PSLE stress: Aggregate scores are the culprit

SINGAPORE - Perhaps what is wrong with the Primary School Leaving Examination is the way the results are being used to allocate a secondary school to a PSLE pupil ("PSLE stays but needs relook: PM"; last Thursday).

The pupil's scores for the various PSLE subjects are added together to yield an aggregate score, which is then used to allocate him a secondary school.

But what this means is that his parents would drive him very hard to excel in all the subjects, to ensure he enters a top-notch secondary school.

However, most people - whether children or adults - are not all-rounders, tending to be good at some things and not so good at others. For instance, some are better with numbers than with words, and vice versa.

As a result of the aggregate score system, parents pile undue pressure on their children, with some sending them to intensive tuition for subjects they are deemed to be weak in, when in actual fact, the children are lacking in inclination or aptitude for these subjects. This engenders much of the anguish and disenchantment with the PSLE system.

To tweak the use of the PSLE results in allocating secondary schools, so as to cater to the majority who are not all-rounders, one way is to drop the use of the aggregate score.

In other words, each secondary school would make their selection on the basis of the detailed subject scores of the individual pupil.

There are already precedents in not using an aggregate score, namely the O levels and the A levels.

The junior colleges, polytechnics and universities are able to select their students properly without such a score.

Secondary schools would then have to put in more thought on the academic profile of the PSLE pupils they want to attract.

Parents would not feel so pressured if they know that the six years of primary school education are not meant to force their child to become an all-rounder, but to help him discover what he is good at, after which there is a secondary school out there that can take him for what he is and nurture him towards bright prospects in the future.

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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