Will the new PSLE scoring system change anything?

So, a new period has begun. Entry to secondary schools will not be determined by T-Scores but by Achievement Levels (ALs) and the sum of ALs over the 4 subjects students will have to take for the PSLE.

Many people have written to explain the system. You can find one here from the Straits Times. MOE has also since provided the list of indicative cut-off points for secondary schools. There are enough experts analysing the system and how best to achieve the desired scores to go to the ‘best’ schools. The system looks confusing now, because it is new and people do not quite understand the implications of how it will actually affect entry into schools which will be based on actual demand for and supply of places.

Will it change the anxiety over this deemed high-stake examinations? My short answer is, NO.

No; as long as parents still believe that there are some schools more desirable than others, that there are some academic streams better for their children, there will be anxiety. Some will have good reasons to believe so and many will still go by what we instinctively think as humans – the harder to get in, the better it must be. With limited places in the desired schools, there will still be the pressure at PLSE, at the tender age of 12. For now, the new system will actually add more anxiety until people figure out what it will actually take to get to what schools. There will be no change in anxiety level unless there is a mindset change of parents, and other accompanying policy changes to other aspects of our schools and even in society.

When I was in school, we did not quite care which schools we went to. My parents, both Chinese teachers, sent my brothers and me to St. Stephen’s School, a mission school near our home because it would provide the English speaking environment we would not get at home. The late Mr Lee KY had already made it clear that English will be the main medium for business, so my parents figured that for us to succeed in Singapore, we have to be good with our English. When it came to secondary school, almost the entire cohort chose the affiliated St. Patrick;s School nearby. We just wanted to be with friends and we wanted to be in a school near our homes. Hardly anyone looked at branding of schools nor how others perceive the schools. We turned out well. The top student in the entire east of Singapore for my O level year came from St. Patrick’s. Many went on to become lawyers, doctors, dentists, successful businessmen and some went quite high in the government service. Many went on to receive scholarships for their university studies.

The most significant change ever made to our education system since independence were the reforms sparked by the Goh report in the late 1970s. Dr Goh Keng Swee, the fixer for ministries with problems, was sent to rectify the problem of low education levels and high drop-out rates. As a trained engineer and with limited resources of the country, he figured the best solution was to stream students to what suits them best so that we could produce workers for the MNCs and whatever was necessary for our economy. Harsh as the system was, it produced results. Drop out rates fell drastically. Those deemed less academic could take up the more hands-on courses. Continued reforms after that tinkered with the formula.

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