The Straits Times
Published on Nov 20, 2012

The assurance parents want


PARENTS generally have high hopes for their children ("PSLE not the be-all and end-all: PM"; last Saturday) and wish for their offspring to surpass their current station of life and go on to become prosperous and respected.

While this is not inherently a bad thing, as it gives rise to social mobility, it adds to the stress that the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) exacts on families.

To many parents, the pathway to the lifestyle they wish for their children entails getting a scholarship so that they can go abroad for what is perceived as a good education, and getting a good job, preferably in law, medicine or engineering.

The unfortunate public perception is that to obtain the above, a student must gain entry to an elite school.

Despite the Education Ministry's constant assurance that every school is a good school, the public perceives the reality to be otherwise.

Until today, scholarships and high-demand degree courses - law and medicine - are dominated by students of elite schools such as Raffles and Hwa Chong.

Students from tail-end junior colleges, polytechnics and private schools are practically excluded from the scholarship race and are rarely accepted into such courses.

As a result, parents believe that only by entering such elite institutions and being nurtured within their systems will their children be able to achieve these pathways to success.

Parents believe that failure to gain entry will send their children to the bottom of the pecking order and hamper their hopes for a good future.

So pupils are put under acute pressure to gain admission to elite secondary schools, as it is thought that this will put them in a better position to qualify for top junior colleges, especially with the Integrated Programme in place.

The Government must ensure that the public has confidence in our system of meritocracy and the idea that any child from any school will have ample opportunities for success.

While not strictly advocating affirmative action for non-elite school students, lest it undermine the meritocracy we strive to uphold, parents must be assured that being unable to get into a top school will not put their children at a disadvantage in achieving success.

Only then will the perception - and acute stress that accompanies it - that the PSLE is the be-all and end-all for their children dissipate.

Ng Qi Siang