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  • My Introduction to Singapore Secondary School and An Exam With True Consequences

    Today was my first placement and it was at Beatty Secondary School in Singapore. Freddy Loke, my assigned Academy of Singapore Teachers (AST) buddy was with me from the start of my bus journey to assist me in my travels. We took a few pictures to mark my first day of school and capture our good moods.

    My abbreviated day began with a short tour of the school which serves approximately 1200 students. Principal Ling Khoon Chow welcomed me, as did Vice-Principal Lim Soon Wai and a leadership team of teachers. We took a brief tour of the school and I had the opportunity to walk the halls and pay a visit to one class taking place in a ‘Maker Space’. To clarify, a ‘Maker Space’ is a collaborative workspace inside a school for making, learning, exploring, and sharing. As we entered the room the students stood to face us and Mr. Lim gave verbal instructions on how to address me, and in unison, they said, “Good morning Dr. Powell, Principal, and teachers.” Mr. Lim instructed the students to continue working and they went back to their groups. In the back of my head, I wondered with a smile if I could possibly replicate this greeting and quick following of directions in my classroom back in California.

    In the ‘Maker Space’ were high school students working collaboratively to problem-solve issues at their school. The desks were in quads and the students moved around freely during class interaction. This setup was quite different then the rows of desks I had seen in classrooms earlier on my walking tour. 

    The highlight of my day …

    The highlight of my day was the privilege of witnessing an assembly to announce the release of the 2018 GCE O Level results. The results of this exam have a major influence on the trajectory of studies a student qualifies to pursue, and as such the assembly was well attended by parents, students, and faculty. I was curious as the US has no such national exam to test the academic competence of 16-year-olds, nor does California have any standardized test taken in high schools that impacts a student’s academic path following graduation. Knowing the importance of this test and the impact it has, I wanted to witness the result release.

    First, Principal Ling welcomed the assembly and reviewed the agenda. He stated, “This is an important juncture in your life’s journey,” highlighting the importance of the results of this exam and the implications attached to the scores. He called attention to the documents students would receive in their results packet. Next, he reviewed school-wide results in comparison to last year; Beatty Secondary School increased their pass rate for all GCE O levels compared to 2017. The audience cheered as he showed the data on a PowerPoint screen in the front of the room. The finale came when students were called up to receive their score packets. There were a lot of smiles, a few tears, but overall parents and students seemed pleased with the results. On hand were counselors in the event a student had a hard time accepting their scores.

    Students were mixing and mingling in the auditorium following the assembly and I had the opportunity to casually ask a few students how they had performed. Fortunately, I was situated in the corner of the assembly where students who scored ‘with distinction’ were asked to congregate for a photo op, so I knew they had done well. The two boys I asked were both humble in their responses saying they did “All right.” I asked them if they were proud of their scores and they both said that they thought so. I have included a few pictures below of the school and the assembly. It might be interesting to note that the top performers on the exams were listed alphabetically by name on the PowerPoint, and no overall scores were published. I was told this was mandated by the Ministry of Education (MOE) to put less emphasis on numerical points earned.

    I’m looking forward to spending more time meeting teachers and getting to know students at Beatty. 

    *The Singapore-Cambridge General Certificate of Education Ordinary ‘O’ Level examination is a national examination held annually in Singapore. The exams are taken by students in their fourth year of high school (Express Stream) or fifth year (Normal Academic stream).