As the education system is revamped to address concerns of too much pressure and competition, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday chose to put the spotlight on how Singapore's schools have delivered good results over the years and continue to hold up well against counterparts in the rest of the world.
The most recent confirmation of this was in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) rankings, which found that students here excel in problem- solving, he said at Chong Boon Secondary's 20th anniversary.
Singapore's 15-year-olds topped the category in a global ranking of student skills organised by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a grouping of the world's developed nations.
Mr Lee quipped that they could not have mugged for it as there was "no 10-year series". Aceing it required common sense, creativity and judgment.
Also, the result is based on 1,400 students chosen by the OECD, not the Ministry of Education (MOE). And the students were picked from every secondary school in Singapore.
"I think we can be proud of ourselves...(and) can confidently say that we have done our duty to our students and to the next generation," said the Prime Minister, in a speech that sought to inject balance into discussions that have too often focused on how the education system here is too stressful, structured and competitive.
Mr Lee acknowledged that the education system sometimes made parents and students feel "pressured". But the Government has taken steps to reduce unhealthy competition, he said. For instance, MOE has stopped giving the names of top performers in the Primary School Leaving Examination since 2012.
"All of us who are parents have had our frustrating moments," he said. "But while we try to improve our education system... don't forget this is a good system and it delivers good results for us and for Singapore, parents and students."
For one thing, graduates, including those from the Institute of Technical Education, are sought after by employers. Also, Singapore has done well in international competitions like Olympiads for mathematics and science, and in world rankings of education systems, students and schools.
In the Pisa test, for example, Singapore had the highest proportion of top scorers worldwide. And most students from poorer homes made it to the top 25 per cent, said Mr Lee.
Still, schools and students need to continue to "learn and improve", he added.
He cited three ways: raise the quality of every school, teach skills such as critical and creative thinking, and help students from poorer homes "climb higher".
But the Government's efforts alone will not be enough, he said, urging parents, students and the community to get involved.
This spirit of involvement thrives in Chong Boon Secondary, which is in Mr Lee's Teck Ghee ward. He noted its students take part in grassroots activities in his ward and in Ang Mo Kio ward.
He also noted how the school inspires its students, such as Mr Kalaichelvam Ramdass, a Normal (Technical) stream student who will study mechanical engineering at Nanyang Technological University.
Mr Kalaichelvam had been inspired by a message he saw at school, said Mr Lee. It said: "Today I am proud of Chong Boon, tomorrow Chong Boon will be proud of me."
This article was published on April 11 in The Straits Times.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.