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Bertha HarianBertha Harian

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Distressed by stress

I am glad the PM is looking at the PSLE stone. And that it’s going to be put back in its place – but after the moss has been wiped off. I’ve been uncomfortable with all these calls about scrapping PSLE. I’ve always thought that we need a national examination at least to assess standards, including individual standards. Yes, some would be at the bottom of the heap while the best float to the top. Yes, it is competitive. And if we can’t be rigorous about assessing our children, what happens when they have to be assessed with others from other countries? What happens when they go out to work and have to be appraised with the rest of their peers? Why deprive our best from achieving national accolades? Should we be levelling up or dumbing down? Should we do away with a test altogether so that children, or rather their parents, feel better?
Okay, these are rhetorical questions (some of them anyway). And the scrap PSLE suggestion has probably come up because we’ve scrapped the banding and ranking exercise for secondary schools. So why not target another sacred cow? Better start sharpening knives….
The PM said we should look at some of the “stress’’ factors surrounding PSLE. It’s got to do with the “do or die’’ approach that parents have towards the PSLE, he said. Don’t do well, can’t get into a good school, and you’re dead. Hence the mantra now is that every school is a good school. Frankly, if we scrap the PSLE, there will be other calls to refine the school system further because of “stress’’. Like do away with expensive pre-schools because it’s not fair that these children get a headstart in primary school. In fact, nationalise it. Like do away with registration systems that award some children priority places in good primary schools. Like do away with the gifted programmes in good primary schools – because my kid isn’t in it. I recall an article in ST last week on horror parents – the worst in my opinion are those who want teachers to scrap classes if their own kids can’t attend them. This is so that their kids don’t lose out to others who do attend them. Such a dog in the manger approach!
We’ve got to watch it a bit, methinks. Meritocracy may have its de-merits but doesn’t mean it should be slaughtered because it creates some stress. In fact, STRESS is the popular word these days. We are STRESSED by the presence of foreigners, property prices, inflation, having to work harder, medical bills. We are distressed and actually asking for STRESS to be slaughtered. Are we over-magnifying the STRESS? How much stress can we take? Is this useful stress or needless stress? Are parents passing down their own stress to their children?
I digress.
Anyway, the every school is a good school mantra is going to take a long time to sink in. In the meantime, I think the MOE should highlight the systems which ensure that just because you didn’t do well in PSLE, it doesn’t mean you can’t dig yourself out of a rut. How flexible are transfers to a better stream? Or even to a better school? What are the options these children have should they turn out to be late bloomers? We’ve fixed the perception of ITE as It’s the End somewhat, and the perception that poly is inferior to JC. How to fix other perceptions of the mainstream school system? Good schools/bad schools and good streams? I think some attempt was made recently about nomenclature – all that EM1 etc…(or does that still apply?) and some bits of what is Normal and Express. Maybe a second look and a change will help alleviate the stress.

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An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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