PSLE here to stay, but its focus will shift: Heng

This story was first published in The Straits Times on May 27, 2014

The Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) will continue to be an "important milestone examination" in the education system here, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat reiterated yesterday, amidst a call by an opposition party for it to be scrapped.

But the ministry will review the exam's scoring system to focus less on grades and academic success. The high-stakes exam will instead have a broader emphasis on "values, attributes, knowledge and skills for work and life", said Mr Heng.

He was addressing 600 educators from more than 40 countries at a global conference on educational assessment at Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel.

Mr Heng did not give more details about the PSLE revamp first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the National Day Rally last August.

Mr Lee had said then that the PSLE T-score would be replaced in a few years by wider grade bands similar to the A1 to F9 grades for the O level.

The T-score system has often been criticised for fuelling competition by sorting children too finely based on how well a child does relative to his peers.

Earlier this month, the Singapore Democratic Party had called for the PSLE to be scrapped so that students can focus on learning instead of preparing for an exam that will determine their future.

But Mr Heng said exams today have gone beyond recall and understanding. "Our national examinations at all levels require higher order thinking skills such as application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation," he said.

For instance, O-level subjects such as art, design and technology, and food and nutrition require a student to plan, research and execute their project.

Project work, a compulsory A-level subject, has students working in groups and applying knowledge, communicating and collaborating, he added.

At the primary level, teachers also encourage pupils to participate actively in assessing their own and their classmates' work.

For instance, at Da Qiao Primary in Ang Mo Kio, teachers use the Two Stars and One Wish technique to involve pupils in assessment. Pupils comment on two things they like about their classmate's work, and give one suggestion for improvement.

"Through this process, our students have developed a greater awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses and how they can improve," said Mr Heng. "They also develop confidence in providing feedback to their peers."

leepearl@sph.com.sg

This story was first published in The Straits Times on May 27, 2014