SINGAPORE: Following the revamp of the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) announced by the Education Ministry on Wednesday (Jul 13), parents and teachers Channel NewsAsia spoke to do not believe the new system will reduce the stress on students. Instead, they pointed out the need for parents and students to change the way they view the PSLE, and the education system as a whole.
The changes, which take effect from 2021, involve the scrapping of the PSLE T-score. Instead, students are given Achievement Levels (AL) of 1 to 8 in each of their four PSLE subjects. The sum of these ALs would then make up the students’ final scores.
Students would also not be graded relative to their peers, as is the case in the existing T-score system.
CHANGES WON’T REMOVE STRESS: PARENTS
Edric Sng, a father of four, said he appreciates the government trying to take away the "performance treadmill" aspect of the school system, but expressed doubt about whether the changes, which he described as “a little bit underwhelming”, go far enough to get to “the heart of the problem”.
“One way or another, parents put their kids under so much stress, and put themselves under so much stress to get kids to perform well enough to get whatever the school of their choice”, he said. Mr Sng, whose eldest child starts Primary 1 next year, added that the changes may not drastically change societal and mental mindsets of how parents and students view examinations.
Mother of three, Brenda Goh, whose youngest child will be affected by the changes, said she appreciates how the new system scores students based on their individual performances, but added that she thinks it is unlikely that parents will stop placing undue stress on their children.
“As a parent, the big question I have is that all the parents want their children to get into top schools, and there’s going to be a limited number of spaces there. And that’s where the T-score comes in, because the T-score sifts out the top 2 or 3 per cent of students,” she said. “But now that everyone is getting graded by their raw performance scores, there will be more students getting the top PSLE score of 4 in some years, compared to others. How will the good schools select their students then?
“Whether it’s getting an A* or an AL1, it all comes down to mindsets and what you believe in,” she added.
“If a parent believes that this is the defining exam for their kids and it’s going to determine their future, then they will do whatever is necessary. But if you believe this is one of many exams and the education system will give your children the chance to prove themselves in the future … it all depends on how the parent views the PSLE, and how they view the opportunities the education system will give their child in the future.”
TEACHERS ALSO UNDER PRESSURE
One primary school teacher agreed that the changes are an improvement over the existing system, citing the tendency of students to compare scores amongst themselves.
“They determine that the one with the highest T-score must be the smartest,” said the teacher, who has 12 years’ experience in the teaching service. “But with the change, there would be more students in the same AL, and they may be more confident to share their levels with their peers.”
But she added that there could be added pressure on teachers like herself when teaching students at the higher ALs. A student has to score 90 marks and above in order to receive an AL of 1, 85 to 89 marks for an AL2, 80 to 84 for an AL3, and 75 to 79 for an AL4.
“I feel that if I’m teaching the higher progress students, I may be pressurised because the mark ranges of the ALs at the higher levels are narrower than the existing As and A*s,” she said, adding that this is particularly so for the students scoring in range of 80 marks. Currently, the mark range for an A* is 91 and above, and from 75 to 90 for an A.
This was also an issue raised by Jean Lim, a former teacher with more than 30 years’ experience. “In the past, if a student scored 75, we could tell parents that their child scored an A, and there were happy. But now, if they score an AL4, which is still considered an A in the old system, they will not be happy, because an AL4 just doesn’t sound as nice,” she said.
“While teachers like us can see the improvement quite clearly with the narrow difference, the disadvantage is that if a student regresses, it is just as obvious, she added. “That will make the parents very anxious, and they’ll surely send their children for tuition once they drop by one level.”
“If the parents’ mentality does not change, the pressure will not be eliminated.”
NO PERFECT SYSTEM: 938LIVE CALLERS
The PSLE changes were also a hot topic on Thursday’s (Jul 14) Talkback segment on 938LIVE, with callers suggesting more drastic changes like doing away with the PSLE score completely, and admitting students to secondary schools on a pass/fail basis.
Caller Tham Tuck Meng said the changes “don’t go far enough to create more inclusive education”, and highlighted the need for mindsets to change in order to relieve stress in the exams. “We should do away with the entry by aggregate scores, and mandate entry to secondary school by some sort of quota system,” he said, adding that each school could have students with different levels of academic abilities, extra-curricular achievements, and social backgrounds.
Another caller, Susie Ng, agreed that there has to be buy-in from parents. “There is no perfect system, and whichever system we adopt, there will be flaws,” she said, adding that the issue of stress at the PSLE could come about because parents are unwilling to accept that their child cannot make it to a particular school.
But she disagreed with the suggestion of having students of varying academic abilities in the same school. “Top schools have programmes that will stretch the child. If you put in a child of mixed ability, or one who’s just average, the school cannot maximise the ability of the children who are really good.
“That’s why we need some top schools. That’s why we have Harvard as well as the average universities. Everyone aspires to go to Harvard, but only the best can make it. If we can’t make it, we just have to accept it.”