Talent Meritocracy or Exam Meritocracy?

Article by Joyce Sim (August 2008)

Tharman Shanmugaratnam (former Education Minister) on ‘We All Have a Lot to Learn’, Newsweek, Jan 9, 2006.

"We both have meritocracies. Yours (America’s) is a talent meritocracy, ours (Singapore’s) is an exam meritocracy. There are some parts of the intellect that we are not able to test well – like creativity, curiosity, a sense of adventure, ambition. Most of all, America has a culture of learning that challenges conventional wisdom, even if it means challenging authority. These are the areas where Singapore must learn from America."

“Singapore is now emphasising factors other than raw testing skills when selecting its top students. But cultures are hard to change.A Singaporean friend recently brought his children back from America and put them in his country's much-heralded schools. He described the difference:

"In the American school, when my son would speak up, he was applauded and encouraged. In Singapore, he's seen as pushy and weird. The culture of making learning something to love and engage in with gusto is totally absent. Here it is a chore. Work hard, memorize and test well."

It's been two years from then. I wonder if Singaporeans with exam-oriented mindsets have changed for the better of our students?

Update: (27 January 2009) MOE has announced that there will be no exams for primary 1 and 2 students.