Thursday 22 November 2012

No more naming of top students for national exams starting with 2012 PSLE results

Move in line with recognising students' holistic development and all-round excellence, says Ministry of Education
By Ng Jing Yng, TODAY, 21 Nov 2012

Amid the national angst over the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) - and the Government's constant assurance that every school is a good school - the Ministry of Education (MOE) will stop its practice of announcing the top-scoring students in the release of all national examinations results, starting with the PSLE results tomorrow.

This means that the PSLE, N- and O-Level results will be released to the media in a manner similar to that of the A-Level results, with the focus on the performance of the whole cohort.

The practice of naming the top student for each ethnic group will also be scrapped.

The media will also be encouraged to highlight the performances of students from a variety of schools who have done well not only in the exams but also in other aspects as well.

Responding to media queries, an MOE spokesperson said yesterday: "MOE and SEAB (Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board) will no longer list the top-scoring students in the release of all national examinations results."

She added: "This is in line with the importance of recognising our students for their holistic development and all-round excellence, and to balance the over-emphasis on academic results."

Nevertheless, she stressed that this "does not mean that academic achievement will no longer be celebrated". Students who ace the exams will still be recognised through Edusave Awards and scholarships, and schools may continue to celebrate their pupils' achievements, the spokesperson said.

"Through the change, we hope to foster a better balance in emphasis and help parents and students understand that academic performance is just one aspect of a student's overall development and progress. Each student deserves to be commended for his efforts and progress."

The move could cause some primary schools to have a last-minute rethink on how they are going to laud their pupils' academic achievements tomorrow.

At MacPherson Primary, for instance, its top three students and their PSLE T-scores would traditionally be announced to all the pupils and parents present to collect the results.

Principal Rostinah Mohamad Said said come tomorrow, the school will still announce their top students but their results will not be publicised. "We will also mention about other non-academic achievements such as leadership qualities so as to signal to parents the importance of holistic development," she said.

Nevertheless, Yishun Primary Principal Chan Kwai Foong said her school will not depart from its tradition of announcing its top three students and their letter grades. "It is only fair to recognise the children who performed well," said Ms Chan, adding that she also always commend the entire Primary Six cohort for having done their best for the exams.

A teacher, who has produced many PSLE top scorers in her 20-year career, welcomed the MOE's move, although she noted that the ministry's past practice of publicising the PSLE top scorers brings "a lot of glory and pride" to the schools.

Whether the move will alleviate the stress on students sitting for PSLE remains to be seen, she said. Parents are very resourceful and the information on the top PSLE scores will eventually be circulated, she pointed out.

Ms Samantha Chng, 38, whose son took the PSLE this year, felt that high stakes will continue to be placed on the national exams for 12-year-olds, as long as the scores are used to decide which secondary schools the pupils go to.

The MOE's latest move comes after it revamped the Singapore Youth Festival such that schools will no longer compete for awards. While Ms Chng wondered if the MOE was too overzealous in its bid to reduce competition among pupils and schools, Mountbatten MP Lim Biow Chuan, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, felt that such moves are in the right direction.

On the changes to the way PSLE results will be announced, Mr Lim said: "MOE is trying to signal that children can still be talented in other areas apart from academics but there is a limit to what MOE can do, parents must act upon it themselves."

Why PSLE top scorer names will not be released: Heng Swee Keat
TODAY, 22 Nov 2012

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat this morning posted a note on Facebook saying the Ministry of Education's decision to stop releasing the name of the top scorers in the annual Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) is to deflect "national focus" from students at such an early point in their learning journey.

"PSLE is an important exam - but it is not the be-all-and-end-all. It is not healthy to have such national focus at this stage of the journey," wrote Mr Heng.

The note, in full, reads as follows: "Several people have asked if MOE stopped releasing top PSLE scorers to reduce stress or to de-emphasise academic achievements. Well, the change is not to address stress per se or to move away from merit. It is not possible, nor desirable, to eliminate stress completely. Nor should we be shy about achievements. There are broader considerations.

"I believe in the pursuit of excellence - in all areas of endeavour. We must encourage our students to apply themselves and to persevere, so that they can reach their full potential in their chosen fields. When they put in the effort, we should cheer them on. When they succeed, we should recognise and celebrate their success.

"We now have more avenues to recognise success - the Edusave Scholarships and Edusave Merit Bursary for academic achievements, the expanded EAGLES award for CCA, leadership and community service, and Edusave Character Awards for exemplary character. Schools too provide various forms of recognition. There are many sporting events, academic Olympiads and competitions in different fields, all of which are platforms to promote excellence.

"In education, it is useful to bear in mind two key points - our children need to develop at their own pace; and they need to develop as a whole person. Pulling up the shoot to accelerate its growth or distorting growth in particular areas at the expense of holistic development will set the children back. This is why we are putting the emphasis on a 'student-centric, values-driven' education.

"PSLE is an important exam - but it is not the be-all-and-end-all. It marks the conclusion of one stage of the learning journey - and the road ahead is a long one. As adults, all of us will have to learn continually throughout our lives. It is not healthy to have such national focus at this stage of the journey.

"Rather, we should encourage them to persevere, to pursue learning along appropriate pathways, and help them succeed in the next phase. What matters is that our children grow up to have a love for learning, and to be life-long learners. It is a marathon, not a sprint.

"I hope that whatever the results of your children, parents will support and encourage your children in their next phase of learning and growth. Our children will be more likely to succeed if they grow up to be confident and resilient, able to bounce back from setbacks; and be inventive and adventurous, able and willing to try and create new things. Let us celebrate their effort, continue to encourage excellence, and broaden our definitions of success."

No reporting won't mean no more stress
By Sandra Davie, The Straits Times, 21 Nov 2012

TOMORROW, the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) results will be out, and for the first time in a long while, readers of this newspaper may not get to meet the top scorers.

The Ministry of Education last night announced that it will stop releasing information on top performers not just for the PSLE, but all national examinations.

The Straits Times had already reported a day earlier that it was mulling over moving in this manner. Nonetheless, it comes as a stunning decision.

Before this, a Straits Times reader had also written in asking for a media blackout on top performers in the exams.

Mr Tan Soon Meng, who wrote in the Forum Page yesterday, said: "Prominent coverage of the top performers, including racial and demographic differentiation, perpetuates the exam's importance and exacerbates the stress and anxiety felt by pupils and parents."

Lest readers conflate the reasons for the ministry's decision, it is worth taking apart the different aspects of the move.

First, the ministry's explanation: that it is "in line with the importance of recognising our students for their holistic development and all-round excellence, and to balance the over-emphasis on academic results".

So, it is part of its larger move to emphasise that the sum of education is more than academic achievements alone.

The ministry is attempting to walk its talk. It comes after ministers have been advising parents repeatedly not to view the PSLE as a do-or-die exam for their 12-year-olds.

But where does the media come into all this, as per Mr Tan's claims?

The media is often an easy target for all manner of ills, but those who argue that it contributes to the stress and pressure in schools are barking up the wrong tree.

Every year, the MOE sends out a press statement giving information on the performance of the cohort as a whole, as well as that of the top scorers. It also gives out a list of some schools, including several lesser-known ones, that have made steady progress.

The MOE would give only the names of the top PSLE pupil, the one with the highest T-score, and the other top pupils, along with the schools they come from.

But it would not reveal the aggregate scores of the pupils. It stopped the practice some years ago because it did not want the media to focus on the academic scores.

It turned out to be a futile attempt, as the schools that had done well were quite willing to share their results in detail.

And then there was always, which would have a list up by the end of the day. The site would also have provided an analysis on how much more competitive it had become to get into top schools such as Raffles Institution and Raffles Girls' School.

Tuition centres like The Learning Lab would also put up a list of top PSLE scorers. No doubt, quite a few of them would have taken its classes.

While the media would cover the top scorers, what gets the juices flowing for most reporters is when a neighbourhood school produces the top PSLE pupil, especially if he or she comes from a poor or modest family background.

Every year, reporters would spend hours making dozens of calls to neighbourhood schools in the hope of finding that inspiring page one story of a child who did well despite the odds.

A few years ago, I went to some schools to track down the PSLE failures - some of whom had failed the exam for the second time - and their anxious parents.

A few days later, I wrote about how hopeless these pupils felt and how they found hope again when they enrolled in Northlight School and Assumption Pathway School, which have been set up to offer alternative pathways to the PSLE failures.

In recent months, I have spoken to dozens of parents about the stress and worry they have over the PSLE.

Several brought up the T-score system of ranking PSLE pupils, how difficult PSLE Maths questions are, direct school admission and the Integrated Programme (IP) schools. Not one asked for less media attention on the results.

In the end, the dominant factor behind PSLE-related stress for parents and, by extension, their 12-year-old children is how postings to good secondary schools hinge on PSLE scores.

Many parents, rightly or wrongly, feel that their children's future is secured if they can land a place in a top secondary school, synonymous with IP schools these days.

It means that their children stand a good chance of ending up with good A-level results, and consequently landing places in the local universities, if not in prestigious overseas universities with government or private-sector scholarships.

In deciding not to publicise the information on top performers, the MOE is hoping to set an example and nudge everyone along towards making the mindset shift that there are many pathways to success.

The truth is that good PSLE scores are not an iron-clad guarantee of a path endowed with academic excellence going forward.

Without the information, reporters will have to find more "human interest" stories about pupils who overcame adversity.

But I am not sure that it will stop resourceful parents from going to great lengths to find out which primary schools produced the top pupils or from hankering after the IP schools.

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