SINGAPORE - The class of 2017 has kept pace with their seniors' showing last year, recording the best performance at the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) since the national exam was introduced in 1960.
About 98.4 per cent of pupils who took this year's PSLE did well enough to move on to a secondary school, similar to the 98.4 per cent record set by last year's cohort.
From 1980 to 2015, the percentage of pupils eligible to enrol in secondary schools ranged between 81.7 per cent and 98.3 per cent.
Observers are not surprised by the latest cohort's stellar showing.
National University of Singapore economics lecturer Kelvin Seah said it reflects the importance that parents place on their children's education and the investments which the Ministry of Education (MOE) has made in improving teaching standards in schools.
However, he explained that it would not be realistic to expect continued improvements year after year, since "these rates are already at very high levels".
"In fact, it would not be surprising if these rates start to stabilise at current levels in the next few years," Dr Seah added. "This is because there will always be small factions of students who will be deemed unsuited to progress to secondary school because they have not acquired the requisite basic proficiency in knowledge for this."
Jalan Besar GRC MP Denise Phua, who heads the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, said: "I still see many parents and students overly worried over the PSLE results and whether they score enough to go to the school of their choice. But I also see others widening their choices of school, based on the students' areas of interest and ability."
She urged MOE to continue to level the playing field, "making sure every child regardless of background and ability, can stretch to their maximum potential".
Like countless others before them, thousands of Primary 6 pupils across Singapore returned to their schools to collect their result slips on Friday (Nov 24). A total of 38,942 pupils sat the national exam this year, up from 38,808 last year.
At Frontier Primary School, anxious pupils from the school's pioneer cohort, together with their hopeful parents, received the results. The school in Jurong West welcomed its first cohort of pupils in 2012.
Its principal, Mr Martin Koh, told The Straits Times that the school has seen these pupils grow "from a group of wide-eyed seven-year-olds into a group of confident individuals, who are thoughtful and want to make a difference".
"We are proud to see them eager and ready for the next stage of their education journey," he added.
At the school, pupils who did well were asked to stand up while schoolmates applauded. Those who have displayed strong character were also recognised.
Among those recognised was Talia Astapura, one of the school's 228 pupils who sat this year's PSLE.
Despite being born with profound hearing loss, she had not let the condition hinder her from having a fulfilling school experience, including playing the piano for school events.
Two months before the national exam, the 12-year-old even took time off to perform at a music festival in Poland. "I started playing the keyboard as part of the therapy for my hearing loss. Then I grew to love the piano and it is second nature to me," she said. "I don't think I will give up playing the piano as it helps me to relax. It is something I love."
That is not all. Talia represented her school's badminton team in competitions, which has helped her to gain entry into Commonwealth Secondary School through the Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme. The DSA is designed to grant talented pupils a place in the secondary schools of their choice before the PSLE.
"I learnt the same way as my friends," said Talia, who can follow lessons in school thanks to cochlear implants. "I take the initiative to sit in front to hear the teacher more clearly and clarify any doubts."
This year, 66.2 per cent of the cohort qualified for the Express stream in secondary school, down from 66.4 per cent last year. This is lower than the record 66.7 per cent achieved by the class of 2013.
Another 21.4 per cent of pupils are eligible for the Normal (Academic) stream, and 10.7 per cent qualified for the Normal (Technical) stream.
This is the sixth year that the Education Ministry is not revealing the top PSLE scorer in a bid to reduce emphasis on academic results. It also did not reveal the highest and lowest scores achieved by pupils in the cohort, a move started in 2013.
Across the island, schools celebrated not only their own top performers, but also pupils who showed great improvement, overcame odds in their lives or did well in non-academic areas like sports.
At Lakeside Primary, all-rounded pupils were mentioned as well as those who did well and those who had displayed exemplary values. A total of 247 pupils from the school sat took the national exam.
Among them was Haziq Akasyah, who retook his PSLE this year. He collected his results with his 47-year-old mother, Madam Rosmah Khamis, on Friday.
The 13-year-old, who was asked to stand while his schoolmates applauded, started tearing on finding out that he did well enough to enter a secondary school. "I promised my mum that I would do my best this year. I am happy that I can finally move on," he said.
Lakeside Primary principal, Mrs Wang-Tan Sun Sun, said pupils need to realise that grades are not everything.
"In schools, we are preparing our students for life. If your child is only book smart, he or she is not going to thrive," she added.
"The PSLE is just one milestone. Some kids, they take it as the real big thing in life. But I always encourage them that this is just one part of their journey."