New changes, same old stress

There has been much buzz created following the Ministry of Education's announcement of the new Primary School Leaving Examination scoring system ("New PSLE scoring system to have 8 grade bands"; July 14).

The prime reason for abolishing the T-score aggregate system, as I understand it, is to reduce competition and stress, with pupils not being pressured into chasing that final mark. Schools can then focus more on giving pupils a holistic education.

Interestingly, with the new system of eight grade bands, one mark separates one band from the next. Would not this pressure pupils into chasing that final mark too? As long as there are numerical scores, competition will prevail.

Then Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said that by continuing to focus on grades and examinations, the country risks falling into a "spiralling paper chase" with an expanding tuition industry. However, the new system will still see posting to secondary schools based on academic merit first. So, what has changed?

Pupils will have to contend with two additional sources of anxiety.

First, the choice order of secondary schools will now matter more, as a tie-breaker.

Second, since a wider pool of pupils is likely to meet the entry score, their fate will be left to computer balloting. So, doing well is not good enough. One needs good luck too.

Under the new system, weaker subjects will drag down results more than under the current system. Would this not lead to more tuition in the weaker subjects?

Ms Esther Tan, a Chinese teacher at Pioneer Primary School, was quoted as saying that the new scoring system is meant "to reflect pupils' levels and match them to the correct school, so that the schools know their learning gaps ("Parents worry kids' weaker subjects will pull down results"; July 14).

Supposing a pupil's score is pulled down by his poor score in Chinese. Is it possible then to post him to a school where this learning gap can be narrowed or even closed? In any case, the current system is able to identify a pupil's weak subjects too.

Academic performance and holistic education are not mutually exclusive. If both are deemed important, the school curriculum should be designed accordingly.

I do not see the likelihood of a reduction in competition and stress under the new system. Parents will continue to opt for tuition in the weaker subjects. Posting-related anxiety will remain high.

The only difference seems to be in the scoring system. But as with all things, perhaps only time will tell if the new system helps to reduce competition and stress.

Lawrence Loh Kiah Muan