Sat, Apr 24, 2010
The Straits Times
Mixed reactions to weighting review

By Leow Si Wan & Amelia Tan

MINISTER for Education Ng Eng Hen's revelation that his ministry is reviewing the weighting given to mother tongue in the PSLE score was good news for Lesley-Anne Tan, even though the 13-year-old would not benefit from the possible change of policy.

Lesley-Anne, who struggled with the Chinese language throughout her primary school years, even breaking down in tears when she could not memorise some of its characters, eventually scored an A.

But the teenager, who comes from an English-speaking home and is on the Gifted Education Programme, felt that her mother tongue results could have pulled her Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) results down last year.

Now 13, the student from a top girls' school here, scored A*s for the other subjects, and describes studying Chinese as a 'challenge'.

She said: 'Lowering the weighting of mother tongue will benefit those who are good in other subjects, but are only weaker in MTL (mother tongue languages).'

Like Lesley-Anne, students who are finding it hard to cope with mother tongue languages told The Straits Times they welcomed the possibility of lowering the weighting for the mother tongue in the PSLE.

In an interview published yesterday, Dr Ng told The Straits Times that the Ministry of Education is studying if mother tongue language scores should carry the 25 per cent weighting they do now in the PSLE, as these results can stop students from entering their dream schools even if they excel in the other three subjects.

The other examinable subjects, English Language, Mathematics and Science, also carry 25 per cent each of the overall score.

Said Lesley-Anne's mother Monica Lim, 40: 'I have seen how hard she worked for Chinese. Chinese is important but the way it is assessed now means those who really can't handle the subject are unfairly penalised.'

The owner of a communications firm also hopes changes will come in time for her younger son, now in Primary 4.

Likewise, preschool teacher Serina Teo, 42, also wishes for the weighting of mother tongue languages to be reduced.

Her daughter Megan Cheah failed Chinese when she was in Primary 5, but managed to score an A in PSLE last year after expensive tuition lessons and a lot of hard work.

The 13-year-old saw her Mathematics grade slip to B after she spent more time on her mother tongue.

Added her mother: 'Despite all that we did, she still cannot speak Mandarin well.'

Parents of children who excel in mother tongue languages, however, hold different views.

Some are concerned that their children will lose their advantage if mother tongue counts for less while others worry that the move - if implemented - will cause students to neglect the subject.

Madam J. Lee, who has two children - in Secondary 1 and Primary 5 - said she was confused.

'On the one hand, we are being told that Chinese is important. We made the effort to speak Mandarin at home and got a tutor. Now it seems that this may not be the case,' she said.

Reducing the weighting, she added, could lead to falling Chinese standards.

Dr Ng, however, had stressed that his ministry will meet the needs of students who have the ability to excel in mother tongue languages through higher mother tongue subjects and Special Assistance Plan schools.

Principals and teachers felt the move was timely to help students with different abilities achieve their respective goals.

Said Mrs Jenny Yeo, principal of South View Primary School: 'The educational landscape is changing all the time and we have to keep pace.'

And, one segment of the population that welcomed the idea is the growing group of non-Chinese parents who want their children to learn Chinese.

Mr Gurmeet Singh's son Jasdeet, 12, enjoys attending Chinese lessons but will be sitting the Punjabi paper at the PSLE because he is stronger in his mother tongue.

'Having the subject count for less and possibly making it easier will encourage more parents like me to let our children pick up the language and even sit the exams,' he said.

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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