‘New’ PSLE Education System: Taking a Deeper Look at the Numbers
I did some rationalisation over the ‘new’ Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) scoring system and decided to delve into the ‘changes’ a bit more.
I had a chat on my Facebook with some people who disagreed with (parts of) my previous article – they felt that the old PSLE scoring system which is computed based on the bell curve would mean the ‘new’ scoring system is different.
In the previous article, I had written based on the assumed belief that the ‘government’ wants to continue to ‘entrench’ the elitism and class differentiation in the PSLE and education system. In this article, I explore the merit of this assumption a bit more.
In the charts below, I compare the old and new PSLE system.
Please note the limitation of the comparison – the current (old) PSLE scoring system is based on using a bell curve to compute the T-score (You can read more about it on the Ministry of Education (MOE)’s website here.)
Source: Ministry of Education website
As I do not have access to the data of the students’ results, the charts below therefore do not take into account the bell curve for the computation of the old PSLE scores. Therefore comparisons made with the old scoring system should not be taken as direct comparisons and should only be used as a gauge. Even so, they help to let us draw some conclusions.
Therefore, in the charts below, the computation of the PSLE scores for the old system are based on directly using the actual subject marks.
The computation for the ‘new scoring system’ are however accurate. They follow the ‘new’ scoring system that has just been announced.
As can be seen in the chart below, for the ‘new’ scoring system, the marks of each subject would give a corresponding point to each Achievement Level. If a student scores 90 marks in one subject, he or she would achieve an Achievement Level of 1 point. If he or she scores 85 marks, this would be an Achievement Level of 2 points.
The points for the Achievement Levels of all four subjects that primary school students have to take for the PSLE (English, Mathematics, Science and Mother Tongue) are then added together to obtain the total PSLE score (as shown in the chart below).
Students are streamed accordingly based on their scores, into the Express, Normal (Academic) or Normal (Technical) stream.
In the chart below, the blue line represents the old scoring system and the red line represents the ‘new’ scoring system.
The red line’s computation is straightforward, based on the ‘new’ scoring system above.
For the computation for the blue line (old scoring system), I used an online calculator. Note again that this should only be used as a gauge as the PSLE scores have not been adjusted for the bell curve.
For the example below, I assumed that all subjects would score the same marks, and charted them at 5 marks interval on the horizontal axis – i.e. 5 marks, 10 marks, 15 marks, and so on.
If you look at the red line at the very top left hand corner, if each subject scores 1 mark, each subject would get an Achievement Level of 8 points. This would add together to give a PSLE score of 32 points.
On the bottom right corner, if each subject scores 100 marks, each subject would get an Achievement Level of 1 point and would add together to give a PSLE score of 4 points. The lower the score, the better, is the logic of the ‘new’ scoring system – which is similar to the ‘O’ Levels scoring format.
For the blue line, I used the online calculator. If each subject scores 100 marks, this would give a total score of 313 points (top right corner). If each subject scores 1 mark, this would give a total score of -44 points (bottom left corner). (Again, note that the scores have not been adjusted to the bell curve which might explain the weird numbers, and are therefore not representative and should only be taken as a gauge.)
In the chart below, I flipped the red line over so that you can have a more direct comparison.
Based on the old scoring system, a higher score is ‘better’. For the ‘new’ system, a lower score is ‘better’.
For ease of comparison, I turned the red line around.
What you can see immediately is that the old scoring system (blue line) follows a constant line (though not adjusted for the bell curve). The ‘new’ system (red line), however, is not a constant straight line.
Also, while the blue line is straight, the red line now looks terraced – this is so because unlike in the old system where marks are added up to give a total PSLE score, under the ‘new’ system, scores are banded and tiered.
The perspective some take is that by removing the bell curve and banding the scores, this is a ‘better’ system. Is it?
- Constant average 90 marks and above for each subject will give a score of 4 points.
- But for lower marks thereafter, the scores drop off very quickly.
The next chart gives you a better view.
In this next chart, I superimposed colour bands over the red lines – based on the ‘new’ system, to let you differentiate between the ‘new’ PSLE scores. Now, look at the next chart.
In the following chart, I changed the red lines into red bars, and superimposed the colour bands over them – based on the ‘new’ system.
In the far right of the chart, the most right band in red is labelled 1 at the top – for Achievement Level 1. The coloured bands are labelled 1 to 8 from right to left accordingly.
- As mentioned, for constant average 90 marks and above for each subject, each subject would get 1 Achievement Level point and give a total PSLE score of 4 points.
- But at 85 marks (constant for all subjects), this goes down to 2 Achievement Level points and a total PSLE score of 8 points.
- At 80 marks, this goes down again to 3 Achievement Level points and a total PSLE score of 12 points.
- At 75 marks, this goes down yet again to 4 Achievement Level points and a total PSLE score of 16 points.
- Then only at 70 marks does it stabilise a little and gives 5 Achievement Level points and a total PSLE score of 20 points, and which applies to 65 marks as well.
Next set of points:
- For an Achievement Level of 6 points and a total PSLE score of 24 points, this would mean that if each subject has the same marks, the marks in this range would be between 45 and 64 marks (as stated in the ‘new’ scoring system).
- For Achievement Level 7 and a total PSLE score of 28 points, this would range between 20 and 44 marks.
- Achievement Level 8 and a total PSLE score of 30 points would range between 0 to 19 marks.
Lets take a look at the next chart before we draw some conclusions from this.
The chart below have purple bands superimposed onto it based on the old scoring system.
In the far right band in bright purple, again assuming all subjects having equal scores, 91 marks and above would give a grade of A* (taking up 2 bars).
But the next grade – A – takes up 4 bars. B takes up 3 bars, C takes up 2 and then D and E takes up 3 bars each again.
You can see that the bands are more evenly distributed according to the marks.
Thus when you compare the old and ‘new’ system, what are some things that stand out?
- First, the PSLE scores for the ‘new’ system are divided even more finely than the old system.
- Second, the division becomes broader and broader as the marks go lower.
- As mentioned in the previous article, where 75 marks would give a grade of A, this time round it would only give an Achievement Level of 4 (which if based on the old scoring format, is a C). On first instinct, this therefore marks it more difficult for a student to do well.
- The ‘new’ scoring system might be viewed as being more challenging at first glance and might induce lower morale for a student who under the ‘new’ system would only have an Achievement Level of 4 when previously, this would be an A grade. (But of course, by 2021 when the ‘new’ system is implemented, no one would remember the old system and its format.)
Another question I ask is this:
- Where it might now be argued that the ‘new’ system no longer follows a bell curve, does the ‘new’ system instead differentiates the PSLE scores even more finely – at least for the higher marks – with the aim of still wanting to tease out the better scorers still?
- Has the ‘government’ seemingly given up on the bell curve but still want to retain the ability to identify ‘top’ scorers, and therefore the more refined differentiation system?
The MOE explained it this way:
- “The 8 Achievement Levels (ALs) are designed to reflect broadly different levels of achievement. While it is not meaningful to differentiate too finely between students, we need a broad indication of their progress after 6 years of primary school, so that they can be matched to suitable academic programmes in secondary school.
- For example, while there may not be any difference between a student who scores 65 and another who scores 66 marks in a subject, there is a difference between one who scores 65 and another who scores 75. We want to be able to recognise this difference.
- If there are too few ALs, there would be more students with the same PSLE Score, which would lead to more balloting in S1 posting. This would cause more anxiety for parents and students.”
But this raises some other questions:
- If the MOE said that it is “not meaningful to differentiate too finely between students”, then why did it differentiate the students among the higher scorers more finely?
- The MOE said that “there is a difference between one who scores 65 and another who scores 75 (and they) want to be able to recognise this difference. Then, why does the MOE not differentiate between one who scores 50 and and another who score 60 – they have the same Achievement Level of 6, or why not between a score of 45 and 55, or between 30 and 40? – the logic does not flow. Why is the differentiation not consistent?
- The MOE said that one reason there cannot be too few Achievement Levels is that this would “lead to more balloting in S1 posting”.
- I offer another reason – the schools which require balloting have generally been the ‘top’ schools. The MOE does not elaborate further on the point but the concern with balloting seems to suggest that if the Achievement Levels are more evenly distributed, it would make it difficult for the MOE or ‘top’ schools to identify the ‘top’ scorers they want and which with balloting would also make it more difficult to identity the ‘top’ scorers – the thinking seems to be that it would dilute the ‘betterness’ of these schools – if so, this is a justification to allow the ‘new’ PSLE system to still entrench the elitism in the system.
- On the other hand, the Achievement Levels for the lower scores (see chart below – in lighter yellow portion) are broader in their coverage of the marks, which therefore suggest that the ‘government’ does not seem to be as bothered by the differentiation at the other end of the spectrum.
- Of course, there are other reasons. A practical reason is that students are scoring better and better over the years, and therefore there is a need to refine the differentiation to distinct the scores at the higher level. Indeed, the MOE said that, “The upper ranges are narrower because the PSLE is designed such that students are able to show what they can do and a large majority of students do well for the PSLE. On average, about half of the students will score AL4 or better.”
But this begs the question – if Acting Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng said that the governments wants “to move this school system forward so that we reduce the competitiveness of it”, then doesn’t the more defined and refined differentiation at the higher scores still induce competition, and go against such a claim?
Back to the perspective that without the bell curve, the ‘new’ system would be better, this reasoning might be weak because with the differentiation for the ‘top’ scores made even more stringent now, one assumption is that the government would have looked at the distribution under the old scoring system and the refining of the ‘new’ system at the top tiers would similarly follow a bell curve logic.
The fact that the bands are tighter at the top (differentiated by 5 marks for Achievement Levels 2 to 4) before the bands broaden thereafter is an indication of this.
However, without the planning parameters that the government had used to develop the ‘new’ system, it is not possible to say for sure. But let’s take a look below to make a further guess.
In the next chart below (and without the data available for the bell curve), if we could assume that if all subjects score the same 65 marks, under the ‘old’ scoring system and based on the online calculator, the PSLE score of 187 would be able to put a student into the Express stream (purple square at top right corner in chart below), based on the cut-off points for 2015.
Under the ‘new’ system, it is not different where the same marks would give a PSLE score of 20 points, which would allow entrance into the Express stream.
The ‘new’ scoring system therefore seems somewhat better refined and which corresponds more to the old system at the higher scores.
The situation seems different for the Normal streams (which without the benefit of the bell curve and results is difficult to carefully assess) – on first glance, it seems that the ‘new’ system might allow more students who did academically less well to move on to secondary school.
However, the statistics would dispel this notion. Last year, 98.3% of students who took the PSLE were eligible for secondary school. 66.2% qualified for the Express stream while 21.7% and 10.4% qualified for the Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical) streams, respectively.
If so, this does not mean the new system would allow more students to be eligible for secondary school. Rather, it seems that the bell curve might have caused some distortion to the PSLE scores under the current (old) system.
Some questions to ask are these:
- Under the current (old) system, when students are given grades and their respective T-scores, were they given lower grades than they would otherwise have scored? If they are, would this result in lower self-esteem, morale and confidence in our students?
- Also, how is the thinking behind the bell curve done? Are there students who have done relatively well but whose grades were adjusted downwards based on the bell curve and therefore entered a stream lower than which they would otherwise have gone to?
- Without the bell curve, would there have been more students who would perform academically better, and which would also mean more students who could have entered the Express stream, and then into university as well?
The question to ask is – does the bell curve unnaturally skew the academic performances of our students and which can psychologically create a disbelief in their own abilities?
I suppose these, and more questions, have been asked by parents. I am unaware as to whether answers have been given.
Some further fundamental questions to ask are these:
- What is the rationale behind deciding which grades/levels would allow students to enter into the Express or Normal streams? How do we decide what is academically more “Express” and what is more “Normal”?
- In order to have such a differentiation, the ‘government’ would need some working parameters as to how much marks they deem should be considered “Express” and what is “Normal”.
- Based on the ‘new’ scoring system, we seem to have an answer – the minimum to enter into the Express stream is if every subject scores a minimum of 65. So, is 65 marks the minimum to be in the “Express” queue”? But what determines that it should be 65 marks? Why not 50?
Of course, one response could be that the current system is working well – in how it distills students into the respective streams and there onwards into junior colleges, polytechnics or ITEs (for vocation training), and later on, universities – and therefore there shouldn’t be a need to question it.
But this exposes some other questions:
- Currently, there seems to be a fixed cohort of students who sat for their PSLE and who later enter junior college – 30%.
- There also seems to be a fixed cohort of 30% of the students who enter local public universities. According to WikiLeaks, Assistant Director of the Planning Division at the MOE Cheryl Chan was supposed to have said in 2007 that, “the government does not plan to encourage more students to get a higher education. The university enrollment rate will continue to be maintained at 20-25 percent because the Singaporean labor market does not need everyone to get a four-year degree, she asserted.” This figure has not changed much – last year, it was about 30%.
- If so, this raises some questions – for the seemingly fixed percentages of how many students should be streamed into the different streams and institutions, how are these percentages decided upon administratively?
- The added concern is that the bell curve would then skew the results in favour of the government’s planning agenda – what effect does this have on the development of our students? Does this lead to an adjustment in the perceived academic abilities along the lines of the bell curve? Also, would the marking system (for examinations) that would follow a bell curve also skew the perceived academic development of our students?
For me, the ‘government’s lack of address for these issues raises even more questions. The planning parameters could have been planned on long ago, but this issue should be revisited now.
The question to ask is:
- Where Singapore’s academic development would have advanced today as compared to many years ago, why are fixed percentages still used to determine the academic streams or pathways that students should take?
- Where academic development should have become grown better and more students should have the ability to enter junior colleges and universities, but where the percentages are still fixed (or only slightly changing), this leads to the question – are Singaporeans being held down from their academic advancement based on the government’s fixed planning parameters?
Indeed, several ministers have already said that pursuing degrees are not important. Based on the above questions, this then raises many questions, doesn’t it?
- Is our education system intentionally engineered to produce fixed percentages for specific workforce targets and wage tiers?
- Is the education system planned with inequality as part of its design?
Now, if we again continue to use the same assumption that each subject would have the same marks, and 90 marks for each subject would give a PSLE score of 277 under the old system, students are likely to enter the following ‘top-tier’ schools (as listed in the next two charts below), which have cut-off points at around 277.
The question then is this:
- Now that the PSLE scores have become more refined under the ‘new’ scoring system, did the ‘government’ refine the PSLE scoring system with the secondary school postings in mind? – Meaning, did the government look at the percentage of students who would enter the ‘top’ schools and then work backwards to decide which marks should be used as the cut-off points, to allow the scores which would enter the ‘top’ schools under the old system, to still be able to enter under the ‘new’ system?
- Are the subsequent scores then also divided accordingly?
In order words, does the ‘new’ system do away with the computation based on a bell curve but use the bell curve in its design instead?
Of course, some might argue that there needs to be a finer distinction so as to be able to stream.
But then, wouldn’t this be the wrong question to ask?
- First, it was Ng Chee Meng who said: “Every school is a good school, a good fit for the child if it best matches the students’ needs.” But if so, if every school is supposed to be equally good, wouldn’t streaming go against the very idea of wanting every school to be equally good?
- By the more stringent scoring system, wouldn’t the unequal system continue to be persist?
We cannot on the one hand say that we want schools to be equal but on the other, continue to maintain and even further develop a system to entrench the inequality, can we?
Below is a clearer list on the ‘top-tier’ schools, as per the discussion above.
In the next segment below, I try to look at another way of comparing the old and ‘new’ PSLE scoring system.Instead of the horizontal axis representing the marks at a 5 marks interval, I decided to use a different range.
The chart below shows the mark ranges for the old and ‘new’ scoring system. I decided to use each of the starting and ending marks for each of the range for the horizontal axis (meaning for the marks range of 91 – 100 for grade A* of the old system, I used the marks 91 and 100 – I did this for both the old and ‘new’ system) for the charts below.
On why I used the starting and ending marks for each range, this is because I want to compare to see if there are any obvious differences under the old and ‘new’ scoring system.
Accordingly, below is the chart. Again, the blue line represents the old scoring system while the red line represents the ‘new’ scoring system.
In the chart below, I invert the red line again for easy comparison.
Below, I changed the blue lines to bars to make the comparison clearer.
Again, I also superimposed yellow and red colour bands over the chart, based on the ‘new’ scoring system to let you see better.
And for the chart below, I also superimposed the purple colour bands over the chart, based on the old scoring system.
These are the bands compared – in the chart below, for the old and ‘new’ scoring system.
Now, the questions.
If you look at the yellow circles in the chart below, within each circle are the two PSLE scores, based on the two marks that separate two grade levels. For example, grade A* ranges from 91 to 100 marks. Grade A ranges from 75 to 90 marks. 90 marks and 91 marks are the two marks that separate these two grades – and which are within the yellow circles.
Their respective PSLE scores, based on using the online calculator, are 277 and 280 points respectively. Why is this of note?
Under the old system, 277 and 280 does not differ greatly in points. Similarly, 219 and 223 in the next circle and 165 and 169 in the next, also do not differ greatly.
But under the ‘new’ system (and based on the assumptions laid out in this article), 280 points would now give a PSLE score of 4 points while 277 would give a PSLE score of 8 points – which is a big difference now.
Similarly, 223 would now be a PSLE score of 16 points while 219 would be 20 points – again, a big difference.
165 and 169 would both be PSLE scores of 24 points because of the wider band for lower scores under the ‘new’ system.
This again clearly shows that the ‘new’ PSLE system has been tweaked to make the score differentiation even finer for higher scores, doesn’t it?
- From here, you can see that competition is now even stronger at the higher PSLE scores (or in order achieve these scores). But for the lower scores, it seems to be more relaxed (again without the benefit of how the scores based on the bell curve are computed, is difficult to make a firm comparison).
- Again, if Ng Chee Meng had said that the ‘government’ wanted “to move this school system forward so that we reduce the competitiveness of it”, the ‘new’ scoring system does not exactly do that, does it? In fact, it has now made it more competitive, hasn’t it?
But there is a caveat – based on the assumption of having similar marks for each subject, the competition would mainly arise in the yellow circles as indicated in the chart below – at the margins of each range under the ‘new’ PSLE scoring system.
So, if your marks are now 89, there is pressure to strive to get 90 marks, so as to be placed in Achievement Level 1 and score a PSLE score of 4 points.
If the marks are at 84, there is then pressure to strive to get 85 marks similarly. In between, at 86, 87, 88 and 89 marks, it might be thought that it is more relaxed. But does this logic work out?
Not really. At 89 marks, a person would still strive to get 91 marks. This would apply even at 86 marks. So, in truth, the ‘new’ PSLE scoring system would still make it very competitive.
However, the situation is very different for those who are high scorers (i.e. those who score 90 marks and above) – as indicated in the green circle in the chart below.
There was this person who made the following comment on my Facebook.
Under the old system, not only the 5 marks between 85 and 90 is competed for, every mark above 90 is competed for.
To get to iP school under the old system, you need at least 3 A stars and an A that is closer to 90.
You can get thru with 2A stars and 2 As …but the A stars need to be closer to 100 marks.
The fight amount the stressed young ones is always for the higher end of the grade…that is way above 90.
The new system wants to take away that.
He also said:
Under the old system, getting 90 for the A star is not enough. Reason being every point counts towards being better ranked than the competition. The T score is different for an A Star as it compares marks and not grade
Under the new system, there is no difference between a person scoring 90 and another scoring 100. They are both rated at 1 point. So there is no need to cramp and memorise for the exam. This is where the pressure lessens.
To get to a TOP school anywhere, one needs to be of a certain standard. Getting 4 points will gain one admission to a school of their choice. Even 5 will do the trick.
In this sense, it is way less stressful for the kids, especially those who can make it.
Low Chu Chong is supposed to be the Associate Director at DBS Vickers Securities. I suppose he knows what he is talking about.
Low Chu Chong also said this:
Children from families with good economic status will always have an advantage, be it in terms of tuition or extra help from parents who can spend the time to teach the. That is something no policy can change as most parents will try to give their offsprings a leg up.
This is the unfortunate thing about Singapore’s system where the inequality in the education (and economic system) has resulted in people believing that the inequality is natural and that “no policy can change” this.
In response to him, I said:
If we want to create an education system which is more equal, there are ways to do it. If we want to entrench a system where those with good economic status can benefit, then we will not change the system. It is a matter of will. Arguing that no policy can change an unequal system belies that the possibility that equality can be achieved, but when we do not try.
I also pointed him to an article on The Atlantic which explained how Finland changed its education system to become more equal – the article does a better job at explaining.
So you see:
- The ‘new’ scoring system has been refined to such an extent that it would seem to still protect the ‘elite’ schools and cause students to still be carefully sorted on an academic basis.
- Second, the ‘new’ scoring system would actually benefit the ‘top’ scorers as the stress levels are lessened for them. But such stress would still be present for every other student across the board.
Is this a better system? I do not think so, as it continues to induce stress and competition among our students?
Thus when Ng Chee Meng said that the ‘government’ wants “to move this school system forward so that we reduce the competitiveness of it”, I do not think we can take these words at their face value.
The former Principal of Xinmin Secondary School Goh Tong Pak was also interviewed on his thoughts about the ‘new’ scoring system.
The new system does not have a great effect in reducing stress because students still have to focus on all (four primary school level) subjects. For example, he said that if a student scores over 85 marks for each subject, the four subjects would add up to 340 marks which under the new system, the student would have 8 points. But if two subjects scored 100 marks and the other two scored 70 marks, even though the full marks are also 340 marks, the total score would only be 12 points.
“In the end, you still have to work to do you best for all the subjects, and people would not stop “rushing (to get higher marks)” just because the system changed,” he said.
He also said that this might cause parents to focus more on Higher Chinese instead.
He added: “Even if the student scores 1 point for 3 subjects but does not score well for the 4th, the student still cannot go to a school.”
Based on what he explained, I drew up the chart below.
You can see the discrepancy – based on the ‘new’ scoring system, it can make a huge difference as to which band of schools students with the two different scores would enter.
But in such a situation, where one student has 100 marks in two subjects versus another with 85 marks in four, how do you determine who is the better student? Also, even if the ‘new’ scoring system grades the student with 85 marks in four subjects as being better, does it mean the student who who has 100 marks in two is not as good?
Herein lies the problem with a scoring system, doesn’t it?
In the next example in the chart below, I put together some more numbers.
Take a look at the example below – they are self-explanatory. (Remember the assumption I set out at the start where in the absence of the bell curve, the comparisons are not direct.)
In the examples below, it seems to suggest that where a student would otherwise have gone to a Normal stream under the old stream, the ‘new’ system could enable the student to enter an Express stream.
(Again note that I do not have the benefit of a bell curve analysis and the relevant data to make this comparison complete.)
This raises some interesting questions:
- The first, of course, is whether this illustration would be accurate. I would like to hear the MOE’s thoughts on this.
- Second, assuming the broad idea of this illustration can be accepted, would this be an actual practice that would enable students to advance into the Express stream if they achieve the PSLE score of 20 required?
I am personally actually in favour of this. Let me explain:
- Dr Pasi Sahlberg, is a renowned Finnish educator who was quoted by The Straits Times as having “asked why Singaporeans were debating T-scores and bands when they should be debating if the PSLE was needed.”
- So did Stanford University education professor Linda Darling-Hammond, who asked “whether it was appropriate for children to take a high-stakes examination at age 12. She also “noted that most school systems in the world do it at age 15 or 16”. She added that: “That’s when most youngsters are beginning to discover what they are good at and where their interests lie.”
- As such, I am in favour of allowing all our students to advance into secondary school – without examinations and streaming – until such time (at 15 or 16 years old) before they should be streamed.
In this instance, I do not think we should have streams and call them “Express” or “Normal” – everyone should simply continue to study and enjoy learning. Streaming and national examinations at the age of 12 should be removed.
Having said that, for the example above, I am not sure if the outcome is intended by the MOE under the ‘new’ system – but even if not, I hope that this practice (as highlighted in the example) would continue to happen.
The examples below also provide you with further permutations.
Do take a look at them – they are self-explanatory. (Again, take note of the assumption of the bell curve.)
I would like to think that the ‘new’ grading system would give wider opportunities for those who are academically less-inclined to be able to move forward in the education system.
As the education experts aforementioned said, streaming and examinations at the age of 12 is too early and cause undue and unnecessary stress for our children.
I do however think that the ‘new’ scoring system continues to promote an elitist system and even favours the ‘elites’ but if the examples in the last two charts would be put into practice, I do think it is a favourable expansion in the change as well.
On questions as to whether for the students who do not do as academically well at PSLE, would they be able to cope – I think this should not be the question, at least not at this point.
The question we should be asking is – how can we restructure the environment to better facilitate learning for our children?
As I mentioned in the previous articles (with links), class sizes should be reduced, as well as the syllabuses and teachers’ administrative workload, so that this will give teachers more time and space to develop customised programmes for each student, to help them learn in different ways and to also allow them to find joy in learning. This would not only improve their academic learning but would also allow them to find out what they would like to do and pursue it.
The MOE made this points:
- “As long as the child enjoys learning and does his best, the AL he receives will enable him to progress at an appropriate pace in the next step of his learning journey.
- We want to encourage parents to set balanced goals for their child. For instance, if the child scores quite well in certain subjects, instead of chasing the last point there, he could work harder on his weaker subjects or pursue non-academic interests that will benefit him in other important ways.”
But if it is indeed the aim that children “enjoy” learning and to allow them to “pursue non-academic interests that will benefit” them, shouldn’t the focus then be on that?
The MOE cannot on one hand claim that it wants children to enjoy learning, but yet puts in place stressful examinations and streaming, which curbs the enjoyment, and forces them to compete for good results.
The MOE cannot also on one hand say that it wants children to “pursue non-academic interests” but yet on the other, continues to put so much focus on academic results.
It is one thing to say something but do another. Singaporeans can see for themselves whether the ‘government’ means what it says or whether the words should only be taken at face value.
As it is, the ‘new’ PSLE scoring system does not fundamentally address the concerns of Singaporeans. The ‘new’ PSLE system allows the very ‘top’ scorers to reduce their stress and protects the ‘elite’ schools.
However, the ‘new’ system also creates more stress as it means that instead of fighting for every point now for the PSLE score under the old system, students would now need to fight even harder to enter the next band. The ‘new scoring system does not take the stress away, no matter how much rhetoric is used.
I started this article by mentioning that the charts used for comparison does not take into account the bell curve. But even when taking the bell curve out of the equation, the point remains that the ‘new’ scoring system is just as competitive and stressful.
Not only that, with the more refined and determinate computation of PSLE scores, it exposes more questions as to how the government would decide which marks and scores would qualify for each stream. Importantly, how does the government make these decisions as to the cut-off points, and as to which student should go into the Express stream, or to university for that matter?
Should the government be the gatekeeper as to which academic ability should be considered “good”?
At the end of the day, what did Singaporeans really want to change on the PSLE?
As a Straits Times poll showed, “only two in five Singaporeans think the PSLE is necessary.”
“One in four stated outright it was redundant,” it added.
Singaporeans wanted the PSLE abolished. Not tweaked and still cause more stress.
But what then are the solutions? Plenty. I have outlined them above and in the previous article. But don’t take my word for it.
Here is what the former chief economist at the GIC has to say: