“For one, they are not inclined to give up on tuition for their children due to keen competition in classrooms” (Parents Sceptical PSLE Changes Will Reduce Stress On Students, Amanda Lee, Laura Philomin, and Ng Jing Yng).
Short of scrapping the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) in its entirety, the introduction of a new scoring system with wider scoring bands in place of a single, comparative T-score may not necessarily reduce the stress of students. In fact, it could be argued that notions of competition and pressure remain necessary, a necessity made even more pronounced given the prospects of an uncertain future. In parliament Acting Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng also emphasised that “stress is an aggregate of different factors and would require a collective paradigm shift” (TODAY, Apr. 9), so expectations of the PSLE changes as a paradigm shift – in this regard – must be tempered.
Yet there are two long-term, broader implications. First is the renewed focus on non-academic pursuits, as students – or perhaps their anxious parents – seek to differentiate themselves when applications are made to the secondary schools. As they continue “to fight tooth and nail for every point in examinations and tests [in the schools]”, students may also be expected to take on co-curricular activities (CCA) or even programmes in the community. Look no further than the CCA bonus points awarded to their seniors after graduation from their secondary schools, at the end of the ‘O’ Level examinations.
Which is why the new PSLE scoring system has to be paired with improvements to the Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme, a scheme also under review by the government. While well-intentioned, since selected secondary schools take into consideration a wider range of “achievements and talents”, some of the potential problems of the DSA scheme can include: that those from the more well-to-do families could benefit more, with greater access to resources and even for applications to a wider range of schools; that going through an exhausting process of application, of interviews, and of placement and assessment tests could be asking a lot of the young, burdened students; and that the more well-established secondary schools of specialisations may be advantaged disproportionately.
Second however, on a more optimistic note, changes to the PSLE scoring system and to the DSA scheme could – gradually in the long-term – level the playing field across secondary schools in Singapore. Students with stronger academic abilities, instead of flocking to the same “top” schools, could therefore be drawn and filtered to others.
In the longer-term, parents should – beyond laying the blame on the system or the schools – recognise their complicity in this state of affairs. Going against an established status quo and further pressures from peers can be challenging for parents who only want the best for their children, but easing these anxieties will only be possible if they resist the temptations to heap expectations upon their young ones.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.