Take best three out of four subjects for PSLE

School children at Yumin Primary School.
School children at Yumin Primary School.PHOTO: ST FILE

Central to the online petition signed by more than 6,800 parents about the new Primary School Leaving Examination scoring system is the assignment of poorer PSLE scores to children exempted from studying mother tongue languages (Parents petition to review PSLE scoring system for those exempt from MTL, Aug 13).

I believe this is akin to giving a mandatory poorer score for running to a child born without legs, for whom running should not be tested in the first place. This new system also disadvantages children in foundational and standard mother tongue programmes who are struggling with learning two languages.

According to science, most people are better with the dominant language in their natural environment.

Dyslexia occurs in both Chinese and English among 4 per cent to 17 per cent of native populations. Different parts of the brain are required to learn different languages.

A child may be the next Einstein and yet have difficulty with languages. By giving him a poorer PSLE score, we are consigning the child to poorer prospects before full maturity - from choice of school and preferred subjects to permanent emotional and psychological traumas.

Instead, we ought to allow the greatest among us to maximise their potential from a young age. And the greatest may have had dyslexia, special needs or learning disabilities.

To truly capture a child's potential, I propose an alternative system for calculating the PSLE aggregate for Secondary 1 posting: Use the best three out of four compulsory subjects with the minimum of a pass in English.

This allows both the linguist and the intelligent to excel in their strengths without disabling each other.

Mother tongue learning is important and should be motivated through incentives. Again, science has shown that age is no handicap to language learning.

The Government has done exceedingly well in the past decades in children's education, but we need a new formula to plant more Steve Jobs and Sim Wong Hoo types among young Singaporeans, as we enter Industry 4.0 and prepare for 2100.

As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, we must dare to do the new - and do it first (S'pore must prepare for a very different future, says PM Lee, Aug 9).

If we fail to evolve, our stubbornness ensures our extinction.

Lim Hong Huay (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2019, with the headline 'Take best three out of four subjects for PSLE'. Print Edition | Subscribe