Singapore education reform on the horizon

This year’s NDR goodies should give parents, teachers, and students a reason to rejoice! But is this really the case? Let’s unpack and see what we have here:

1. Including home-schoolers, madrasah and overseas students in Edusave coverage (previously only for those studying in MOE-recognised local institutions).

 It’s great that the government is starting to acknowledge that not all Singaporean parents want to put their kids through the traditional system, but it does not indicate that they need any less help, or that these kids will turn up any less successful.

Wherever and for whatever reason parents decide to educate their children differently, this move ensures that ALL Singaporean children have equal access to help for more enrichment programmes and additional resources.

Natasha M., a Singaporean who was educated in KL because of her father’s work commitments, said, “Back then if your parents decided to put you in a school outside of Singapore, you were pretty much on your own. There’s just so much competition getting into the local schools here, and just because you opt to go elsewhere it doesn’t make you any less of a Singaporean, so I’m glad they’re finally extending the financial help.”

2. Reserving 40 places in each primary school for phase 2B and 2C applicants of the P1 Registration Exercise (previously based solely on connections – siblings, children of alumni, etc.).

This move, perhaps, brings the most relief to parents of soon-to-be P1 students.

Especially nowadays, when most Singaporeans decide to have only one child (can’t use the sibling connection) and may choose to send their kid to a better school than their own (can’t use the alumni connection), it seems only apt that this exercise gives a little more room for these parents to still be able to send their kid to a school of their choice.

Simply put, if I stay near Raffles Girls’ Primary School but have no connection, I stand a chance in sending my kid there just because it makes practical sense. If I stay far from this school but want to send my kid there, I may also stand a chance in the hopes that the 40 places do not run out.

While this is not a fool-proof way to ensure that all parents get what they want, it certainly creates a more level playing field.

3. Using the band system for PSLE grades (previously determined by T-Scores).

T-scores are the bane of Singapore education, but not being a part of it is also a sure way of parking your kid at a less-than-average secondary school. Just think about how much emotional damage this system has done to parents and 12-year-old kids when they miss by one or two points!

In the words of PM Lee, “An A* is still an A*, whether the student scores 91 marks or 99 marks.” But do parents feel the same? They’ve spent their entire parenthood grooming their kids to be better than anyone else’s and now we’re saying “his ‘A’ is the same as my Ah Boy’s ‘A’?!”

Perhaps newer generations of parents will welcome the idea, having been through the stress themselves. And when all schools are truly equal, parents may even advocate for a pass/fail system.

Housewife Sarah W. says: “It remains to be seen, really. My first son went through the T-scores system, but now my second may potentially go through the band system in a few years. Scores aside, I think their personal development will be different, but I hope it’s for the best.”

4. Broadening secondary schools admission category for Direct School Admission (DSA) to include leadership qualities, good character, and resilience (previously just in recognition of talent in sports, arts, and technology).

People should not be recognised solely for tangible talent because soft skills such as leadership qualities are becoming increasingly important for Singapore.

Think about it: while Singapore is churning out sports talents, artists, and tech experts – how many Western companies here are led by local CEOs?

While this move creates a different emphasis for parents in their children’s upbringing, the question remains on how we can measure these qualities, especially when this relies heavily on each school’s criteria.

Teacher Jonathan M. notes that “every kid has the potential to succeed, but for this to happen, the system itself has to first recognise what each student has to offer beyond grades. Building on strengths is the right way to go.”

So are we at the dawn of a new school system for Singapore, or will our obsession with success block these changes?

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