THE PSLE ISSUE – How about addressing the majority?

The following article is contributed by a parent of two teenage boys. Both of them are in Singapore schools.

In the good old days, the primary school leaving examination(PSLE) is an exam to gauge the readiness of the children to advance to secondary schools. But this is no longer the main objective as over 97% of the cohort makes it to secondary schools anyway.

Over the years, the increasingly difficult PSLE exam together with the T-score that ranks every child – has become a means to sieve out the top 10~20% of the cohort to attend ‘elite’ secondary schools.
We definitely need to distil and groom talents and intellectuals to lead the country in the years to come. The issue is – do we need to have the whole cohort go through a tough regiment in order to get that top 10-20%? These are 12 year old children, most of whom still required their parents’ guidance and help to study. Those who are self-driven and motivated to do well or intellectually-blessed are really a minority.
Perhaps majority of the parents just want their children to move on seamlessly to secondary schools without much anxieties and decision-making. After all, it is the O-level and A-level exams that matters more.

If MOE is able to make each school a “good” school and if every secondary school caters to both express and normal/technical streams, perhaps the following ideas are worth some consideration:
a. Each primary school is affiliated with a few secondary schools*.
i. *the “Top Schools” are excluded in this affiliation system – read (d) below;
ii. *the specialised independent schools (ie. NUS High, SST, SOTA, SSA etc) are also excluded in this affiliation system as they select their students through DSA and according to specific talents/skills of the children.
b. The PSLE exam is still carried out and the results are reflected as grades for each subject WITHOUT the T-scores. Children who pass the PSLE gets promoted to the secondary level and admitted to the affiliated secondary schools.
c. If the parents are satisfied with the affiliated secondary schools and do nothing to change it – there will be a smooth transition from primary to secondary schools for MAJORITY of the cohort.
d. MOE still tabulates the T-score and keeps them confidential. It invites the top 10~20% of the cohort to apply to the “Top Schools”.
e. Students who are not “invited” by MOE may also apply to the Top Schools on their own, similar to the current appeal system.

What is the impact of this idea?
• If every primary school has affiliation with secondary schools, perhaps the annual primary 1 registration will be more evenly spread out to all primary schools and not focused on just a few popular schools. Typically, schools with affiliated secondary schools are preferred.
• Parents who enrol their children to a particular primary school are assured of places in one of the affiliated secondary schools. This process reduces the uncertainties and thus the anxieties.
• As MOE confidentially tabulates the T-score, it can still filter out the top students and groom them.
• This is idea is raw and simplistic. I am sure that there are many issues to be considered and analysed upon. The challenges are great, especially the affiliation criteria for the allocation of the secondary schools to the primary schools; the impact on the current affiliated secondary schools that admit students who achieves certain cut-off scores etc. Nevertheless, it is yet another perspective that MOE can review and consider.

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