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According to the mission of Singapore Education, the purpose of Singapore Education is to provide our children with a balanced and well-rounded education, develop them to their full potential, and nurture them into good citizens, conscious of their responsibilities to family, society and country. (http://www.moe.gov.sg/about/yearbooks/2005/pdf/mission-vision.pdf) Eventually, they would become the future leader who would make the right decision for their nation in future.
Thus, the Desired Outcomes of Educations (DOE) is being introduced at 3 key stages, namely primary, secondary and post-secondary. It acts as a checklist or common purposes for the educators to help students strive towards the mission of Singapore education.
To better achieve the desired outcomes of education, "Teach less, learn more (TLLM)" comes into picture in 2005. At the National Day Rally in 2004, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called on our teachers to "teach less, so that our students could learn more". (http://www.moe.gov.sg/about/yearbooks/2005/teach.html). This policy is focusing on improving the quality of interaction between teachers and students. The aim of this policy is to drive Singapore education to a direction where teachers only act as a facilitator, nurturing students to become self-directed learners and individuals who are capable of think independently. Teach Less, Learn More is a call to re-examine the fundamentals of teaching and learning - why we teach, what we teach and how we teach. (http://www3.moe.edu.sg/corporate/contactonline/2005/Issue13/glossary/glossary.htm#ttml)
TLLM reminds teachers that their responsibility is to stimulate the students' passion in learning so that students are willing to take up challenges that come to them. Disseminating the information to the students should not be the only way to teach. Teachers should always check for the understanding of students by relating them with the materials. Other than that, teachers should help students learn that they are taught to live the tests of their lives, not to learn that their lives are full of tests.
The TTLM initiative also calls on teachers to focus on the whole child instead of the subject. Teachers should put more emphasis on the teaching of good values and attitudes to the students, not their grades. In addition, teachers need to help students learn that the learning process is far more important than the results or the end product. Before jumping into the answers, teachers should treasure the teachable moment by throwing the questions to the students. Let them think and encourage curiosity.
TLLM urges teachers to engage student more in learning and depend less on drill, practice and rote learning. Teachers should do more guiding, facilitating and modelling and do less telling so that students could take ownership of their own learning. Every student is different. Therefore teacher should apply various differentiated pedagogies to suit students' learning. Student should be accessed more qualitatively over a period of time, and less quantitatively through one-off and summative examinations. Lastly, teachers should promote the spirit of innovation and enterprise among students.
I come across one journal that was published in 2005 mentioned that in response to the TLLM policy, MOE was going to provide more time and space to teachers to do the right things for the students. To date, MOE has really made some moves to provide teachers more time; such as assigning a Co-curricular Programme Executives to each school, hiring more new teachers and introduced the adjunct teachers programme. However, we still see teachers rushing for syllabuses and busy preparing students for all sorts of exams. Not to mention the large class sizes and the accompanying heavy marking load, how could teachers stay fit physically and mentally with so many workloads? I do believe that most of the teachers would like to make their lessons livelier and have more flexibility in choosing the materials and teaching methods. I also believe that teachers do not wish their students go for tuitions.
Euphemistically, the textbooks, syllabuses and teachers handbooks are said to guide teachers in teaching. As a matter of fact, these materials confine teachers' way of teaching. Time allocated to each subject in school is just enough for teachers to run through the concepts and basics due to the tight syllabus. Eventually students would need to sit for the standardized tests, which decide their future. To score high for the standardized test, frequent and repeated practices based on the concepts and basics taught are inevitable. And this is the main reason for the increase of tuition centers in Singapore.
A lot of parents have the habit of paving the way that would grant successfulness for their children. These include house moving and become school volunteers to get their children admitted into a good school; send their children to enrichment classes and tuitions in hope that their children could pass standardized test with flying colours. Eventually, their children could get admitted into the university, studying a popular subject which promise good prospect. For most of the students, they bow to the reality at a very young age. Since young, under the influence of the media, friends, community, teacher, school and parents, they got the impression that only by doing well academically; they could have a bright future. If they find the subject or what was taught is not going to help give them promising future, even though they know that is their strength or they have passion on that, they would not pursue them. Students rather give up their passions than face failures.
Civic and moral education (CME) is supposed to be the subject that helps students develops their characters and values. Good values, attitudes and characters could also be taught in other subjects; but character development and values education are not their emphasis. Recently, MOE has just completed revising the CME materials, which claim to be more interesting and could engage students more. However, a lot of people do not see the importance of the CME subject; probably because of it is not examinable. Many mother tongue teachers have experienced their CME classes being "hijacked" by the math and science teachers to rush for syllabuses or to prepare students for exams. The "hijacking" becomes more frequent especially when the exam period is approaching. School leaders are aware of that but turn a blind eye to it. This indirectly acknowledges that the schools are still more prone to grades-centric instead of values-centric. Thus, it is not surprising that students would have the perception that CME is the least important subject and they are less likely learn the subject by heart.
Singapore is a country that adopts a highly centralised education system and a strong top-down approach in policy-making. (Catherine Chua & Richard, 2007) Changes made at the national level often may be difficult to put into practice at the school level. TLLM is one of them. Catherine Chua and Richard (2007) did a study by comparing the science curriculum between two top schools and two mid-level schools. The top schools appear to exercise more flexibility in their curriculum by introducing a more diverse programme. They are placing greater emphasis on research-based and higher order thinking skills, acquiring beyond the basic knowledge. This is in line with the MOE's initiative. The middle category schools are also embarking on introducing and reinforcing some incentive programmes in their schools, especially for those less able students. However, an important observation shows that there was no corresponding decrease in the number of topics taught in class. On the contrary, the number of periods allocated for the science lessons increased in 2005. They also found that the programmes offered by the top schools are more intensive and research oriented than those offered in the middle category schools. By introducing more intensive programme and increase the number of periods, both top schools and middle level schools actually did not put TLLM into practices. These schools rather play "safe" by teaching more, and add more to the curriculum. This can has negative impacts on the school climate, as teachers will have less time to prepare, teach and interact with their students. Sooner or later, teachers would develop resistance towards government initiatives. (Catherine Chua & Richard, 2007)
PSLE test is the ultimate test for all the primary students. This test focus on the end result rather than the process of learning. From time to time, different initiatives, including TLLM are being introduced by MOE to better achieve the purposes of Singapore Education. However, PSLE tests on the whole remain untouched. School principals, teachers, parents and students know that no matter what the changes that will take place, at the end, it is the examination that matters. Thus, when MOE first introduced TLLM, many of the principals and teachers would just take that as another initiative that will come and go.
In 2009, MOE announced that semester exams for Primary 1 & 2 would no longer exist. But later announced that "mini" test would be in place so that teachers could provide regular feedback on pupils' learning to parents. So that is a good change or a bad change? "Mini" tests are still "TEST". They could be the replicas of semester test and could end up having few of them throughout the semester. Students' stress over exam is still there and hardly reduced. After six years of study, students still need to sit for the PSLE test. This also means that the pace of preparing the PSLE test would be increased once students step into Primary 3 seeing that the time given has been shortened by 2 years.
The aims of education policy are to ensure that students not only master scholastic knowledge, but that they are equipped with the knowledge needed to perform well in the globalised economy (Seaton, 2002). In Singapore Education, the decision-making in curriculum policy always lie in the hands of the government. Thus, we can say that Singapore educational policies are the mirrors of the social, economic and political needs of a society. (Catherine Chua & Richard, 2007) From the TLLM policy, we can see that Singapore government would like to mould the future leaders in becoming a confident person, a self-directed learner, an active contributor and a concerned citizen.
Although TLLM encourages teachers to teach less so that student could learn more, what students actually learn are still very much depends on what would be assessed finally. We still see some schools hesitating to put TLLM into practice. Thus, I would like to comment that TLLM would be just another MOE's attempt to change the direction of education in Singapore school if MOE still continue its traditional reluctance to let go or downgrade the position of the examination system. Education in Singapore is not education but just a huge examination preparation exercise, namely, the high stakes examination system.