NUS takes bold move to curb obsession with grades

~SMU
Publication: The Straits Times, p 81-2
Date: 23 January 2014
Headline: NUS takes bold move to curb obsession with grades
NUS takes bold move to
curb obsession with grades
It is rolling out a
'grade-free'
system in phases
for its freshmen
involvedin the forum since
INA boost forAsien
2008, when he was appointed
universities, National
University of Singapore (NUS) NUS president, said: "ltisa
president Tan Chorh Chuan
great honour to be chair of
such a distinguished gathering
has been appointed by the
World Economic Forum
of university presidents. It
(WEF)aschairof a
recognises NUS' standing as a
prestigious forum of
dobal university... and
university leaders.
~gapore's overall
From this year, be wiR
prouunence on the global
head the Global University
stage."
One of the likely topics on
Leaders Forum (Gulf) fora
two-year term, taking over
Gulf's agenda this year is
from Professor Richard Levin, whether online learning has
theformerheadof
delivered on its
the renowned Yale
potential, said Prof
University.
Tan,wboisin
The group,
Davos,
which comprises
Switzerland, for
HQNOURFORS'PORE
WEFandGulf
the beads of 25
top universities,
meetings.
It rerognises !'11JS'
was created by the standing as a
He noted that
WEFin2006asa
massive open
free
giOOal uni¥ersity_
platform for
onlinecourses,
and Singapcre's
academic leaders
called "Moocs" in
O\oerall prominence
short, have a hi~
to engage their
on
the
global
stage.
peers from other
dropout rate, with
NUS
p-esident
jusf6 per cent of
sectors in
TanCtorhOiuan
high-level
Cct:ts seeing
diilogues.
It lilsodebates
---''
"Many!f-oocs
end discusses
also donotresult
in acertificate or degree from
major trends in higher
education and research, such
theuniversity,"hesaid. "This
as the impact of online
isanareawhichwouldhave
learning on universities.
to develop over the next few
Members of the "invitation years before they can takeoff
maverybigway."
only" SfOUJ'includeto_p
universities such as
ProfTanrevealedthat
NUS, which already has a
Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard,
partnership with COursera- a
as well asleading Asian
institutions such as Peking
keypJoviderofMoocs- is in
the midst of finalising plans
University and the University
to work with overseas
ofTokyo. NUSisoneofsiJ:
universities in online learning.
Asian universities in the
group, and the only one from
An announcement is
expected later this year.
Singapore.
ONG HWEE HWE£
Prof Ten, 54, wbo has been
,, __
By OHG HWEE HWEE
ASSISTANT I£WS EDITOR
IN Abold move by the National
University of Siogapore(NUS)to
reducetheobsession withfrades,
how its freshmen perform m exam.smay nolongercountin their
final mark.
The initiative, already in place
at its medical school, will be
rolledoutinphasestootherfaculties, which could include law end
engineering, from as earlv as this
year, revealed NUS pJesident Tan
ChorhChuan.
Details are still being worked
out for what NUS has c8lled its
"grade-free" system, which will
be extended to the whole school
overthenext few years. But while
there will still be tests end exams,
first-yearstudentswillnolonser
get A toFgrades.
Instead theywilljust be given a
distinction, pass, or fail in their
modules- and thesewillnotform
part of their Cumulative Average
Point, which determines the qUality of the degree awarded at the
end of their course.
"We think that it is important
to reducesomeoftheover-focus
ongradesasthemostimportent
thingtogofor, asopposedtoactu-
NUS president appointed chair
of prestigious global forum
t«JSpresideri TanQ!omCIIIansays "it§ inportari toredasome oWe O¥er·focusongradesasthemost important
thifi to go lor, as opposed to aetuallearring".
allearning," ProfessorTan told
The Straifs Times.last Friday.
"Grading -in terms of Pass or
Fail- willstillocc ur. But this is reany to help students know where
they are in relation to a subject."
NUS, whichha:s the biggestintakeoffreshmenamonguniversities here, currently has about
6,900 full-time first-year students.
STPHOTO: M,l!!K CHEOSG
The move to take some IJ{essure off freshmen, who typically
take on lOmodules, and help
them cope with university life,
comesamidabroadershifttowards an education system less
fuatedongrades. Top universities, such as the Massachusetts JnstituteofTechnology(Mrr), have
already gone •gradeless", Prof
Tan pointed out.
At the Singapore Universitvof
Technology enaDesign, which
partners MIT end took in its first
cohort in 20U, Term 1students
get a "pass" or "no record" in
each subject and there is no Grade
PointAverage(GPA)fiven. In
Term2,studentsrecmveA, B,C
~ ClllnNllD
I'II IIIPAGE 82
Source: The Straits [email protected] Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Pennission required for reproduction.
Publication: The Straits Times, p 81-2
Date: 23 January 2014
Headline: NUS takes bold move to curb obsession with grades
~SMU
Freeing up
students to go
beyond books
Mill FR~
U PA!l 81
or "no record", but onlyj)SSSing grades are used tocalculatetheirGPA.
Tan.
"students are more collaborative, andthereisagreaterfocuson ectuallearning," be
said.
NUS' medical students now
While theN anyangTeclmo- go "grade-lessn for their first
~gical University andSinga-
poreManagement University
aonot have asimilar policy for
first-year students, sever&l
courses are graded on a
pass-fu basis.
Bydoingawaywithgrades,
Prof Ten hopes that fresbmen
can venture out of their comfort zone end takeonmore "exploratory" type of courses.
This would also free students to go beyondbooks end
"spend tune to developtheir
personal qualiies which are
not soeasytograde".
While there are concerns
that students maybeless motivated to study if they are not
graded, the experience at the
YongLooLinSchoolofMedicine, which piloted the
grade-free scheme in 2010,
showed otherwise, said Prof
fwoyears.
"Yougain adegree of freedom toe:xp~renon-ecademic
pursuits... ltalsobelpstoreduce unhealthy competition,"
said 20-year-old second-year
medical student N"~eole Lee,
who bas time for co-curricular
activities end community
work.
But she admitted that some
ofberpeersmayfeelinsecure
without a letter i!ade to show
how well, or poorly, they are
doing.
"Somemayask:Wbatdoes
itmeaniflget a'pass'?lsit a
comfortable or borderline
pass?"
NUSisalsolookingatrevempingits General Education
modUlestoprovideamore
well- rounded education.
Currently, students must
Bydoinr •'11 Mth grades, thtHatilnal Uriwrsityol Slip pore hopes that fresh11111 canwntlreoutol tbeir
cimlorfzcneandtal!a mmore "exporatary"typeolcourses.
STFILE PIIOTO
take two of these modules,
which include topics like GlobalisationandNewMedia_, as
well as two "breadth" subjects
which are outside their area of
specialisation.
But some ended up choosing subjects they were already
good in or feel confident of
scoring in.
One way to address the
problem, ProfTen suggested,
1sto"repackage" these subjects into categories, and make
1tcompulsoryforstudentsto
choosefromeechoftbese.
Pilot schemes are being
planned for the new academic
year starting August, but the
revamp will take years to complete.
SaidProfTan: "It maybe
Source: The Straits [email protected] Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Pennission required for reproduction.
helpful fora student wbo is
very goodinliteraturetoleam
some quantitative techniques
like statistics.
"The question is how do we
encourage or ensure that students reilly learn in areas in
which tbev are not so strong in
but wouldbe quite essential to
them."
· - hwet~pb com sg