National Day Rally 2013 – Thoughts on the educational reform

The National Day Rally 2013 speech marked an important milestone in education, in particular the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE). PM Lee announced that there will no longer be T-scores for PSLE and there will be “wider bands” for PSLE grades as in the case of GCE ‘O’ and ‘A’ level examinations (even though he’s not sure how the grading for the ‘A’ level goes. Ahem.). And the announcement was met with applause from the audience.

Now while I acknowledge that scrapping T-scores might take away the stress of children mulling over the 1 or 2 point difference in aggregate score and how that could possibly determine a student’s entry into a school, I’m not sure how it would help to alleviate the stressful year for the Primary 6 students and the family. Instead of chasing after a particular T-score, students would be aiming for 4 A*s. Period.

My question – how then will it be decided which of the 4A*-scorers will deserve places in the very top schools? Will students now be stressed out to not only achieve academic excellence but also to ensure that they are well-rounded students by participating and excelling in Co-Curricular Activities since now there isn’t a way to sieve out the top 5-10% of the cohort (once measured by the T-score)? I know we’re trying to move away from measuring excellence merely by looking at academic performance – that is good in itself. But it is how people may go about prettifying their ‘resume’ (at age 12!) that is my concern. It’s really commendable for children to excel in other areas apart from the academic field but for some who may not be getting good grades, asking them to keep afloat in CCAs might be an additional burden. Children that young do not and should not have to fight a two-front war.

Hence, I’m not sure whether scrapping the T-score would make life less stressful. Besides, transparency of the system in determining placement of students in schools (especially the top schools) is a prime concern. We’ll just have to wait patiently for detailed plans and announcements in due time.

While the move to set aside at least 40 places, or between 10 and 15 per cent of their enrollment, for children with no prior connection to the school will not have any impact on my children since we have decided to enrol them in an ‘average’ school when the time comes (which is pretty soon!), I’d say it’s a rather calculated move – it doesn’t enrage the alumni of the top schools and it still allows a small number of people to get their children into the school of their choice. Of course, 40 seems like a mere fraction compared to the number of students in the cohort but I’d say it’s still better than the current say 2 places left in some schools.

The best move yet for educational reform would have to be giving edusave funds to the homeschoolers. This signifies a recognition of the homeschooling community in Singapore (finally!) and is in line with Singapore’s vision to be an inclusive society. Although I have decided not to homeschool my children, I’m still glad that the oft-forgotten homeschoolers have finally been given the same benefits children in mainstream schools receive.

While the waters are still a little murky about how best to decrease the stress level for our Primary school students, I’m still glad that the concerns parents have have been heard and addressed (to some extent). One thing’s for sure – I’m certainly hoping for better and happier days ahead for the primary-school-going children!


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