On their own, upcoming changes to the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) scoring system will not be effective in cutting the over-reliance on grades and preparing Singapore's youth to meet the manpower needs of a changing modern economy, said Education Minister Ong Ye Kung yesterday.
But they must be seen in the light of significant reform to the education system, he added, citing other changes such as phasing out of streaming in secondary schools by 2024 and the introduction of aptitude-based admissions at universities and polytechnics.
"This is a period in which the education system is undergoing significant reform, not by one single measure but by a whole package of measures that we have systematically implemented over time. Under this system, we will be able to better prepare our children for the future," said Mr Ong.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of an event in Sembawang GRC where he is an MP, Mr Ong was responding to public feedback over changes announced last Thursday to the PSLE scoring system.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) said that from next year, Primary 5 pupils will be graded according to the new scoring system to help them get used to it, ahead of its implementation for Primary 6 pupils in 2021.
Under the new system, pupils will be graded according to broad achievement bands, as part of a larger move away from an overemphasis on grades.
Mr Ong said the new system is unlikely to affect matters such as the percentage of pupils who progress to secondary school, or those who go to the Express stream.
Given this - and the fact that pupils will still be graded based on the Achievement Levels scoring system - parents may be left wondering what the "big deal" is with changes to the PSLE scoring system, he said.
"So how is this going to solve that when everything still seems the same?" he said, noting he had been monitoring reactions from parents, teachers and pupils to the changes.
Mr Ong compared the two, saying that while the T-score system is similar to a national running competition, the new scoring system is akin to the Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT). "In a competition, timing is one thing, but it's secondary to your placement, which depends on who is ahead of you and who is behind you."
As with the IPPT, under the new system, pupils will be graded on their own merits and will not be compared with others, he said.
Mr Ong also noted that parents may be anxious about what the new PSLE scoring system means for entry into secondary schools.
While Foundation-level subjects are pegged to the lowest three levels of the scoring system for Standard subjects, the broad range of scores for entry into the Express stream means those taking Foundation subjects are not excluded, he noted.
While parents may find the new system complicated, it is in fact "very similar" to the grading system already in use for the GCE O-, N-and A-level examinations, said Mr Ong. "I am quite confident that by 2021, there won't be any confusion, and people will understand the new scoring system and how the aggregate is calculated."
Describing the PSLE as one part of "a very long lifelong learning journey", he said: "The child has a lot more to learn throughout his life. So this is just one checkpoint."