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Let exams become a luxury
by Clara Chow

WHEN I heard the news that Primary 1 examinations here will be abolished by 2013 – the year in which my elder son Julian will enter primary school – my first reaction was “Yay!”

Later, however, I wondered if I was betraying myself with that knee-jerk reaction.

You see, I love exams.

As a kid, I would loaf about the entire school year, the perennial chatterbox in class. But, come exam time, I would hit the books and take my written assessments very seriously.

All through primary and secondary school, junior college and university, I looked forward to the adrenalin rush of going into exam halls with all my pencils sharpened, pens at the
ready, and two bottles of Brand’s Essence of Chicken downed before the invigilator’s signal to begin.

Yes, I am a weirdo.

In fact, I like exams so much that I have officially become a student again. This month, I will start a part-time Master’s programme in Literary Studies at my alma mater, the  National University of Singapore.

Hooray, I look forward to writing some of my best essays under timed duress at the end
of the semester.

But, back to those much-debated, soon-to-be-extinct Primary 1 exams.

In a way, I am glad that my two sons, aged four years and nine months now, will not  experience the exam anxiety that has plagued countless students before them – at least in their first year of formal education.

Yet, as some parents and education- policy observers have pointed out, the move is  merely putting off the inevitable.

Unless the Singapore education system comes up with an alternative to the Primary  School Leaving Examination, parents will still worry about how their kids will do in  academic tests.

And we are not even talking about the O and A levels yet. In fact, a mother I know is already planning to quit her job come 2013, to stay home and give her five-year-old son  extra coaching.

In lauding the Ministry of Education’s plans for exam-free P1 kids (makes them sound a  little like free-range chickens, doesn’t it?), I am hoping that this is the start of a tectonic shift that will result in all examinations at higher levels being scrapped in the future.

After all, with less emphasis on drilling and revision for endof- semester assessments,  there will – one hopes – be more time for the kids to learn and be exposed to a  smorgasbord of things that capture their interest.

Time spent on tuition and going over lessons can be given over to field trips, fun activities and games. In a way, I know that the education system that my sons will go through here will be vastly different from the one I went through.

Arguing, as some parents and current students may be tempted to do, that kids in the future take exams because they “build character”, is like insisting that we stick to using  typewriters for all correspondence, and haul mainframe computers around because they  help to tone our arms.

Times change, and the ways we learn change with them, although we may not know it – or how – yet. But, just as there are typewriter aficionados around, and people who are  lovingly obsessed with all things analogue and archaic, may I suggest that we don’t throw  out exams completely?

Let them remain in schools as a kind of speciality interest.

Perhaps students can sign up anonymously to take end-of-the-year exams in whichever subjects they wish.

Registration should be anonymous, and the grades will never be disclosed to anyone  other than the examinee.

And the results will not be worth the paper they are printed on, when it comes to  advancing to the next level or getting a job.

That way, exam junkies like me, who just want a chance to show off what they have  learnt in class in the easiest, most straightforward way, will still have an avenue to do so.

I look forward to the day that exams become no longer a necessity, but a luxury.

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