PSLE is "probably the most fair system" for students: Ong Ye Kung
Ong Ye Kung says Education Ministry will go on making changes for the better
The Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) is far from perfect but has survived for valid reasons, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said in Parliament yesterday.
"I will admit, PSLE is far from a perfect system and it does add stress sometimes on parents and students... But it happens also to be the most meritocratic, and probably the most fair of all imperfect systems," he said.
"If we scrap it, whatever we replace it with to decide on secondary school postings, I think is likely to be worse."
The issue of high-stakes examinations like the PSLE figured in an impassioned Parliamentary debate on education for the future.
More than a dozen MPs and NMPs spoke in support of the need to ensure accessible, inclusive and lifelong education for all and presented a variety of proposals and suggestions, including scrapping the PSLE and reducing class sizes (see report below).
While the Ministry of Education (MOE) will continue to make changes for the better, Mr Ong said, some sacred cows should not be slaughtered.
"MOE will take in all the views and suggestions raised inside and outside of this House and consider them. Some we will implement, some may take time to implement. Others involve trade-offs and we may decide not to implement them for the time being," he added.
On scrapping the PSLE, Mr Ong said alternative systems he had come across in Switzerland and Hong Kong, which do not have a PSLE equivalent, led to a thriving private school sector, benefiting the rich.
He had also consulted the Chinese Development Assistance Council, a self-help group that has a tutoring programme.
The majority of volunteers were against ending the PSLE. They said the exam can motivate students to work hard and there are resources to support the children.
Affluence also gives a leg up to richer students regardless of what system is in place, so it is more important to support the weaker students more rather than scrapping the exam.
"This sacred cow survived for some very valid reasons," Mr Ong said.
"But what I think we need to do, we must do, is to reduce the stakes of this examination. Make it less of a do-or-die examination, that it is so important as if it would determine your whole life, which it doesn't."
He added that one way to do so was to broaden the definition of merit, and not focus narrowly on past academic scores.
MOE had announced that in 2021, PSLE T-scores will be replaced by wider scoring bands and tie-breakers for secondary school postings unrelated to academic results.
On class sizes, Mr Ong said that in the ministry's efforts to "lift the bottom", there are now smaller class sizes for weaker students, citing specialised schools and Normal (Technical) classes, which have a typical student-teacher ratio of 20 to 1.
"We are convinced. With good teachers, smaller class sizes help the students."
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