SINGAPORE - Ahead of this year's National School Games (NSG), rugby player Jared Khuan was raring to get out on the field with his Bukit Batok Secondary School team after he was handed the captain's armband.
The 16-year-old had hoped to end his graduating year on a high by leading the side to the Bowl trophy in the B Division after placing fourth last year. A good result at the NSG would also boost his chances of securing a place at St Andrew's Junior College via the Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme.
But the Secondary 4 student-athlete's plan has now hit a speed bump, after the NSG was cancelled in May owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The axing of the Games also puts him in a disadvantaged position as he has two years of experience playing in the NSG instead of three like his peers from other schools. Bukit Batok Secondary did not have enough members to field a team when he was in Seconday 1.
"I was worried that the cancellation of NSG would affect my chances for DSA," he said.
"I also felt that we had a very good chance at winning the NSG this year so I thought that could help my chances for this year's DSA significantly."
Introduced in 2004, the DSA scheme gives students a chance to gain entry into secondary schools or junior colleges (JCs) based on their achievements and talents, beyond their academic results.
Before Covid-19, student-athletes would attend in-person selection trials with other applicants at the schools. But the coronavirus outbreak has seen this year's DSA exercise moving online, with the Ministry of Education announcing in May that schools will not hold physical trials or face-to-face interviews as part of their selection process to ensure that there is no inter-mingling of students across schools. Online interviews will be conducted with applicants instead.
The selection period for this year is from July 1 to Sept 14 for secondary schools, and from June 29 to Sept 4 for JCs.
There are 146 secondary schools and 20 JCs participating in this year's DSA. Last year, 3,500 students successfully applied to secondary schools through the scheme, amounting to 8.7 per cent of 40,256 students who sat for the Primary School Leaving Examination.
As the annual NSG, which usually takes place from January to August and features some 60,000 student-athletes, is a main platform for schools to scout talents, its cancellation, coupled with the lack of physical trials, have thrown up some challenges for schools.
As a result, coaches and teachers have had to come up with different methods to assess the student-athletes' skills, such as by watching tournament videos from previous years and making them do exercises during the e-interviews.
However, not all the applicants featured regularly in last year's competition, making it hard for them to properly evaluate their abilities.
Tam Choon Chor, Nanyang Junior College's volleyball teacher-in-charge, said: "I have some difficulties (assessing them) because they weren't in the main team last year but couldn't play this year even though they were selected because of Covid-19.
"I have difficulty confirming whether they are good because I need players to have some competition experience."
Netball coach Justin Teh gets applicants to demonstrate certain movements through shuttle runs, vertical jumps, single leg hops and ball handling exercises.
However, there are limitations as he feels that some players who are technically sound may not necessarily have game intelligence.
"It's hard to see anything more than the way she runs, catches and throws a ball," said Teh, who coaches Singapore Chinese Girls' School and Eunoia Junior College. "Some people may be good in that aspect but when it comes to match play, they may not be that great. Then some may not be very skilful but they may be very intelligent on court so you need both to make a more informed decision."
Agreeing, Tam added: "I worry that I may select wrong players by missing out on good players or selecting players who aren't so good."
Additional reporting by Neo Yee Pung