Saturday, 11 January 2014

LEAPS 2.0: Revised CCA reward system

Overhaul to nurture all-round students
New framework starts with this year's Sec 1 students; bands to replace grades
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 10 Jan 2014

THE Ministry of Education announced yesterday an overhaul of a system that recognises students' efforts in co-curricular programmes.

The new framework, which starts with Secondary 1 students this year, will reward those who strive to be all-rounders. Students now in Sec 2 to 5 will continue with the current system until 2017.

Students who do well in co-curricular programmes chalk up points that will help in their application to junior colleges and polytechnics.

Under the new system, students like star athletes who win medals for their schools but are not as active in community service projects may not do as well.

Conversely, students who are involved in a broad range of programmes - from co-curricular activity (CCA) to community service projects like planning a beach clean-up - may fare better.

The new framework, called LEAPS 2.0, enables students to be better recognised and encourages schools to design more "balanced" experiences, said Madam Liew Wei Li, director of student development curriculum division at the ministry.

The ministry will do away with grades like A1 and replace them with three bands - Excellent, Good and Fair.

The "Excellent" band will be the equivalent of the current A1 or A2 grades, which allow students to deduct two bonus points from their aggregate scores when they apply to a junior college or polytechnic.

Under the current grading scheme, which was introduced in 2003, students obtain an A1 grade when they chalk up 25 points or more across five areas - leadership, enrichment, achievement, participation and service, or LEAPS for short - during their secondary school years.

More weight is given to leadership and achievement, such as winning medals in competitions.

For example, a student can chalk up a maximum of 12 points for leadership, which takes into account positions he holds, such as school prefect or team captain.

Less emphasis is given to community service, which is allocated a maximum of five points.

The revised framework, however, gives equal weighting to all categories.

In line with the new approach, "levels of attainment", from 1 to 5, will replace the point system.

To get "Excellent", a student would need to obtain at least a level 4 in one area, and a level 3 in the rest.

Enrichment, which refers to involvement in programmes like life skills workshops, will no longer contribute to a student's final band.

Under the current scheme, 60 per cent of students on average do well enough to deduct the two bonus points from their academic scores. This will remain largely the same under the revised framework, said the ministry.

The new system also adopts a broader criteria for some of the categories. For instance, achievements outside of school will be counted. This could include helping at a community club. The time and effort taken to plan community service projects will also be taken into consideration.

Bowen Secondary principal Bernard Chew said he is glad the new system reinforces the importance of service. "It is not enough to do well in examinations and CCAs... but we must teach students equally to do good... and develop empathy, compassion and gratitude."

Mr Ivan Lee, 51, a trainer who has two daughters in Bowen Secondary, said the updated scheme will help students develop character. "CCAs now are about going for competitions and winning, but they miss out on other things like serving others and reaching out."

New CCA scheme is a Leap forward
LEAPS 2.0 puts equal focus on service, achievement, participation, leadership
By Amelia Teng and Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 11 Jan 2014

TANJONG Katong Girls' School student Karuna Faswani, 12, hopes to join the school's bowling team or the choir when she picks her co-curricular activity (CCA) this month.

But her mother Bharti Daswani, 36, was told by other parents that Red Cross was a safer bet.

"We were told uniformed groups have better leadership opportunities, and it is easier to get A for the co-curricular activity grade," said the lecturer at a private school. "But with the new evaluation scheme, she can do what she likes, and not have to focus on points."

Karuna is among this year's Secondary 1 students, the first batch to come under LEAPS 2.0, a revamped framework that recognises students who strive to be all-rounders in co-curricular programmes. Students who are now in Sec 2 to 5 will continue with the current system until 2017.

Parents The Straits Times spoke to said the new scheme, announced by the Ministry of Education on Thursday, appears to be a good move as it gives equal emphasis to the different aspects of non-academic performance, such as community service.

The current system gives more weight to areas such as leadership and achievement, which includes winning competitions and holding key positions in CCAs.

The new scheme gives students who are not top sportsmen, or high-profile school leaders, a chance to be recognised in different ways, said parents.

Its winning point is that students' contributions to society outside of school can be counted, said Mrs Bharti. "It's fairer because it redistributes the focus, and my daughter is also more open to her interests," she said.

A secondary school teacher, who did not want to be named, said: "Instead of letting their children choose what they are interested in, a handful of parents would go for CCAs that help them 'score'. The new framework may help to make the system less competitive."

Under the new scheme, equal weight will be given to all categories - leadership, achievement, participation and service.

"Levels of attainment", from 1 to 5, will replace the current points system. Broader bands - excellent, good and fair - will also replace eight letter grades.

These will be converted into bonus points students can use for entry to a junior college or polytechnic, like in the existing system.

But some parents, like Madam Sarah Chew, 41, whose Sec 1 daughter is in her school's rhythmic gymnastics team, expressed concern that their children would need to put in more hours doing community service on top of extra training hours.

"It is hard as it is now for her to balance school work and sports excellence. As long as she does not need to put in extra hours outside of school, I'm okay with it," said the senior client manager, whose daughter is part of a programme that trains students with potential to represent Singapore.

Principals said many students easily clock 36 hours of community work during their secondary school years, which could allow them to do well under the new system. They added that placing more emphasis on service will not lower standards of CCAs, like in sports or performing arts.

"Students didn't suddenly not practise hard when the Singapore Youth Festival award levels were changed to distinction, accomplishment and commendation last year," said Ang Mo Kio Secondary principal Abdul Mannan, referring to the ministry's move to streamline the awards structure to focus on participation rather than competition.

Principals noted that CCA departments will need to do more to boost their students' involvement in community service, a process that has started for most schools in the last few years.

Bowen Secondary principal Bernard Chew said: "A good model is having CCAs themselves organise community service activities related to the students' interests, like teaching soccer to low-income children."

At his school, the taekwondo club spent time last year with residents from one-room Lorong Buangkok flats, doing arts and craft with them, and teaching them basic taekwondo moves.

He said: "We've been trying to make sure that students' experiences will be meaningful, instead of just collecting donations during flag days."

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