PSLE grade revamp just shifts stress elsewhere

Eunos Primary School pupils receiving their Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) results, on Nov 25, 2015.
Eunos Primary School pupils receiving their Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) results, on Nov 25, 2015. ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

Much energy, resources and debate have gone into the proposed Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) grading revamp ("What will new grading system look like?"; Sunday).

This begs the question: Will it be a better system for removing stress in children?

The current aggregate score system, used for decades, is undoubtedly straightforward, transparent and objective.

It simplifies secondary school posting, as schools set cut-off points based on demand ("Secondary school placement a key issue" by Ms Alice Heng Wang Cheng; Monday).

With the proposed posting based on grade bands, students will still compete, as they strive to get good grade bands in order to get into popular secondary schools.

But schools will find it difficult to determine who will gain admission if there are limited places and many students with the same grade band.

Therefore, there may be a need for other determining factors, such as non-academic achievements.

These are subjective, lending themselves to ambiguity, speculation and second-guessing.

Parents may resort to pushing their children to excel in areas which they may, rightly or wrongly, deem critical.

Would this not result in more stress for children? Ultimately, stress is not reduced but only shifted.

Hence, the belief that removing the aggregate score system will remove stress, and that schools can then focus on more holistic development of children's skills and interests, is a myth.

In fact, academic performance and holistic development are not mutually exclusive.

The school curriculum must cater for both.

It is accepted that there is no perfect system. So why the need to change, given that the current system has served us well for generations?

While parents lobby for the removal of stress, little do they realise that they are the cause of it, by overloading their children with enrichment classes, music and dance lessons, tuition and so on.

They need to understand the potential and limitations of their children and temper their expectations accordingly.

The world has become extremely competitive and will remain so.

So, what is wrong if our children experience some stress? Stress, if properly managed, brings out the best in people.

We must avoid raising generations of people who cannot cope with stress and think that life is meant to be hunky-dory, not when Singapore, sans natural resources, is dependent, to a large extent, on human capital.

Lawrence Loh Kiah Muan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2016, with the headline 'PSLE grade revamp just shifts stress elsewhere'. Print Edition | Subscribe