Shifting focus on PSLE scores to learning, holistic development

Pupils and parents await the PSLE 2012 results at Nanyang Primary School. -- ST FILE PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG
Pupils and parents await the PSLE 2012 results at Nanyang Primary School. -- ST FILE PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Last year, the Education Ministry (MOE) stopped naming the top scorers in national examinations.

Explaining the move just a day before the release of the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) results, MOE said it was to redress the over-emphasis on academic results, and shift it to a student's holistic development.

This year, the ministry took it a step further, by not even revealing what the highest and lowest scores were, which had been listed on every pupil's result slip since 1982. Last year, the top and bottom scores were 285 and 43.

Most parents agreed with the move, saying that it will help further ease the level of competition and the stress of the PSLE.

A few disagreed, pointing out that the information will help gauge their children's chances of landing a place in their preferred secondary school.

But MOE maintains the PSLE is simply a "checkpoint" in a student's learning journey, to show how well he has mastered primary-level subjects and identify suitable pathways for secondary education.

Yesterday's change in the result slip is only the latest attempt by MOE to make education less of a contest for marks.

Last year, the eight-year-old system of banding secondary schools based on academic results was ended.

Then, in August during his National Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the PSLE aggregate scores will down the line be replaced with grade bands so that pupils will not feel compelled to chase that last mark. He also revealed the Direct School Admission system will be expanded to take into account a pupil's character and leadership skills.

The ministry's message was reinforced yesterday when schools released the latest PSLE results.

Even top schools such as Nanyang and Rosyth did not single out their top scorers. Instead, they highlighted the pupils who overcame hurdles to do well. The achievements of those who did well in the non-academic areas, such as sports and the arts, were also celebrated.

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, in his Facebook posting yesterday, also revealed how the more difficult questions in the PSLE were restructured this time to guide pupils to the answers. Even if their answers were only partially right, pupils would still be able to earn part of the marks.

This was done "to bring everyone's focus back from chasing points to really learning", he wrote - showing the ministry is indeed serious about shifting mindsets away from an obsession with marks.

This may invite further rumblings from some parents who are worried schools might be dumbing down, and if this will lead Singapore to academic mediocrity.

But as Mr Heng said previously in response to similar concerns - these changes are meant to allow pupils to achieve excellence in a broader and more enduring sense.

Instead of just providing students with a solid academic grounding, schools will nurture in them skills such as leadership and the ability to communicate and instil values such as determination. After all, to thrive in a complex and ever-changing global environment, academic grades alone are not enough.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.