Pathways broadening but are mindsets?
by Wan Ting Koh
MORE pathways are opening up for students who want to get through the education system via talent rather than grades, but with kiasu and kiasi attitudes still largely driving the education system here, will mindsets change?
In the debate on his ministry’s budget today (Mar 7), Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng outlined several enhancements to existing schemes that show the G’s efforts to shift away from a grade-centric education system.
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First up is the Subject-Based Banding (SBB) initiative that was first implemented in 12 prototype secondary schools in 2014 for lower secondary students. SBB lets students from the Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical) streams take subjects that they are stronger in at a higher academic level. For example, a student who is in the Normal (Academic) stream, but scored an A for Mathematics in his Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), can take Mathematics at the Express level under SBB.
By 2018, the G aims to roll out SBB to all schools which are offering Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical) courses at the lower secondary level. The SBB has been in place for upper secondary school students since 2003.
Mr Ng said that this approach would help students “deepen their learning in areas of strengths”, build their confidence and “opens up new post-secondary possibilities for them”.
Through an enhancement in the DSA scheme, the G will also be increasing opportunities for primary school students to get into secondary schools through their strengths and achievements rather than academic aptitude.
From 2018, all secondary schools will be able to admit up to 20 per cent of their Secondary 1 intake through the Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme. First introduced in 2004, DSA is meant to recognise students’ achievements in non-academic areas, such as sports and the arts. It offers Primary 6 pupils places in secondary schools before they sit for PSLE.
Currently, only Independent schools have a 20 per cent allowance on students they accept through DSA. Autonomous schools have a 10 per cent cap while schools with distinctive programmes can admit up to 5 per cent of its students through DSA. The general academic tests that students have to sit for as part of the DSA selection criteria will also be scrapped by 2018. While these tests allow for a comparison of students’ abilities, they “inadvertently put undue focus on general academic abilities”, said Mr Ng.
In any case, students with strong general academic abilities would already be able to qualify for secondary schools with the PSLE results, he added.
On what secondary schools could use to assess entrants, Mr Ng said: “Schools can conduct their selection via a range of assessment tools including interviews, trials, auditions and subject tests. They will also consider the applicant’s overall portfolio and achievements.”
One other change applies to the tertiary front. Polytechnics will be increasing their intake allowance for students who go in through the Early Admissions Exercise (EAE) scheme, which, similar to DSA, admits students based on their interest and aptitude, rather than academic performance.
This scheme was introduced in 2016 for Academic Year 2017, and allowed polytechnics up to 12.5 per cent intake through EAE. However, from Academic Year 2018, the allowance would be increased to 15 per cent.
What’s new is also the expansion of the scheme to Institute of Technical Education (ITE) so that ITEs will be able to admit up to 15 per cent of their Academic Year intake through the ITE EAE.
While the G is taking tangible steps to expand the education system’s focus beyond academics, mindsets will take a longer time to catch up. This problem was flagged by Member of Parliament (MP) Denise Phua, who asked what could be done to change mindsets that are geared towards grades.
Mr Ng said that while academic excellence is “a key strength of our system, it should not be over-emphasised, at the expense of other meaningful activities”.
But whether the G’s push towards a more holistic education can genuinely change mindsets remains to be seen.
Featured image by Sean Chong.
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