Channel NewsAsia

MP proposes pilot schools without streaming nor PSLE

MP for Moulmein-Kallang GRC Denise Phua has proposed that the government start a "pilot cluster of schools" offering 10 years of through-train education, without the need of a high stakes exam, like the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE).

SINGAPORE: MP for Moulmein-Kallang GRC Denise Phua has proposed that the government start a "pilot cluster of schools" offering 10 years of through-train education, without the need of a high stakes exam, like the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE).

Filing an adjournment motion in Parliament on Tuesday titled "Educating Our Young for the 21st Century", Ms Phua, who is also deputy chair of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Education, called for bolder and swifter reforms in the country's education sector.

In response, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said the proposal must be set in context against the changes his ministry is already implementing, and that he would give Ms Phua's proposal serious consideration.

There have been a slew of changes within the education sector -- from the removal of school rankings and doing away with competitive scoring for PSLE, to providing more pathways for learning.

But Ms Phua said changes could be bolder. She said: "I have full empathy that the Ministry has to tread carefully at a pace of change that is acceptable to the majority. And indeed, at the national level, treading at a realistic pace may be the way forward as there is frequently no one response that is supported by all the different stakeholders in the system.

“For everyone who prefers less formal exams and rankings, there are others who cannot imagine a world without exams, top schools and tuition. Had the system been drawn from scratch now, many senior educators have said they would have the liberty to draw the system in a bolder manner.

“However, there is a segment of Singaporeans, myself included, who believe that we should go beyond the current trimming of the excesses of the system. We believe that we can move more boldly and swiftly to realise the aspirations of a segment of the Singapore population, a segment who wish to help co-shape and develop a system that addresses more aggressively the hot buttons of the day and also respond more expediently to the beckoning of the future."

In an impassioned speech, Ms Phua listed her criteria for the pilot schools.

Among them -- that students are not sorted out according to their abilities, and that schools are inclusive and reflective of students' different economic backgrounds.

The aim is to address some of the challenges to Singapore's current education system, such as the focus on high stakes exams and even tuition.

Ms Phua said there is cause for concern when even top students from top schools attend tuition classes.

The Direct School Admission - which provides an alternative to academic-based entries to secondary schools - may also have an unintended effect, said Ms Phua.

She said the scheme may run the risk of another form of competition, that is, schools gunning for another type of "superior" students who perform well in areas like music, arts and sports.

In response, Mr Heng said there are "significant policy and implementation issues", and that pacing and prioritisation are critical.

Mr Heng said: "We are changing at a pace that allows our students, parents and educators to adapt, and to build capacity to sustain these changes. We are also changing in a systematic, consistent way, across all our schools, so that all students can benefit."

But even as the education sector undergoes reforms, Mr Heng said Singapore has to build on and retain its strengths. The system, he said, is recognised internationally and has served students in Singapore well.

He said: "While these strengths can also result in an over-emphasis on academic results at times… we must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We need a balance."

Mr Heng added the changes may not have the same visibility as setting up a specialised school, but they will have a major systemic impact on Singapore's education landscape. 

Tweet Photos, Videos and Update on this Story to  #cna