No end to anxiety if society keeps stigmatising weak pupils

Doing away with the norm-referenced scoring system for the Primary School Leaving Examination, where pupils are compared against their peers, will not reduce anxiety or competition ("A chance to break vicious circle of keeping up with the Joneses" by Dr Thomas Lee Hock Seng; July 19).

Previously, pupils who did poorly could claim the "cohort factor" - where they did relatively well, but got below-average grades due to a stronger cohort.

While the new system is fairer, as it rewards pupils according to their abilities, it could also lead to pupils being blamed for their poor results.

As long as certain sectors in society continue to stigmatise weaker pupils, anxiety will not be reduced.

Pupils will also still have to compete with their peers to enter top schools, as places in these schools remain finite.

Many parents I have spoken to say that their main source of stress is whether their children can do well enough to qualify for a top secondary school and finish in the top tier of their cohort.

Hence, competition is still present.

It is crucial to highlight that under the previous system, the "competition target" was clearly defined.

Pupils could aim for a specific aggregate score and could expect to get into a certain school.

However, now, pupils do not have the assurance that getting a certain grade would guarantee them a place in the school of their choice.

This is because more pupils would get the highest score of Achievement Level 1, which leads to more competition and balloting, thus placing control out of the pupils' hands.

This could result in greater anxiety and, perhaps, even disillusionment.

As long as the mindsets and norms of society define academic competence as the only measure of success, no amount of change to the PSLE would reduce anxiety among pupils and allow them to learn and excel at their own pace.

Robin Chee Ming Feng (Dr)