Ask Sandra: Will my son feel 'second class' if he takes the O-level track in an IP school?

The PSLE results will be released on Nov 25 this year. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - This year's Primary School Leaving Examination results will be released this week and parents want to select the right secondary school for their children. Senior Education Correspondent Sandra Davie answers some of their questions.

Q: I want my son to go to my alma mater, which offers the Integrated Programme (IP) as well as the O-level track. If I am realistic, my son is unlikely to do well enough for the IP track. Should I ask him to consider the O-level track? Will that make him feel "second class"?

A: It is important you ask yourself - do you want him to go to your alma mater for the right reasons? Will he benefit from attending the school?

Also, involve your son in making the decision and take into consideration what he wants. If he is keen on going to your alma mater, and qualifies for the O-level track, then he should go for that.

You are revealing your own prejudices by asking if students on the O-level track will feel "second class".

Parents choosing between the IP and O-level track should consider which will be a better fit for their children.

Those on the IP skip the O levels and the programme requires students to be independent learners. So it does not suit those who need a more structured programme and a major examination, like the O levels, to hunker down and study.

One of the IP students I interviewed a few years ago explained why he did poorly in his A levels.

"I liked the IP. I got to do a lot of interesting things, but I also drifted - going from one interesting project to another. It hit me only when I failed my JC1 exams."

Also, remember that if your son does well and wants to transfer to the Integrated Programme, he can do so at Secondary 3 or after his O levels.

Q: My son is quite strong academically and is likely to score in the 240 to 250 range. He has no aspirations to aim for a top school and is quite happy to go to a neighbourhood school with a lower cut-off score, as long as it offers the sports he is interested in.

But I want him to go to a school that is more selective and hope it will spur him to do better academically. What should I do?

A: When choosing a school, it is normal for parents to aim for schools that take in students with higher scores as they feel they may stretch their children further.

Many parents also feel that if the schoolmates are academically inclined, then their child will be spurred on to be more hardworking.

But it is true that not all children do well in more academically competitive schools.

Several studies show that selective schools may not suit some students, even if they are high achievers academically.

Research has shown that some students, who were near the top of their class in a more academically diverse school, developed a less positive self-image when all of their classmates were high-achieving.

This phenomenon has been spotted across countries - including Singapore - subjects, genders and income levels.

A school head told me it is counter-intuitive to many parents who think their children will be spurred to work even harder when they are placed in a class with other students who are driven and smart.

Humans naturally tend to compare their abilities with the people around them. They may lose confidence if they are found wanting.

The advice from this school head is that, when picking a school, the focus should be on getting your son into a school that will boost his confidence.

He is likely to accomplish more, be more persistent and have higher aspirations if he feels competent in what he does, is confident and feels positive about himself.

You say your son has an interest in sports - encourage him in that.

There is a growing body of research that links physical activity to improvements in educational achievement. That is because sport helps children develop character and to learn important social and brain skills such as problem-solving, resilience, perseverance, confidence and teamwork.

Q: Should I send my daughter to a co-ed school or single-sex school? What does the research show?

A: The research on the relative academic merits of single-sex and co-educational schools is mixed.

There are studies that have shown that the main strength of all-boys and all-girls schools is that they help students succeed in gender-atypical subjects - for example, girls will perform better in mathematics and science, and boys will do better in English.

For girls, much of the benefit also lies in providing an environment free of persistent traditional gender stereotypes that can hold them back.

As one veteran teacher from a girls' school told me: "Girls' schools provide not only a physical but also a psychological space where girls have the freedom to explore who they are and who they want to become."

Co-ed enthusiasts, on the other hand, explain that their environment better reflects the real world and, if done right, there is evidence that a mixed school is a better social preparation, particularly in this era of #MeToo and consent.

One principal of a co-ed school said: "If boys and girls are foreign to each other until the late teens, how can they really have mutual understanding and respect?"

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