even take credit for some part of this reform. On his visit to Singapore Education Secretary, Michael Gove, was inspired by the rigorous and well-developed (some say rigid) education system that we have here. It seems we are now exporting our education system back to England where it once came from.
How is the British public taking to such a radical reform? Apparently it is heavily divided. Some argue that Michael Gove’s reforms are traditionalist and backward, rather than “face the challenges of the 21st Century” effectively. To me, this position is rather naive: while I believe that there must be flexibility in our children’s education, I do not believe that it should be at the expense of intellectual rigour and academic skills required for a quality education that meets the needs of society.
To Singaporean students who are holding their breath, eager to hear that Singapore is following suit and abolishing our GCEs, sadly, that’s not likely to happen. Unlike the calls for abolishing the PSLE in favour of an assessment catered more towards learning through play and self-discovery, once the child has mastered his basic fundamentals there is no merit in abolishing the much more academically-inclined O and A Level Examinations which our society has been thriving under since independence.