Wednesday 19 September 2012

MP echoes calls for PSLE to be scrapped

MP Hri Kumar says he would support ceasing exam as long as alternative can be agreed on
by Amanda Lee, TODAY, 18 Sep 2012

As the "national conversation" gets underway, education - an issue close to many Singaporeans' hearts - has quickly emerged as a hot topic. And the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), for so long a rite of passage for children here, has come under the spotlight again, as a Member of Parliament renewed calls for it to be scrapped. 

"I am all for slaying the PSLE sacred cow. But we need to first agree on an alternative way of deciding who goes to which secondary school, other than by way of a common exam," Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Hri Kumar wrote on his blog last Friday.

Mr Hri Kumar, who sits on the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Education, lauded the Ministry of Education's announcements last week to "remove banding, de-emphasise exams and promote non-academic aspects of a child's development", as he put it. But he pointed out that, "so long as a child's PSLE scores determines which secondary school he goes to, and so long as places in 'better' schools are limited", competition and stress are inevitable and parents will also "do what they can to help their kids out-score their peers". "To most, that means tuition," he added.

In May, sociologist and former Nominated MP Paulin Straughan also called for PSLE to be abolished, as a way to reduce stress and encourage young couples to have more children. 

Contacted yesterday, Assoc Prof Straughan felt MOE's latest moves provided cold comfort. She reiterated that "there will always be an informal ranking of schools" based on the PSLE cut-off points for entry to the various secondary schools. 

Other observers and educators TODAY spoke to were divided on whether the PSLE should stay.

Mrs Jenny Yeo, Principal of Southview Primary School, noted that the exam is "some form of assessment" to pit the educational standards of children here against their peers in other countries. She added that, in general, the situation here should not become one where children are "very relaxed about learning" and "just play all the way to Primary 6". 

Mountbatten MP Lim Biow Chuan, who chairs the GPC for Education, reiterated the PSLE's purpose as a placement exam. "No matter how you see it, you cannot run away from the fact that students have differing abilities," said Mr Lim. 

Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Low Yen Ling felt the format of the PSLE could be tweaked. For example, 35 per cent of the PSLE could be weighted to regular national assessments at Primary 5 and Primary 6, she said. 

She also suggested looking into how non-academic aspects could also be assessed as part of the PSLE score. For example, marks for participation could be given for activities related to national education or community service, she said. 

Ms Low also noted that in Finland and New Zealand for instance, children undergo their first major national examination at the age of 16. This allows children the time to develop their interests and a level of maturity so that they can be self-driven in their studies, she said. 

Laying out the various possibilities - including "making all secondary schools identical" or giving parents the choice to opt their children out of PSLE - Mr Hri Kumar noted on his blog that "different solutions lend themselves to different issues". 

He said: "We can have more "through-train" schools, where students gain entry to affiliated secondary schools without a common exam. Those who wish to compete for a place in the 'better' secondary schools can sit for the PSLE. We could also allow private, independent primary schools to be set up, with graduates eligible to go to private or international secondary schools. But there will be no MOE funding and therefore higher fees, and this option may not be available to all."

He added while it was unlikely to have "absolute consensus", he would "prefer a system that gives parents more choices". 

Mr Hri Kumar said that as part of the national conversation, the Government "should think about loosening its grip on education so that Singaporeans can choose for themselves what they want for their own children". 

Concurring, Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng said it was "timely" to review the policy of not allowing parents to enrol their children in non-government schools, "even though some parents are more educated and may wanted to make their own choices". The Government could explore opening up a small market segment for private players to provide more options for parents, said Mr Baey.

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