Tuesday 30 October 2012

Singapore cannot do away with PSLE completely, says Indranee Rajah

By S. Ramesh, Channel NewsAsia, 29 Oct 2012

Singapore cannot do away with the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) completely, says incoming Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah.

Sharing her thoughts with Channel NewsAsia, Ms Indranee says while the exam can be called by a different name, Singapore must have something to assess a child objectively.

Member of Parliament and Senior Counsel Indranee Rajah moves to the government bench on 1 November 2012.

And she will focus on two areas when in the Education Ministry - pre-school and tertiary education.

Ms Indranee said: "There is a real determination to make sure that at the pre-school level, we prepare our children well for school. And when I say prepare them well, I don't mean cramp them with facts and figures, and make them do homework. 

"Back in 2003, I recall, I accompanied then PM Goh (Chok Tong) to Denmark, to see a nursery there for children. It was a very nice atmosphere where you got the sense that the children there were learning how to play, as well as to work, baking cookies in class. They got to play in the afternoon, and at the same time, from what I could tell, there was a strong curriculum too. 

"In Singapore, we have elements of that, but you also want to have a pre-school environment where the children feel happy learning, and they should not at an early stage, have a great deal of stress that "you must know this, you must know that, before you go to primary" because it just takes away the joy of learning and that is something we want to take a look at."

On the PSLE debate, she feels the exam has become more rigorous and tougher.

Ms Indranee said: "Over the last week I was reading the transcript of David Cameron's speech to the Conservative Party and it is interesting to see that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, in articulating his thoughts on education, was calling for a more rigorous system, one where there would be a good school in every neighbourhood, one in which there was more testing and one where exams would be, he didn't use the word tougher, but that was the essential message.

"That's one end of the spectrum, where obviously in the UK they feel that they have loosened their exam system so much that it doesn't have the right kind of regard. In Singapore, we seem to have been at the other end of the pendulum."

"Yesterday when I was watching television, I saw (DPM) Tharman's comment, he said it is so finely graded, so much so it is down to the last point, and perhaps that may have gone a little too far, because the parents are feeling the stress, the teachers are feeling the stress," she said.

Ms Indranee said: "So the question is how do we scale back from that, where you can have an objective test across the board nation-wide, but at the same time don't put people through the meat-grinder so that teachers, parents and students are so stressed out that it just becomes an ordeal, as opposed to an objective measure of your academic ability.

"Doing away with it would not be very helpful and if you did away with it, you still have to put something back in its place. You can call it something else it has to meet the criteria of helping you to assess the students.

"There is the other sense I am getting which is from the participation in the Singapore Conversation so far. People generally appreciate the fact that in Singapore, we have a good education system with a lot of content. This talk about values, that's coming out very strongly and there are two aspects of it. One is they want that the education system will also produce people who are empathetic, caring, use their skills and ability for others, for the community, for the nation as a whole. There is another part coming out from my conversations with tertiary students and people during the discussions, they also want an education system which allows each to fulfil his or her fullest potential. And not every individual is academically inclined."

On the Singapore Conversation discussions, she says there is a sense the education playing field is not level.

Ms Indranee said: "People generally feel that Singapore has a good education system and that we are not deprived of a good educatIon. But I do get the sense that many people feel that the playing field is not level. The running track is the same for everybody. It's just that those from the less affluent backgrounds are coming on with the plain sneakers and the one from the better affluent ones are coming with the branded sneakers which give you more comfort and support.

"The interesting reply was yes, that is one aspect of it, but the other aspect is the running track is not a smooth running track, it has got bumps and stones and grass on it. That means the one with the thicker running shoe will automatically perform better because he or she is better equipped. That is the sense people are getting."

"The system is meant to be meritocratic. It is meant to allow those with the ability to grow, to develop, to fly, except that if some come to the playing field better equipped than others, because of the way the playing field is mapped out, they may not be able to do as well, and certainly that is something we should look at to see whether the playing field actually allows everybody to have a fair shot," she said.

Besides education, Ms Indranee will also be working in the Law Ministry.

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