Singapore Biology Olympiad
There are no posters, brochures, etc., to promote participation in the SBO. Email is the only means of communication. Calls for participation and promotion of the Singapore Biology Olympiad is undertaken by the Ministry of Education HQ to all junior colleges and through-train schools (Secondary to Pre-University, i.e. year 7 - 12).
Schools are informed by the Ministry of Education, Headquarters (MOE, HQ) via email in October each year. The information is sent by the HQ officer-in-charge of the Singapore Biology Olympiad (SBO).
The Singapore Institute of Biology (SIBiol), which is the professional society for biologists and biology educators, is the main organizer of the Singapore Biology Olympiad (SBO). The SBO is co-organized with the Singapore Ministry of Education. The organisation, training and selection of team members to represent Singapore in the IBO is led by representatives of SIBiol, undertaken in close cooperation with the Ministry of Education.
There are two rounds involved in the SBO: Theory Tests and Practical Tests. Each year during November, national schools comprising junior colleges and through-train schools (Years 7 - 12 ) are invited to send their top Biology students (totaling 300 -400 pupils in the 11th year or age 17) for the SBO. The first round comprises the Theory Tests. There are four parts to the Theory tests: A - D, each with 50 multiple choice questions. Students are given 45 minutes to complete Parts A and B, followed by a short break of about 20 mins, before they are required to answer the 100 questions in Parts C and D. The distribution of topics in the questions follow the recommended percentages in the IBO syllabus.
The top scoring students (approximately 10%) who sat for the Theory tests will be selected for the next round of the SBO, which comprise the Practical Tests. The format of the Practical Tests follow that of the IBO with a total of 36- 44 students split up into 4 groups. These groups are rotated to different labs to do four Practical tests. The Practical test round usually lasts for the entire day. The academics who set the practical tasks usually observe the students while they are doing the tasks.
At the end of the day, students are debriefed by the task-setters to enhance the learning process through identification of common mistakes and advice on how to undertake the more difficult tasks. This is Singapore's philosophy of teaching: that pupils learn through scientific inquiry and improve from their experiences. It is the learning process that is more important than the actual results.
Details of the tests have already been given in the section above. Academics from both the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University (NIE, NTU) as well as from the National University of Singapore (NUS) are responsible for setting the test questions. The students usually sit for their theory tests and practical tests at the NIE. In 2010 and 2011, the venue was switched to NUS in order to avoid a conflict of interest in the use venues, and in preparation of the 2012 IBO in Singapore which was hosted at the NIE. From 2012, both NIE and NUS will take turns to host the SBO.
The top scorers in the SBO are shortlisted for an interview to gauge their potential and attitude to represent the country. Usually about 6 to 10 students are selected for training. These students are then asked to read up Campbell to prepare themselves for the theory component of the IBO tests.
At the end of May or beginning of June (during the Singapore school holidays), the shortlisted students attend a 5-day long residential camp at NIE (School of Biological Sciences, NTU in 2012), where they are given hands-on training in biological techniques as well as taught dissection skills, etc. During this week, the students are observed and assessed on their practical skills, attitude and EQ.
The final team of four students to represent Singapore is announced at the end of the 5-day camp. These students are then told to do intensive studying on their own using Campbell and IBO sample questions from the official IBO Center Website. The students who are not selected are usually counselled and encouraged to continue to pursue their interests in biology (i.e., not to give up on biology!).
Beginning around 2005, SIBiol began involving SBO/IBO alumni to assist in the training of the Singapore team, during the 5-day residential camp. This network of alumni members has grown from year to year, and dedicated members regularly return from their University and postgraduate studies in May/June to mentor the Singapore team.
No special teaching resources are developed for students. During the 5-day residential camp, the students are given the opportunity to dissect invertebrates, examine and section plants, etc., to practice their skills in anatomy and systematics. Similarly, they are given opportunities to learn the concepts and techniques of genetics, microbiology, molecular and cell biology, animal behaviour, ecology, etc., with simple laboratory tasks that are normally associated with the respective fields of biology. E.g., the examination of fruit fly characteristics during genetics practical; the study of ethograms for animal behaviour labs.
The SBO organising committee comprising representatives from the Singapore Institute of Biology (SIBiol), and MOE determines the final tally of medals and certificates of participation. Medals are awarded to the top 5 - 10% of the total number of SBO participants while all participants receive Certificates of participation endorsed by the President of the Singapore Institute of Biology and the Chairperson of the SBO organising committee. Student participants do not receive any other form of incentives or prizes.
The results of the IBO are released officially to the press by the Singapore MOE after all International Science Olympiads have concluded for the year. Sometimes, schools from which medal winners originate will inform or contact the press on their own.
The Singapore MOE is the main sponsor of all training expenses and participation costs. The Singapore Institute of Biology contributes funds to support additional observers as well as purchase of medals and certificates. Academics from the two main universities (NIE, NTU and NUS) volunteer their services to train the students during the 5-day residential camp as well as their time and expertise to set questions the Theory and Practical Tests of the SBO, and are not paid.
Besides funding all training and participation expenses, MOE HQ officers are the main liaison with schools for sourcing participants for the SBO. No award ceremony is organized.
Singapore follows all the IBO rules and regulations with respect to selection of participants for the SBO.
Dr Beverly GOH
Natural Sciences & Science Education National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University 1 Nanyang Walk, Singapore 637616 Republic of Singapore
Ministry of Education, Republic of Singapore
The invitation to participate in the SBO is sent out by the Singapore MOE HQ to all national junior colleges and through-train schools every year. The number of schools that respond and send participants varies from year to year. In November 2012, a total of 23 schools and 320 students participated in the Theory Tests. On the average, about 10 to 12 % of the total cohort of Biology students participate in the first selection round (Theory tests) of the SBO.