Channel NewsAsia
Updated: 01/23/2014 21:26 | By Channel NewsAsia

Idea of schools without PSLE, no streaming "worth a try"

Idea of schools without PSLE, no streaming "worth a try"

Idea of schools without PSLE, no streaming "worth a try"

SINGAPORE: A proposal to start a small number of government schools that do away with the Primary Six Leaving Examination (PSLE) and streaming could be worth a shot but the devil is in the details.

This was one of the first reactions to the proposal by Member of Parliament Denise Phua.

The MP for Moulmein-Kallang GRC made the proposal during Parliament's sitting on Tuesday when she called for bolder and swifter reforms to Singapore's education system.

She 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 PSLE.

Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Hri Kumar Nair said he is in favour of scrapping the PSLE, but only if there is a better solution for secondary school placement.

Mr Nair said: "The devil will be in the details. If you have some schools which are set up differently, who will gain entry into these schools?

"Who will get priority if these schools turn out to be popular?

"At the end of the 10-year programme, what sort of exams will the students sit for? Is it going to be O-level, or are they going to do an IP (Integrated Programme) and go straight to A-level?"

Some parents Channel NewsAsia spoke to could find something positive in the idea of a school with a good mix of students from different social backgrounds as well as different academic abilities.

"For children who are late bloomers, that (no streaming) would really help. You don't have this separatist, elitist thing so early (in the children's life). You don't brand the children so early. And yeah, I think it's brilliant!" said Catherine, a mother of one.

But given the choice, a parent said she would still opt for the tried and tested path of PSLE and streaming.

"If there's no PSLE or streaming, how would you evaluate your children?" asked Ms Widya, a mother of three.

But will a 10-year through-train education produce students who cannot do well in tests?

"I find it difficult to accept that just because you remove an exam when a child is 12 years old, immediately that will detrimentally affect his entire education. It can't be," said Mr Nair.

"I think (if) you have a 10-year or 12-year runway to properly prepare a child for university and for further education, then you can make the best use of the time. If a lot of that time is spent preparing the child for exams, then I think you give up on some other parts of his education."

And one part of that education is getting to know people from different backgrounds.

An expert said streaming could also narrow a student's social networks.

"As you put students into finer and finer categories, their social circle becomes more and more isolated," said Associate Professor Irene Ng from the Department of Social Work at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

"(This is) even if you might have community involvement programmes and emphasise that top students must come back and contribute to society," she added.

"Even if they have good intentions to do so, their social circle is just so limited they will have limited empathy and understanding to help effectively people who are different from themselves."

On the proposed "pilot cluster of schools" with no high-stakes exam, Associate Professor Irene Ng said that having only a small number of such schools risks limiting the programme to an elite group of students, which will defeat the original intention of not segregating students.

To avoid creating another kind of "top school", the programme should be made available to everyone if and when fully implemented, she said.   - CNA/ir

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