“There’s been a lot of talk to postpone exams like PSLE as a policy change, but we soon realised there’s no consensus” (PSLE Still a Necessary Checkpoint for Students: Study, Toh Ee Ming).
The news report (TODAY, Jul. 17), based on a nationwide study by the Institute of Policy Studies, on the perceptions of parents about the primary school education system in Singapore, read “PSLE still a necessary checkpoint for students”, but this conclusion seems to be premised upon responses to just a single question, on the extent to which the 1,500 parents agreed with the policy suggestion to “postpone high stakes exams such as PSLE to a later age”. The researchers themselves did acknowledge that these findings “may suggest” the aforementioned, though without a counterfactual – such as comparisons with students who do not take the PSLE or similar national examinations – no causal conclusions can actually be drawn.
Policy questions about the PSLE – which can and should take many other forms – also go beyond postponement. Future research, for instance, could consider how parents and their children prepare for these national examinations, and whether they feel unnecessarily stressed or stretched in the lead-up. In this vein perceptions of relevant stakeholders, including students and teachers, should feature too, and care must be taken with the sampling of respondents. At the moment with the present study, the sample of parents who have a child between five and 14 years is further stratified across demographics and relevant socio-economic indicators, yet when it comes to perceptions of the PSLE it would make a difference if their children have completed the examination (and the year they did so), the scores their children received, and perhaps even the primary schools their children attended.
And even so, taking all the above limitations into consideration, 42.5 per cent agreeing or strongly agreeing that the PSLE should be postponed is cause for concern. By no means should this, moreover, be interpreted as “a necessary checkpoint for students”. That more than four out of 10 parents have expressed this sentiment signals deeper problems which should be uncovered, maybe through focus group discussions or more in-depth interviews with these individuals. Effective policymaking in this regard, to improve primary school education and the PSLE, will therefore require more extensive and precise research.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.