Wednesday, 20 April 2016

On the PSLE Revamp

It has been about two weeks since the PSLE revamp was announced. Instead of a T-score, pupils will be given broad grades like in the A level exams. Also, the grades will reflect the actual attainment of the pupil, rather than show his relative standing among his peers.

I was glad for the changes, as it showed a move away from the obsession on marks. However, when I asked my friends how they found the revamp, quite a number were in disagreement with it. Some reasons cited were:

1) The current system has served the country well for so many years. Why rock the boat?

2) Many people will end up scoring 4 As. Posting to secondary schools will be complicated.

3) Stress levels for students may be higher. Everyone will be striving to get 4As, which will become the bare requirement for getting into a good school.

4) If secondary schools select students based on other criteria apart from grades, those who can afford enrichment classes may have an edge over those from less well-to-do backgrounds.

5) The disparity in abilities of students who score 4As may be great. Secondary schools may have to cater to a wide range of abilities.

6) Exceptionally bright pupils will not be distinguished from diligent pupils who score 4As.

I understand the concerns. Details on secondary school posting have not been released, so I guess that heightens the anxiety of parents who are affected by the change.

Since most of the concerns on the new grading system seem related to secondary school postings and not to the PSLE itself, I shall first give my view on the former. From my observations, every school is bound to have very good teachers and not so competent ones. I know of a dedicated teacher in a neighbourhood school who sewed loose buttons from her pupil's shirt. The pupil was from an underprivileged background and would go to school looking dishevelled. I have heard of other teachers from neighbourhood schools manning homework classes till evening for pupils with little home support. Scholars and high-potential educators are also posted to teach in less-known schools, so it is a myth that elite schools get better resources.

On the other hand, a friend shared that he was summoned urgently to help his neighbour's son with a worksheet as his teacher had assumed that everyone knew how to solve the problems and did not teach. The said student was from an illustrious school. Thus, getting into a school with a good name may not necessarily mean that the child will be taught well. I just pray that my children get teachers who will inspire and motivate them, regardless of what school they get into.

I guess some parents may want their children to get into elite schools for the prestige. If one says, "My son is from RI", the image accorded to the son is one of brilliance. As much as I will be happy if my son has the natural ability to get a place in RI, I will also be cautious in pushing him too hard if he fails to possess the necessary aptitude. I have felt dumb in one of the top schools in Singapore, even though my PSLE score showed I was in the top 10% of my Primary 6 cohort. In Malcolm Gladwell's David and Goliath, he mentioned that it might be better to be a Big Fish in a Small Pond than a Small Fish in a Big Pond. He cited the example of a highly intelligent female student, who felt incompetent in the face of other highly intelligent students in a renown college. She dropped out of a course she loved because she compared herself to other brilliant people and felt she could never match up. Gladwell made this statement: Students who would be at the top of their class at a good school can easily fall to the bottom of a really good school. Parents should know what kind of environment their children would thrive in when considering what schools to send them to. For me, I would like my children to have healthy self-esteems, whichever school they are in.

We do not know for sure yet if criteria other than academic will be considered for secondary school posting or if a computerised balloting system will be used. If the former is used, I can foresee that enrichment classes will boom, just as large sums of money have been pumped into the tuition industry. My friend just told me that to be considered for DSA to a particular school using music, one has to attain ABRSM Grade 7 in an instrument by Primary 6. I hope that parents will hone the interests of their children, rather than to force them to take exams after exams just to keep up with the Joneses.

On point 5, I will be happy if many pupils score 4As. That means that they have attained competence in the four subjects and are ready for a rigorous secondary education. It does not matter to me if they are top-of-the-band As or borderline As. After all, schools can do within-school banding if they find it hard to cater to large ability ranges. The spread of students may also prevent any school from getting too elitist and from containing mainly students from the higher strata.

That is my microscopic analysis of the PSLE revamp. More importantly, I have been thinking of larger parenting issues. I think it is so much harder to impart values and deal with heart issues than to impart academic knowledge and the former is my focus now. I pray that God will help me as I guide my children to fulfil His purpose in their lives.

Heart issue: Cultivating a spirit of thanksgiving

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