Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Do students think school is a waste of time?

Singapore’s education system is held in high regard around the world. For example, a Mckinsey report on education made special mention on how Singapore’s education system promoted school autonomy, led to top scores in international tests, and enabled greater achievement equality. US President Obama himself has even praised Singapore’s education system.

 International recognition is always nice, but did anyone ask our students how they felt about school? 



Fortunately, the OECD PISA survey did. In this survey, students not only in Singapore, but in about 70 other countries were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the following statements:

  • “School has done little to prepare me for adult life when I leave school” 
  • “School has been a waste of time” 
  • “School helped give me confidence to make decisions” 
  • “School has taught me things which could be useful in a job” 
 Let’s look at the first two statements, which are negative. As the chart below shows, about a third of students in Singapore agreed that school did little to prepare one for adult life. This was much higher than the 25% registered in OECD countries. 


Fortunately, this is where the bad news ends. Only 10% of students in Singapore felt that school was a waste of time, similar to that in other OECD countries. Majority - 85% - of students in both Singapore and OECD countries felt that they learnt things useful in a job. 

There is also one bright spot. 4 in 5 students in Singapore felt that school gave them the confidence to make decisions, compared to the 73% for OECD countries. 

What can we learn from these findings? Firstly, students engagement is important for school performance, given that students who felt that school was a waste of time tended to score 5 – 7% poorer than students who felt otherwise. Secondly, students in Singapore felt that schools provided the skills for jobs, but not adult life. This means that students could benefit from picking up skills like time management and financial planning, though whether this should be left to schools remains unclear. Lastly, schools give students the confidence to make decisions – it is not just about books and tests after all.

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