With an aggregate score of 240 at the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), Chua Qi Wei could have picked a traditionally more popular school. Instead, he went to Jurong Secondary School (JSS), driven by a love for basketball. The school is the first with the sport as a niche, and offers sports scholarships.
Now in Secondary 4, Qi Wei said of his choice: "Training is enjoyable with my teammates around me, and the school helps me to balance my studies and basketball."
Secondary schools offering such specialities, whether it be a sport, an art, or a science such as robotics or information technology, will become the norm in the education scene here. Schools will spend the next few years building up their strengths in such areas.
This goes hand in hand with the removal of aggregate scores from the PSLE in 2021, and will help primary school leavers pick secondary schools which cater to their interests and abilities, and can help develop them instead of relying on academic cut-off scores alone.
Said Acting Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng yesterday at the debate on his ministry's budget: "We want to give all schools time to develop their distinctive strengths and niche programmes, towards the vision of every school a good school."
The effort has already begun. In 2013, then Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said that all secondary schools will offer two distinctive programmes by 2017 to develop students beyond academics.
One is an applied learning programme to help students see the relevance of what they learn and the second, a "learning for life" programme to develop character and skills such as teamwork through activities like a school expedition. JSS' basketball is part of its learning for life scheme.
Qi Wei started playing the sport at Primary 4 in Lianhua Primary School and heard about JSS' basketball programme from a senior.
He was also given the JSS Sports Scholarship - which is awarded each year to about 10 students who are among the top players in their school teams.
"If you are doing something you like, it's not a hassle and you'll enjoy your school years more," said Qi Wei, who is now captain of the boys' basketball team.