DSA: Don’t Study Anymore; play sports

Jul 16, 2016 07.00PM |
 

SO PARENTS of the next year’s Primary One cohort will have to learn about playing mind games when choosing the child’s secondary school six years later. More than PSLE results, whether in terms of the proposed Achievement Levels or T-scores that go into three figures,  the parents’ bigger bugbear is: Which secondary school? There’s a perception that it just might be okay to have the child relax in primary school but the choice of secondary school is oh-so important, as if it determines the child’s future education trajectory and career/professional achievements.

The PSLE changes are going to relieve the stress about beating the next child by one point. It saves parents from comparing notes and feeling elated/depressed about the academic achievements of their progeny. We argued that it would even blunt the elitism effect by spreading good students among more “good” schools. You can read our story here.

Educators and parents were quick to point out in the wake of the changes that the Direct School Admission (DSA) programme might be an anomaly. The better off household who can afford the extra enrichment lessons for the child would still get a foot into a “good” school before everyone else. And what is this good school? Most likely an Integrated Programme school or the brand name schools that allow the student to skip the O levels and head for the A levels or IB.

And what is this good school? Most likely an Integrated Programme school or the brand name schools that allow the student to skip the O levels and head for the A levels or IB.

The G did its best to dispel this perception of unequal distribution when it said in February that about 60 per cent of 2,700 students who secured places in 126 secondary schools through DSA over the last five years live in HDB flats. Now, that’s an average figure. It doesn’t have the proportion of such households in the 18 IP schools.

So what you say? Just 18 schools? Another thing to remember is that  IP schools “will generally admit up to 50 per cent of their Secondary One IP intake” this way. That’s what  the Education ministry said on its website which we assume has been updated since this year’s DSA exercise started two weeks ago on July 1. What’s the quota for the rest? MOE said that for independent schools, the ceiling is 20 per cent and for autonomous schools, it is 10 per cent. There is a category known as “schools with distinctive programmes’ ‘ which can admit up to 5 per cent.

DSA has been increasingly criticised over the years.  One complaint has been that the top schools are “choping” the exam-smart by harvesting those in the Gifted Education Programme. Then there is a different complaint: That schools are letting in those who may not do well academically but can add glitter because of their sports or other non-academic talent. In other words, if you aren’t extremely smart, you must be at least extremely good in something else to make it into a top school.

This discussion came to the fore after we broke the news about how,  in the “pioneer” GCE ‘O’ Level class of 2015 in Raffles Institution, only one in 10 qualified for junior college (JC). You can read the story here.

In April this year, the G said that the DSA would be reviewed. Details will be released later but Education Minister Ng Chee Meng said the guiding principles are to “expand opportunities in more secondary schools” under the scheme and sharpen its focus to “better recognise talents and achievements in specific domains, rather than general academic ability”.

Mr Ng said: “In sum, with changes in the PSLE, DSA and a more variegated secondary school landscape, we will create more opportunities and choices for students at the Secondary 1 posting juncture.”

It’s a no-brainer. The DSA scheme has to be reviewed because the PSLE scoring system has changed. Or it would simply move the competition to the DSA arena.

One way is to move the attention away from the IP schools to those with niche programmes or in the new parlance, Applied Learning Programmes. We’re not talking about schools which are top in a certain sports or the arts which bring glory to schools,  but those which have declared that they would distinguish themselves in a specific area. There are 77 schools in this category.

If the child shows an aptitude in, say, robotics, then secondary school choices might extend to Greendale, Hai Sing or Admiralty secondary schools – where robotics will be taught in-depth right through the school years. Pasir Ris, Serangoon Garden and Riverside declared themselves distinctive in the Humanities while, and this is of interest to us specifically, St Hilda’s wants to specialise in the English language while Holy Innocents has listed journalism and broadcasting as niche areas. Last year, Bukit View took the top prize in a nation-wide green technology ideas; its Applied Learning Programme is in clean energy and environmental technology.

The G has six more years to get even more secondary schools to develop an area of strength so that they wouldn’t look like they came from the same cookie mould.

The G has six more years to get even more secondary schools to develop an area of strength so that they wouldn’t look like they came from the same cookie mould. And from what can be gleaned by the information that secondary schools give about their Applied Learning Programme, it looks like so much fun too. Bukit View students learn to build a solar car in secondary one and a water-sensing device the following year.

By then, perhaps, parents will see the value of picking a school not for just its academic results but because of the skills it will impart to young people. By then, perhaps, to drive to get companies and society to recognise the value of skills mastery will have taken root.

By then, the IP schools won’t get all the attention during the DSA exercise because there are so many other interesting schools to choose from.

 

Additional reporting by Vishnu Preyei

Featured image Woodlands Ring Secondary School Secondary 2 Camp by Flickr user whyohgee singapore 2010. CC BY 2.0.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

skillsfuture_300x250