Friday 19 April 2013

No PSLE = no pressure? No, says Indranee

By Amelia Teng And Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 18 Apr 2013

ABOLISHING the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) may not be the solution to easing the pressure on young pupils, Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah said last night.

There have been calls to scrap the exam to determine which secondary school a child is sent to.

Responding to a question about abolishing the PSLE from a participant at a youth forum, she added that there are other pathways to success for youngsters. She called on society to change the mentality that if a student does not make it to a junior college or a university, he or she "did not make it".

Some 100 tertiary students attended the forum, organised by the National University of Singapore Students' Political Association (NUSPA) and supported by government feedback unit REACH. The forum was chaired by Ms Indranee and REACH chairman Amy Khor.

Students raised a wide range of questions, from meritocracy and creating a level playing field for children from different backgrounds, to the value of their degrees. Anglo-Chinese Junior College student Ian Mak asked if children from lower-income families could really break out of the poverty trap.

Ms Indranee replied that this is possible because the system aims to give all children a chance to "learn, progress and be educated". But she added that individual abilities will always differ and not everyone will get full marks.

The forum is part of the university's policy studies seminar and debate series. The annual initiative aims to encourage critical thinking on issues relevant to Singapore's society and its future direction.

Below are Ms Indranee's comments at the Forum in full:

"On the issue of abolishing PSLE, which is one of the issues highlighted in Our Singapore Conversation, my question is if we don't have the PSLE, when it comes to the entrance to secondary schools, how do you decide who goes to which school?

Our PSLE is kind of a sorting exam. I wish we were a bit like Hogwarts, where you have the sorting hat that decides which school you go to, but we don't have a sorting hat and how do we decide who goes to which school?

If you didn't do it according to grades, how would you do it?

Another way would be to do it geographically, where you go into the secondary school nearest to your home, but if you did that, everybody will be fighting to be in the primary school near the secondary school you want to be in.

On abolishing PSLE, let's assume we do away with it, then how do we decide who goes to which school?

If it's decided on 'does the Principal know your father or your mother?' then it's not a very meritocratic system nor is it acceptable.

If it to be decided by the distance, if you live very near a very good school, can you imagine the pressure to enter a primary school that is near the secondary school you want to go to. If a person stays very near a good secondary school, he would get in, but a person who did better and stays say 10km away would not be able to enter; is that fair?

There is a whole range of scenarios that will come up if we remove PSLE as the sorting exam, and the question is how will we deal with it?

The real angst about PSLE is the pressure, and the real reason why you have the pressure is that parents perceive that certain schools will give you the advantage of getting into university.

So the answer would maybe be to try and make sure that across the board, every school is a good school and that society should change their mindset that a child needs to get into university in order to make it.

We want to make sure that no matter which school you go to, you have a chance to get into a university and even if you don't get into a university, the other options are also pathways to success.

I hope that under our system, each person can be the best he or she can be, whether or not that person has a university degree."

"Ideally, the aim of the education system is that you should be able to pass your exams without tuition. That said, many parents feel that it is necessary for children to have tuition in order for them to do better; not in all the schools but certainly in a percentage of them.

MOE's view is that it shouldn't be the case that because you cannot afford tuition you should not be able to pass your exam, which is why we have introduced the Learning Support Programmes in schools, mentioned by Minister Heng at the last Committee Of Supply Debate.

The schools are putting a lot more resources to help students who have difficulty with subjects to help them level up. The idea is that, if the playing field is not equal because there are some students who come from families with better resources, then for those students who don't come from families with better resources, at least you help them to level up so that they get a chance to do well."

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