Letter of the day

Time to reconsider whether PSLE serves S'pore's goals

I welcome the news that Malaysia will abolish its primary school leaving examination starting this year (Malaysia abolishes primary school leaving exam, April 30).

Singapore is the last remaining advanced economy to hold a competitive national examination at the tender age of 12.

Although other Asian countries also suffer from "exam fever", none has competitive entrance examinations for secondary schools.

Even South Korea, famous for its hagwons, or tuition classes that operate late into the night, has replaced entrance examinations at that age with balloting.

In announcing Malaysia's move, Senior Education Minister Radzi Jidin said that the importance of the national examination led to children being sent for tuition classes as early as Primary 1, and having limited time for other aspects of their education.

This holds true for most primary school pupils in Singapore. Our curriculum's narrow focus on four core subjects has a dampening effect on "non-core" learning, such as coding.

Meanwhile, parents engage in the counterproductive pursuit of paying for tuition in subjects which their children have no interest in.

Differentiating secondary schools by the academic results of their student intake also undermines the mantra that "every school is a good school".

In contrast, secondary schools in South Korea, formerly ranked according to the quality of their students, have been equalised, with students of varying backgrounds and abilities enjoying fair representation.

Abolishing the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) may bring about societal benefits beyond the promotion of interest-based learning and egalitarianism among secondary schools.

Norway, which offers a broad-based primary school curriculum - without competitive examinations - is the most productive country in the world and one of the happiest.

The Nordic countries are also regarded by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development as being the best at reducing social inequalities among students.

As Singapore struggles to produce local talent, improve productivity and reduce inequality, it may be timely to reconsider if the PSLE serves or hinders these goals.

Peter Heng Teck Wee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2021, with the headline 'Time to reconsider whether PSLE serves S'pore's goals'. Subscribe