For any parent who has been staying in Singapore for a while, these four letters “PSLE” will definitely ring a bell. The PSLE means Primary School Leaving Examinations. Nothing very special yet it may conjure images of fear, dread, happiness, exuberance, anxiety, sleepless nights and even be marked as the D-day for many students and their parents.
To help children prepare for this PSLE, parents have been known to take leave and stay at home before and during the examinations. Some start preparing as early as in Primary 5. Tuition classes, extra classes, past year exam papers..practise, practise, practise. It has even spawned an industry where “top” and popular primary school exam papers are sold at bus interchanges, bookshops. Popular bookstore and many others carries and sells sample exam papers for students to hone their skills in ace-ing this exam. This is because unlike the entry to a local Primary school, the PSLE score is the key and prime determinant of where your child will go after his/her primary education has ended.
From the Ministry of Education website: “The Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) is conducted in Singapore annually. It is a national examination which pupils sit at the end of their final year of primary school education. A pupil can sit the PSLE if he/she is studying in an approved institution in Singapore.” (Source: http://www.seab.gov.sg/psle/generalInfo.html)
Top students can score a range of 260-290. A score of 250 will land the child in a good autonomous or independent school. The average range is from 200-250. Low scores of less than 200 can mean that your child has to take 5 years to finish the secondary education instead of four.
Based on their results, candidates are streamed into three different courses: Express, Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical). (Source: wikipedia)
Well, this year, happened to be the year my niece is sitting for her P6. Being the dutiful aunt, I tried to do my small bit to prepare her for a good secondary education. I brought her to my ex-school(Nanyang Girls’ High) when she was in P5. I shared with her that schools like these are hard to get in and required hard work. She talked to some of my ex-colleagues to understand more about art as she was pretty good in that. In P6, I brought her to SOTA (School of the Arts) and arrange for a tour of the school. She was captivated by the school and inspired to work hard. She wanted very much to get into SOTA. It was her dream school.
She worked hard. She applied for DSA (direct school admission). She got selected for art and was granted entry provided she met the min cut off for her PSLE result. The day she got the offer from SOTA, she posted on Facebook. My sis-in-law shared with me. I was elated. I thought I had done my part as educator and aunt. I have helped her have a choice. It was the high point of my week! I shared a couple of sms with my friends and ex-colleagues. Everyone was happy for her. I was very very happy.
Fast forward to PSLE exams. As the day for the exams drew near, my sis-in-law was anxious for her daughter. I told her not to worry. I believe she should be fine.
The exams came and went.
I accompanied my niece for her trip to Hong Kong, her choir tour.
Then I got an sms on the day of the PSLE results. I was at Barcelona. It was early morning. My niece did not make it for the entry cut-off required for SOTA. She was crying. My sis-in-law asked if she could appeal. What can I do to help? After a couple of sms and one to check with the VP of SOTA, I replied that an appeal is out. The requirements from MOE is clear. As long as she did not make the grade in terms of points, she cannot get into SOTA.
My mind was peaceful yet not peaceful. What did I do? Did I just helped raise her hope then have it dashed again? My mind says that the criteria is fair and as an educator and someone who has been on selection panel, my niece simply did not qualify. I have seen students who struggle with self esteem problems when they enter an independent school and then failed miserably. Do I want her to go through that?
My other mind says perhaps the system needs tweaking. I was visiting Barcelona – the land which breeds Picasso, Dali, Gaudi – famous artists whom some did not recognise during their lifetime. Gaudi died a poor man. His art was not appreciated during his lifetime. Yet today, his art work is all over Barcelona. People came from all over the world to see his art! Perhaps artists are wired differently. Can our system make provision for them? Do we expects students to have it all? Good grades and beautiful break through art pieces…do they come hand-in-hand or ??
I am not sure and have no answers. But I do think that for some students it is not possible to have it all. They have academic challenges. But they excel in art. Do we want them in SOTA? or any other special independent school?
My friend who teaches in Singapore Sports School also faced similar challenges.
Perhaps one way is to tweak entry requirement such that academic requirement is not necessary at all. Another will be to have a mix indicator. For example 70% goes to artistic abilities and 30% academic.
As Singapore strives to be a renaissance city, can we re-look how we assess our students? Must it always be about a good score for PSLE?
Can academia wait?
NB: My niece incidentally is going to Christ Church, a school that I mentioned in the earlier blog. She has friends going to that school and she is still going to pursue her art – on her own!