Saturday, 20 April 2013

Education review will take in ideas raised: Heng

Any change has to be 'coherent within system and across its different parts'
By Andrea Ong And Stacey Chia, The Straits Times, 19 Apr 2013

FROM taking extra-curricular activities into account for PSLE scores to streaming pupils by bands, participants at the second Our Singapore Conversation on education were brimming with ideas on how to make the Primary School Leaving Examination less stressful and grade-centric.

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, who sat in on the session on Wednesday night, told reporters that he would be taking these suggestions on board as his ministry reviews the PSLE, secondary school admissions and other aspects of the education system.

"All the inputs that we hear will be factored (into) our discussion," said Mr Heng, while warning that making changes to the education system will be complex.

"It is not possible for us to just change one part without affecting others and it is not possible to change without some people who feel that that should not be changed."

He added, though, that there was no timeline for introducing the changes that emerge from the Ministry of Education's (MOE) review of the education system.

He was speaking after a session that lasted more than three hours at Manjusri Secondary.

The need to relieve the stress of the PSLE, which has been heavily discussed in recent months, was clearly the topic foremost in the minds of participants.

Mr Heng made notes as he mingled with 50 participants in 11 groups. He later led a mass discussion in which he posed some of the ideas raised and conducted quick straw polls.

Going by one poll, a majority of participants preferred the PSLE to remain in some form, though more than 10 raised their hands when he asked if any wanted to abolish the national examination.

Mr Heng later noted this result as an example of the diverse views people hold on education. He said any changes must be "coherent within the system and coherent across the different parts of the system".

During the small-group discussions, Mr Heng also sat down with participants to tease out the implications of their suggestions.

One idea they discussed was letting the final exams take up just half of the PSLE assessment, while the other half could consist of continual assessment of pupils' talents in areas like sports and music.

But housewife Yvonne Wong, 37, who took part in the session, told The Straits Times yesterday that this might have the opposite effect of relieving stress.

She said: "Parents may hire even more tutors knowing that every assignment counts."

Another proposal which Mr Heng picked up on was to admit pupils to secondary schools according to broad grade bands rather than numerical scores, which some felt were too finely tuned.

If there are more applicants than places, balloting could be an option, though Mr Heng asked if parents would be comfortable if the top scorer in that band ended up not making it into the school.

Alternatively, schools could administer their own admission tests. Some participants, however, felt there were fundamental issues about the education system which should be addressed first before making any tweaks.

Marketing manager Ian Tan, 36, said people first need to change how they define a good school - which should not be about branding or grades but how the school develops a child.

Others voiced concerns about how the streaming system leads to the creation of social barriers and stigmas. They proposed that all schools, even brand-name ones, offer all academic streams and create more opportunities for students to mix.

A participant asked if the Government was spending enough on education and called for greater transparency and communication from MOE and schools.

Mr Heng later said that engaging parents is "one clear area" his ministry intends to improve on.

He was cheered that the evening's discussion raised important points like the basic goals of education and the mindset of parents and society.

Mr Heng added: "You cannot change any part of the education system without changing some of these mindsets".

MOE not 'chasing after numbers' for its new kindergartens
By Stacey Chia, The Straits Times, 19 Apr 2013

DESPITE a slow take-up rate for the Ministry of Education's (MOE) new kindergartens, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said that the response so far is "fine", and that the ministry is not "chasing after numbers".

Instead, the focus is on providing "good quality and affordable kindergarten education".

This was his first response since registration started for the five kindergartens the ministry will be running from next year.

Speaking on the sidelines of the national conversation on education on Wednesday, he explained that it was not unusual for parents to take more time to gain awareness about the new kindergartens.

"We are going to use these kindergartens to try out materials that MOE is going to develop, which we will be sharing with all kindergartens," Mr Heng said.

"So whether the students are in MOE kindergartens or in other kindergartens is not a critical issue."

He added that there will be enough children in the new kindergartens, which can take in 560 children, to take part in the various projects MOE is planning.

Demand was strong for the kindergarten at Punggol View Primary, with 140 applicants vying for the 120 spots.

But in the first week of registration, which ended last Friday, only 56 applied for the 120 places at the kindergarten in Bukit Batok's Dazhong Primary.

Registration for three other kindergartens - at Blangah Rise Primary, Farrer Park Primary and a void deck at Tampines Street 45 - will close today.

Pre-school education experts and some parents have pointed to the lack of childcare services as a possible reason interest has not been higher.

But Mr Heng said that his ministry is in discussions with childcare centres to plug the gap.

"We have a very variegated landscape today - from kindergartens to childcare and so on, and demand pattern will be different across different kindergartens," he said.

"So it's not entirely a surprise that there will be some that are more popular and some that are less so."


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