The Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) is here to stay, said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Sunday.
"We're not about to abolish it," he said, adding that the PSLE is an important in setting a local and international benchmark for what 12-year-olds can achieve.
Rather, the change to use letter grades instead of precise scores, which had been announced last year, is a way to plan for the next stage of a student's learning journey, he said, in response to a question posed to him at The Straits Times' inaugural Education Forum.
By using these grades, students who do well in particular subjects can take the same subject in secondary school at a higher level. "It's really how we regard (the exam)," he said, whether parents see it as a "do-or-die" high-stakes exam or one of the many checkpoints in life.
Mr Heng encouraged the 300-strong audience at the Singapore Management University's Mochtar Riady Auditorium to instead focus on the "intangibles" of education, like character and socio-emotional development. Getting the academic foundation right is important for children, but parents' conversations with their children must go beyond grades and exams, he said.
"It is our responsibility as parents and an education system to bring out the best in every child," he added, and his Ministry is committed to ensure that every school provides opportunities for children to do that.
The goal, he said, is to "help every child succeed, not just in school... but to succeed in life, not just in career, but in own lives, so they can go on to lead happy, meaningful and fulfilling lives," he said.
At the hour-long dialogue session moderated by Straits Times' editor Warren Fernandez, parents posed questions on a range of issues, from the relevance of streaming and the reason behind not naming the top scorers of national examinations to home-schooling and special education.
The Straits Times' inaugural Education Forum:
Presenting sponsor: POSB
Venue sponsor: Singapore Management University