In Singapore, our children attend primary school for six years from the year they turn six. At age twelve, they sit for the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) administered by the Ministry of Education (MOE).
From now till 2020, PSLE T-scores are calculated upon a cumulative total of 300, and each of the 4 subjects (English, Mathematics, Science and a mother tongue language) is graded from A* to U for ungraded.
Recently, MOE announced a new PSLE scoring system which assigns a score to each subject’s examination results based on percentage, starting from 1 for 90% and above, 2 for 85-89% and so forth till 8 for less than 20%.
The scores for each of the four subjects are added up and the final tally determines whether students can apply for a four year Express secondary education (PSLE score of 22 or less) or five year Normal secondary education PSLE score of 21 or more). This new PSLE score system begins in 2021.
The big idea towards changing the scoring system is to allow students to focus on their own learning instead of comparing with others.
Will the new PSLE score shift the focus away from unhealthy academic comparisons?
In my opinion, the new PSLE score system still shines the spotlight on academic results.
To refine it further, MOE could consider including score deductions for contributions in non-academic subjects, such as sports, arts and community service (such a concept already exists in the secondary to pre-university levels).
Singapore already has a relatively developed system of allocating grades to varying levels of co-curricular activity achievements at the secondary school level, which can be used to offset the GCSE ‘O’ level score when applying for a place in the next phase of pre-university education.
Hitting a certain number of hours spent in community service also merits a PSLE score deduction of its own, as you cannot teach moral education inside a classroom alone.
However, in a student’s life, time and opportunity are limiting factors.
Naturally, students and their parents will prioritize on what will be measured and recorded against his name, than exploring other strengths which may not be recognised.
Is there bandwidth to accommodate non-academic strengths?
Some secondary schools have a direct admissions programme, where primary students with a gift in a specific area (e.g. sports, music, art etc.) can apply to individual secondary schools which prize the gift.
However, I worry that by putting too much emphasis on a few subjects or gifts, Singapore is missing out on cultivating other strengths in each primary student.
Yet Singapore’s strength as a nation is our human resource, where we rely on our creativity, diversity, adaptability and confidence in ambiguity to survive by transforming from an industrial to a knowledge-based economy.
Our competitive advantage is not simply by being good in only a few standard strengths, but by offering an attractive package of multiple strengths cohesively strung together.
Hence it doesn’t make sense to assess an individual’s worth by narrowly-defined boundaries and expect him to be the equivalent of a swiss army knife when he grows up.
So I hope one day in the near future, not only will MOE and schools expand their scope of assessing a student’s worth. I hope we will also create a culture which has a better appreciation of the different strengths in the individual.