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Direct School Admission scheme makes mockery of education system and proves PSLE is useless

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The Straits Times today reported that the Government is relooking the Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme. The scheme allows Primary 6 students to secure places in secondary schools before they sit the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE).

The Ministry of Education (MOE) in responding the the newspapers queries said that “there were 16,000 applications for places through the DSA last year – 1,000 more than in the year before.”

And that “2,800 pupils were successful in getting a place through the DSA in 118 secondary schools, including the 17 IP schools that offer a six-year programme bypassing the O levels. The year before, 2,700 pupils secured places in 126 schools through the DSA.”

Donald Low, Associate Dean at the School of Public Policy, responding to the news pointed out that 16,000 is about 40 percent of each cohort and that such numbers should prompt Singaporeans to ask why PSLE was still needed.

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Saying that he knew of no other developed country which subjects their 12 year olds to national exams, Mr Low suggested that the PSLE should be scrapped.

“The main justification for the PSLE is to sort students – to separate the very bright from the ordinarily bright, the average students from the not so bright, and so on – so that they can all be streamed to secondary schools that each serves a narrow range of student ability.
It’s a giant ranking exercise that consumes a vast amount of resources (think of all the hours spent in tuition and extras classes preparing kids for the PSLE, hours that could have been spent in play or in learning new things).
All these resources (private and public) are justified on the grounds that the PSLE makes our education system more efficient (since we can stream kids and ensure that everyone is put in schools with other kids of about the same ability) and fair (since everyone is subject to the same exams and stands a chance of being admitted to the top schools).”

He said that the scheme, and the fact that so many parents make their children go for such placement exercise make a mockery of the PSLE and that the system is not just unfair, but also incredibly wasteful.

“Since top schools are using DSAs as a basis for admitting bright kids, why subject all the other kids to an examination that the top schools don’t see as granular or good enough to identify the kids they want?
Why not scrap the PSLE altogether, and let the kids who do not do the DSAs or who do not make it to the schools of their choice via the DSAs go to their nearest neighbourhood schools?
After all, we pride ourselves on the fact that there are no slums in Singapore and that where we live has little bearing on our children’s life chances and opportunities. So let’s take advantage of that in education policy and let the majority of kids go to their neighborhood secondary schools.”

Mr Low said that his proposal was not radical but is practiced in many developed countries. He said that pupils, educators and parents should not waste lots of resources in a pointless education arms race.

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