Year after year, Singaporean students have managed to prove that they are some of the smartest kids on the planet. The young minds of the city-state have consistently been at the top of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) on global competence in the past decade, proving that the education they receive is world-class.
That is why Singapore has become a destination for students from all over the world to get the same level of quality education that they cannot get from their home countries. They are flying into the city-state in order to attend a global international school and, one day, be able to compete with anyone on the international stage.
Stress and Anxiety Among Singaporean Students
However, in the past couple of years, there have been reports about the increasing feelings of stress and anxiety among students over expectations and academic performance.
One international study, which polled around 540,000 students across 72 countries, found that young Singaporeans feel anxiety over tests and grades the most. Some said that they worry about getting poor grades in school. Others revealed that they feel nervous even though they have prepared before the test.
The researchers also revealed that the anxiety levels of Singaporean students were significantly higher than the global average. In other countries polled, 66% of students expressed worry over getting poor grades in school. But 86% of the respondents from Singapore said that they feel emotional distress because they do not want to get poor grades.
As a response, Singapore is rolling out different strategies to protect its students from the mental health consequences that come with being achievers.
Schools Begin Teaching Mental Resilience
Schools are first to address the high levels of stress that affects the young minds of Singapore. In one secondary school, administrators attempt to remove the stigma and normalize failing a subject and getting a lower grade in an exam.
A student faced their schoolmates and revealed how the support of their family and their peers encouraged them to keep going even if they failed four subjects during the mid-year exams.
In addition, schools are also launching wellness programmes that seek to improve the mental as well as the physical health of students, especially during the exam season. Some students get to go on nature trips to reduce stress. Studies have proven that spending time in nature will significantly lower the level of cortisol, which is also known as the stress hormone, in the body.
Another school has a programme that encourages the practice of gratitude. In it, students can share the things and experiences in life that they are most thankful for. The activity improves their mood and overall increases their happiness/satisfaction.
But even educators know that these programmes that address the high levels of stress students experience are only Band-Aid solutions. To dramatically improve the mental health of the young people of Singapore, there need to be changes in the education system.
Regulators have been trying different approaches in the hope of decreasing the pressure that comes with academic performance. The Singapore Ministry of Education (MoE), in 2012, announced that they will no longer release the list of top 10 scorers for the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), a development that was welcomed by many parents.
The PSLE is taken by primary school pupils. It is one of the many exams that will determine the future success of a child. That is why even very young primary school students experience heightened stress and anxiety.
More recently, the MoE scrapped the mid-year examinations for Primary 3, Primary 5, Secondary 1, and Secondary 3 students. The goal was to lessen the stress that comes with studying and make education a more enjoyable experience among young people.
The changes will also give teachers a bit of time to develop strategies that will make learning fun. Aside from students, teachers, too, experience the stress that comes with exams. They often work longer hours and have to rush their lectures to make sure that the students are prepared to take the tests. These changes will allow teachers to take it easy prior to and during exam season.
Singapore has become a centre of quality education in Asia thanks to the resources that the city-state poured toward education and the hard work that students invest in studying so that they can become globally competitive. The pressure to achieve resulted in a mental health crisis among young people. However, educators and relevant authorities are creating measures to ensure that Singaporeans can reach their full potential without sacrificing their well-being.