Heng sticking to his guns over not naming top scorers

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat is sticking to his guns about not naming the top scorers of national examinations, including the PSLE.

Focusing on top scorers reinforces the mistaken notion among some parents that "education equals grades", he told a 300-strong audience made up mostly of parents, at The Straits Times' inaugural Education Forum yesterday.

But the success of many people out there, including businessmen and chief executives he has met, depends on other key qualities besides academic ability, said Mr Heng at venue partner Singapore Management University.

The half-day event at the Mochtar Riady Auditorium offered insights on how children can succeed and featured speakers such as Professor Andrew Martin of the University of New South Wales, an expert in academic motivation.

Mr Stanz Tan, POSB expert, who is vice-president of Bancassurance, gave advice on how to save up for children's education. POSB was the presenting sponsor.

At the forum's dialogue session, chaired by Straits Times editor Warren Fernandez, parents asked Mr Heng about issues ranging from the relevance of streaming to home-schooling. One asked about the decision not to name top scorers.

Mr Heng said in reply that in his 27 years of public service before entering politics, he came across many top performers at their jobs who did not have top grades. While heading the Monetary Authority of Singapore, he met many bank chief executives from non-brand name colleges.

"A lot of their learning goes beyond exams and grades. These are very smart people, but they also have a whole range of qualities in them that makes them such effective leaders," he added. These include being willing to take risks or learn new skills.

"Excellence, hard work - those remain very important qualities," he said. "But if you look at the top students, that difference between that one mark makes very little difference in life."

The Education Ministry had announced in 2012 that it would no longer name the top scorers of national examinations here, in an effort to balance out the "over-emphasis on academic results".

Mr Heng, who stressed that his decision to keep mum on top scorers will stay for now, said: "It's a way for me to recalibrate the system, to say other things matter, and matter greatly too."

Focus on the "intangibles" of education, such as character, values and socio-emotional development, he told parents. Getting the academic foundation right is important for children, but conversations with them must go beyond grades and exams, he said.

The decision might be reversed later "when we're all ready", he said. "I'm quite certain that several years down the road, another education minister will come along and say, name the top PSLE student."


This article was published on May 5 in The Straits Times.

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