SINGAPORE - To encourage students to go beyond book smarts, the aggregate score for the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) will be replaced with wider scoring bands from 2021.
The new scoring system, which affects this year's Primary 1 pupils, will be similar to grading at O and A levels, said Acting Education Minister Ng Chee Meng (Schools) as he announced his ministry's plans on Friday during the Committee of Supply debate in Parliament.
PSLE grading will also no longer be based on how pupils do relative to their peers, as it is now, he explained, adding that the hope is that this will encourage students to focus on their own learning rather than competing to do better than their peers.
Mr Ng said: "Today, there is a deeply ingrained mindset that the PSLE is a very high-stakes exam. Many perceive that a child's PSLE T-score at the age of 12 determines his or her success and pathway in life.
"The main issue to address is that the way we currently score the PSLE is too precise, and differentiates our students more finely than necessary. We should therefore, in time, move away from such fine distinctions, which are not meaningful, especially at that young age."
The Ministry of Education (MOE) will take the next few years to develop and test the new exam and secondary school posting systems, said Mr Ng. The posting system will still be a fair and transparent system based on academic merit, he added. More details will be revealed in the next two to three months.
The PSLE review was first announced by PM Lee Hsien Loong in 2013. It is meant to reduce the over-emphasis on academic results and allow students more time and space to develop holistically.
Mr Ng stressed the need for a paradigm shift towards holistic education.
He admitted that despite efforts to change, there is still a narrow emphasis on academics and paper qualifications. "This is deeply ingrained in our culture," he said, and even manifests in employer mindsets. While MOE can take the lead in moving away from an excessive focus on academics, it will take parents and the community to come aboard, he added.
Mr Ng said that the MOE will also review the Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme to realign it with its original intent to recognise achievements and talents in specific areas instead of general academic ability.
While many students have benefited from DSA, "there is some unevenness in how different schools select their DSA students", he added.
To address this, MOE intends to expand the DSA opportunities in more secondary schools for students with specific strengths, and it will also "sharpen the focus of the DSA" to better recognise talents and achievements in specific domains rather than general academic ability that can be demonstrated through the PSLE.
Introduced in 2004, DSA was intended to promote holistic education by providing opportunities for students to be recognised for a more diverse range of achievements and talents, such as in sports and arts, when seeking admission to secondary schools.
The DSA has been criticised for turning into a channel for students to secure places in the most sought-after Integrated Programme schools whose students bypass the O levels. Some parents also send their children for DSA preparation classes and enrichment programmes to boost their chances of doing well in interviews and auditions.
"Today, I fear we are over-crowding our young ones with a narrow focus on academics. While we have their interests at heart, too much of one thing impedes rather than supports growth," said Mr Ng. The changes to come will help to reduce emphasis on exam results, but there is no silver bullet to the issues of stress and competition.
"While MOE can change policies and structures, ultimately, this is a personal journey for every child, parent and family."