Friday, 9 November 2018

Changes to Direct School Admission scheme from 2019; NUS, NTU to drop O-level grades when taking in poly grads from 2020

New moves to spur students to develop their abilities
Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme made easier; NUS, NTU tweak entry criteria for poly grads
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 9 Nov 2018

More changes are under way to the Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme and the university admission scoring system to encourage students to develop their talents in a range of fields, regardless of their family backgrounds.

From next year, all schools offering Secondary 1 places through DSA will use a centralised online portal, which means that pupils need to fill in only one online form to apply to multiple schools. Applications through the portal will be free, removing the barrier of a $20-$50 fee that some schools currently charge.

Also, from 2020, the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) will drop the 20 per cent weighting given to O-level results for polytechnic graduate applicants. Instead, they will be assessed primarily on their polytechnic grade point average - a more current reflection of the skills they have picked up. But students can continue to submit O-level results relevant to the course of study as additional information.

The other four publicly funded universities have already moved beyond O-level results - except when they are directly relevant - in admitting students.

Second Minister for Education Indranee Rajah, who announced the changes yesterday, said they would enable students with different learning styles to be evaluated more holistically. "It also better recognises late bloomers, and creates more opportunities for those who flourish after discovering their interest when they are older," she said.

NUS, NTU and the Singapore Management University can offer up to 15 per cent of their yearly undergraduate places through the Discretionary Admission Scheme, which considers the abilities of students beyond their academic results.

On the change to the DSA, Ms Indranee revealed that this year, 3,000 Primary 6 pupils who applied for places through the scheme - which was widened this year - have received confirmed offers. This is 500 more than last year.

The selection process for the scheme has also been refined to spot talent, even in those who have not had the chance to showcase it yet. There will be less emphasis on the awards a pupil has won - say, in the arts - and more on innate ability.

Ms Indranee said schools no longer administer academic ability tests during DSA selection. "Doing so brings our schools' DSA process and objectives back to the original intention of recognising specific talents, not general academic talent."

By using a single portal for applications and bringing the focus back to talent, the ministry hopes to offset the head start that "better resourced" pupils currently get.

"Those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds... may not be as well informed about some of the choices and opportunities available," said Ms Indranee. "So what we're really trying to do is close the gap, and make sure those less well resourced and less advantaged still have the opportunity to apply."

St Joseph's Institution (SJI) principal Adrian Danker said his school has done away with admitting pupils based on academic abilities, even in specific subjects like mathematics or science. That is because the original intention of the DSA is to assess pupils' other abilities, he said.

So SJI takes in pupils who show potential in their chosen fields.

"The move to focus on non-academic programmes is also in line with our mission, which is to never lose sight of the last, the lost and the least," said Dr Danker.

Uni admissions: Poly grads' O-level grades to be dropped from 2020
By Amelia Teng, Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 9 Nov 2018

From 2020, polytechnic graduates applying to Singapore's local universities will not need to include their O-level results.

Only their polytechnic grade point average (GPA) will count towards the university admissions score they use in applying to the six publicly funded universities, except for certain courses with subject-specific requirements.

The two biggest institutions, National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU), will drop the current 20 per cent weighting given to O-level results for polytechnic graduate applicants, in a move to recognise their latest qualification and put them on a par with their peers from junior colleges.

The other four universities already use other ways of evaluation such as the polytechnic GPA, aptitude tests and interviews.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) said the change will better recognise late bloomers and those who have done well in polytechnics after discovering their interest when they are older.

With the expansion of publicly funded university places, one in three students admitted to local universities was from a polytechnic this year, up from one in four in 2012.

The ministry also explained that the profile of polytechnic students today has become more diverse, with almost a quarter of them without O-level qualifications. This is up from about one in five in 2014.

This is due to the introduction of schemes such as the Polytechnic Foundation Programme, which is offered to the top Normal (Academic) students. Those on this track skip the O levels and are admitted directly to the polytechnics.

University officials said the change in scoring is in line with the move towards a more holistic admissions process that assesses students based on their aptitude besides their academic grades.

NUS, NTU and Singapore Management University can allocate up to 15 per cent of their yearly undergraduate places for the Discretionary Admission Scheme, which considers the abilities of students beyond their academic results.

NUS president Tan Eng Chye said: "Through this scheme, quite a number of talented polytechnic graduates have gained admission into NUS, including those with good GPAs regardless of their O-level results. They have done well at NUS."

NTU provost Ling San said it continues to see more applicants with polytechnic diplomas who took alternative routes that did not involve sitting the O levels. "Given the diversity of students' prior backgrounds, it would be fairer to look at mainly their polytechnic results for university admission, but we will still consider their O-level results where applicable."

Students can continue to submit their O-level results as additional information to support their applications. Some courses may still require O-level scores if relevant. For example, polytechnic students who wish to apply to computer science courses at NUS need at least a B3 grade in O-level Additional Mathematics.

Current and former polytechnic students said it is fair to exclude the O-level results for diploma-holders.

NUS computer science student Rachel Tan said: "The O levels are important but they shouldn't be a determining factor in a polytechnic graduate's application to university.

"The poly diploma also tends to be more relevant to the university course," said the 21-year-old who entered Ngee Ann Polytechnic's biomedical engineering and business course through the Polytechnic Foundation Programme.

Social enterprise co-founder Nicholas Ooi, 28, who went from the Institute of Technical Education to Ngee Ann Polytechnic to NUS, said the change encourages late bloomers, or those who do not do well in their O levels but find their passion in polytechnic.

"They would have sat the O levels four to five years ago. In that time, people can improve and discover their direction in life, so it's not so fair to judge them based on their results in the past."

More offered secondary school spots early based on talent
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 9 Nov 2018

More pupils have been given offers from their desired secondary schools through the expanded Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme, which recognises talent beyond doing well in examinations.

This year, 3,000 pupils were successful in the DSA exercise, up from 2,500 last year, after a change that saw secondary schools being able to take in more students via the scheme and refining their selection practices to better recognise their potential.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) said that more than 90 per cent of secondary schools, or over 120 of them, offer the DSA.

The MOE said schools have come up with methods to identify the talents and potential of pupils, rather than just looking at portfolios and achievements in competitions. It encourages schools to invite all applicants down for trials at least once to have a gauge of their potential and general abilities.

From next year, pupils can apply for DSA through a centralised portal instead of applying to individual schools. Application will also be free, to encourage more pupils from different backgrounds to apply.

The changes come amid growing concern that children from more affluent families have the resources to be groomed to enter top schools via DSA, through sports coaching, music classes or interview preparation.

The scheme has also been criticised for becoming a route for academically bright pupils to reserve places in the popular Integrated Programme (IP) schools - whose students bypass the O levels - before sitting the Primary School Leaving Examination.

In this year's DSA exercise, IP schools accounted for 30 per cent of 3,800 confirmed offers, down from 40 per cent of 3,200 last year. A pupil can receive more than one offer. About one-third of students were admitted on the basis of academic talent last year, while the rest were through non-academic areas.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a conference yesterday, Second Minister for Education Indranee Rajah said the online portal will benefit disadvantaged families by simplifying the process. She acknowledged that parents with more resources are more aware of the DSA.

"Those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, generally speaking, may not be as well informed about some of the choices and opportunities available," she said. "So what we're really trying to do is close the gap, and to make sure that those less well resourced and less advantaged still have the opportunity to apply, and make it an available platform."

Each pupil will be allowed to apply to up to three schools. They can use up to two choices to apply to two different talent areas from the same school. Based on past data, more than 90 per cent of pupils apply to three schools or fewer.

Some schools, like St Joseph's Institution, have scrapped the academic component of the DSA, on top of removing the General Ability Test, so that it focuses on other talents.

A spokesman for Raffles Institution (RI) said that it is looking at offering character and leadership as a new DSA category next year.

"RI offers talented students the opportunity to join the school regardless of their background," she said, adding that its DSA students come in via a range of areas, from academic subjects to music to sports.

Education observers said the changes may encourage more pupils, especially those from less affluent backgrounds, to try for DSA places. National University of Singapore economics lecturer Kelvin Seah said: "The hurdle is now lower for these pupils since the focus will be on demonstrating their talents and strengths through selection-based exercises such as creative tasks and scenario-based experiments, rather than how well they perform on general ability tests."

National Institute of Education Associate Professor Jason Tan said emphasising potential and making the application process more accessible will help "break down the socio-economic status barriers in student participation in the DSA".

He said the challenge is to let parents from lower-income backgrounds know about the benefits of taking part in the DSA as opposed to going through regular school posting. "The onus rests on the shoulders of primary school teachers and principals to get the word out, and help parents identify potential in their children and make well-informed school choices."

SJI looks beyond academic scores
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 9 Nov 2018

St Joseph's Institution (SJI) is not just looking for boys with book smarts or sporting ability.

The school introduced new areas in innovation, leadership, visual art and music through the Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme last year, in line with changes to better recognise pupils' non-academic talent. It also scrapped the academic category, which previously allowed pupils with just good grades to apply to the school.

SJI offers both the O-level track and the Integrated Programme (IP), which leads to the International Baccalaureate after six years. It gave out 40 offers to pupils who applied for the O-level route next year and 50 offers to those on the IP.

SJI principal Adrian Danker said: "Our mission has always been that everybody who comes has some gift to give to the school."

He added that SJI wants to set aside places for pupils who are talented in other areas, given that those who enter the IP already score well for the PSLE. Pupils applying through innovation are given tasks, and teachers will look out for traits such as creativity and the ability to work in teams, he said.

Housewife Yuna Durairah Abdul Rahman, 38, whose Secondary 4 son got into SJI through the DSA academic category, said she initially thought the scheme was for children whose parents had more resources for extra classes.

"I tell my sons to just be themselves and, if they have the ability and means, they will get into the school they want," she said. Her husband is a taxi driver.

Her Secondary 1 son, Muhammad Daiyan Iskandar, 13, was also admitted to SJI because of his leadership qualities. The former head prefect in Dazhong Primary said: "I like SJI because it's like a family, and it's not about exams and competitions.

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