Populism And PSLE In Singapore

There were tears yesterday when I saw some kids’ faces. Bright and intelligent children who had expectations and were expected to make the grade for this IP or IB system with their PSLE grades. Their dreams shattered by their less than ideal grades.

The PSLE, as it turned out, was too easy. Ahem. Even my son had no complaints which was an early warning signal. Of course there were those questions he knew he would not be able to answer and did not hope of answering them against his exam bred machine  friends who had to get everything right.

So he pulled off the A’s (no stars) and the miraculous A for Chinese which I had begged and pleaded for. And I asked him if he would prefer to be the middle of 210, 230 and 250, or the middle of 200, 240 and 270 ?

The talk amongst the parents I spoke to was that in this year’s Primary School Leaving Exams, we had lower highs and higher lows, squashing everything in between and compressing the bell curve or T Score as it is more popularly known. And I wanted my son’s opinion of the situation. He fell for the psychological trap and picked 240 even though it meant he was way behind the 270 but it is obvious he liked the idea of being way ahead of the 200.

Then I suggested that the first option was not so bad too, because it would mean that he was not too far behind this “brain-iac” (kid’s term for the Gifted Education Programme students) in his science tuition class who was brandishing words like “mitochondria” to his less enthusiastic group mates and probably did not have a chance to use it in the PSLE this year.

So Mr Mitochondria is unhappy and I know a few of their parents. Mr Mitochondria wanted to go to Hwa Chong but his score now meant he could only settle for SJI, which has turned out to the popular choice amongst most of the parents I have spoken to whose boys have no affiliations to help them into secondary schools.

I am hearing that  Hwa Chong will probably have to lower their cut off score from >260 to the 256 level but schools like SJI will probably have overwhelming subscriptions and raise their bar and in this, we will advance the “every school in Singapore is a good school” motto.

Not such a bad idea until you hear Mr Mitochondria’s parents who lament that we are moving towards a society that encourages mediocrity and hold a promising child’s potential back. I am not complaining because I have never liked the idea of streaming children at a young age and I had survived in a SAP school for 10 years to know that.

Mr 210 or 200 will be celebrating with his parents because all hope is not lost for him and next year we will have more Express students than ever. Isn’t that a good thing ? We have not killed his spirit and he will embark on the secondary school journey with renewed enthusiasm rather than being written off at the young age of 13. And generally, more people will be happy with the decision.

As a country, we need this more than ever as labour shortages need us to gear the next generation to more career options than rely on foreign labour and the truth is, electricians and plumbers or chefs deserve a lot more recognition onshore than they are getting. How many Indian chiefs do we need without the labour to do the job ?

The move to recognise the all rounder was hinted at very strongly by the principal in her final speech. What all rounder is this ? Not the top student academically but the top 10% with other achievements to show for it.

I think that is a farce.

I know more than a handful of kids who were pressurised at a tender age to CHOOSE a sport or a skill or craft and commit to it for the rest of their school life without much TIME to even explore other fields that they may be interested in. 6 days of gymnastics training a week, 4 hours a day does not leave Jack much time to give tennis or golf a go.

This PSLE experiment by compressing the bell curve and cutting off the fat tails, is a clear sign that the government is listening and delivering. More votes for sure and I declare my best trade idea for the year was to get that international school place after much thought and analysis (cost savings of tuition vs school fees).

It is not that I do not like the system, it is just that I was an experimental subject before too and I did not like the idea much. And besides, the system is not equipped to handle potential blackjack champions or deejays or astronauts yet.