SINGAPORE: By 2018, secondary schools admitting students under the Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme will not be able to use general academic ability tests as a criteria. Instead, the focus will be on identifying sporting and artistic talent as well as students’ strength in specific areas such as languages, mathematics or science.
Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng announced this as part of his ministry’s Committee of Supply debate on Tuesday (Mar 7). The DSA was introduced in 2004 to allow students with non-academic talents to secure a place in secondary schools even before they sit for the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE).
In April last year, the Government announced a review of the scheme, with Mr Ng then noting there was "some unevenness" in how schools select their DSA students. Members of Parliament (MPs) like Denise Phua have also previously voiced their concern that children from more affluent households would benefit from this scheme, as they have access to more resources to hone specific skills from a younger age.
Speaking in Parliament, Mr Ng acknowledged concerns from parents that students with strong academic abilities would already be able to qualify for the schools of their choice with their PSLE results. While general academic ability tests as part of the DSA selection allowed for a comparison of students' ability, Mr Ng said they “inadvertently put undue focus on general academic abilities, rather than identifying specific strengths”.
He said that with the discontinuation of such tests, schools will be able to conduct their selection through a range of assessment tools, from interviews and trials to auditions and subject tests.
Mr Ng said the application process for the scheme would also be simplified, with students submitting their applications through a centralised online portal, using a common application form. This process would take effect from the 2019 DSA exercise.
The minister also said the number of DSA places would be expanded. From 2018, all secondary schools will be able to admit up to 20 per cent of their non-Integrated Programme (IP) intake through the scheme. Of the 2,800 students who secured a place through the DSA in 2016, Mr Ng said half were admitted to the IP.
He said this is unsurprising, given that IP schools have full discretion during the admission process, while the majority of secondary schools can only set aside 5 per cent, 10 per cent or 20 per cent of their secondary intake for DSA places.
“With this expansion, students can better access schools with suitable programmes via DSA, to nurture their talents and interests,” he said, adding that the scheme should not be seen as an entry ticket to popular schools.
Ms Phua asked Mr Ng how the public could be assured that the scheme is indeed not a ticket to popular schools, and leads to a situation where such schools become an assembly of "top brains and top brawns".
Mr Ng said with the changes to the scheme and the other processes put in place, he expects the system to move away from "narrow-scoping" of what defines a good and popular school, to one that finds the best fit for a child to succeed in his or her strengths and talents.
"With all the different changes, the intent is to recognise diverse talents, enabling our children to excel in their talents in specific domains. We are not looking for general abilities, all-rounders", he said.
By 2018, the Education Ministry will also expand Subject-Based Banding to all secondary schools offering Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical) courses, following its initial introduction to 12 schools, he said.
The system allows for lower secondary students who have done well in specific subjects in their PSLE or secondary school examinations to take the subject at a higher level at Secondary 1 instead of Secondary 3.
He said the flexibility allows students to deepen their learning in areas of strength, build their confidence and open up possibilities beyond the secondary school experience.