Budget debate: MPs call for cap on class sizes, more mental health support in schools


Cap class sizes to reduce need for tuition

Associate Professor Lim asked if the Ministry of Education would consider capping classroom sizes at 23 – the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development average – in particular for subjects where students typically have more difficulty such as maths or languages. He said this would reduce the amount of money that households here feel they must spend on private tuition, which he described as an “implicit tax” on Singaporean families.

Smaller class sizes can also help level the playing field for lower-income students, he added.


Change mindset on students’ worth

Mr Chua asked how Singapore could change its mindset of defining success in terms of academic achievements, and drop its deep-seated biases against those who are less academically inclined.

“It is high time that we recognise that every youth has potential and potential should not be defined narrowly in terms of academic achievement,” he said.

He also asked how the country could structure an education system that will nurture, mentor and help such students uncover and pursue their passions.


Empower students with special needs

Ms Rahayu said Singapore has to start seeing special needs students as assets to the community with untapped talents, in order to draw out their potential. She cited how people diagnosed with autism-spectrum disorder are being trained for cyber security jobs as they are well-suited to data annotation.

She asked if the Education Ministry could look into developing skill sets to help special needs students find gainful employment, and what could be done to train teachers to support such students.


Boost mental health support in schools

Ms Tan brought up the increasing rate of teen suicide in recent years and asked the Minister of Education about the current strategies to strengthen mental health support in schools.

She also wanted to know how teachers and staff were being equipped to deal with mental health issues that stem from poverty, peer victimisation, family violence, racism, homophobia and transphobia. “When society risks losing young lives to mental health struggles, educators need to understand,” she said.


Training to facilitate tough discussions

Dr Shahira asked if all teachers could be trained to facilitate discussions on controversial issues, noting that such training is currently offered to some.

“Controversial issues and incidents can happen at any time and it would be advantageous for all teachers to be able to seize it as a teachable moment when it happens,” she said.

She noted that constructive guided discussions in school may be an effective way of unpacking such issues, given that many youth may pick up their opinions and knowledge on them from the Internet.


Alternative to overseas work experience

The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in schools cancelling overseas learning trips and exchange programmes, said Ms Mariam.

She noted that overseas work experience has many benefits, including gaining a sense of perspective and enhancing adaptability.

She asked if the Government can tap the global firms that it partners for skills programmes – to provide opportunities for students and trainees here to gain exposure and experience working on projects with teams outside Singapore amid the pandemic.


Classes to cultivate soft skills

There is a growing recognition that soft skills are crucial for 21st century employees, said Mr Perera, adding that results for Pisa 2018 (Programme for International Student Assessment) indicated two areas of concern for students in Singapore – adaptability to new challenges and the fear of failure.

He called for the Character and Citizenship Education curriculum to plug these gaps, such as through cultivating a form of standardised measurement of soft skills.


Better feedback processes for teachers

Mr Ng asked if the Education Ministry would strengthen the processes for teachers to seek feedback on their performance.

“We all grow and learn from feedback. Teachers are no different. School leaders must give teachers who receive a C-or D grade feedback to improve their performance,” said Mr Ng.

Some teachers, he noted, had shared that feedback comes only after the grade is issued, with little done to help them improve in the course of the school year.

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