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DSA For Secondary Schools: Feeling Lost? Read This Before Your Child Applies!

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Should your Primary 6 child try to secure a secondary school spot through the Direct School Admissions process, better known as DSA or DSA-Sec? Wondering what DSA schools look for, and whether your child will make the cut, and thrive in the school?

These are some of the “talents” that schools take in DSA applicants for:

  • Sports and games
  • Visual, literary, and performing arts
  • Debating and public speaking
  • Science, mathematics, and engineering
  • Languages and humanities
  • Uniformed groups
  • Leadership roles in school

The first thing to do is to visit the Ministry of Education’s DSA-Sec page, where you will be guided through every step of this process. Typically, DSA applications are open from May to June, and most interested parents would have spent the first quarter of the year exploring schools and their eligibility criteria. Compared to the past, the centralised DSA-Sec portal has made the applications process much easier for students and parents, but here are some things that parents should note:

  • Your child’s primary school information will automatically be shared with schools, and this includes your child’s Primary 5 and Primary 6 academic results, co-curricular Activities (CCA), values in action (VIA) involvement, school-based achievements and awards, NAPFA results, and Junior Sports Academy participation. You will not be asked to submit this information on the DSA-Sec portal, but do check the application portal once it’s open for the most updated requirements.
  • On the DSA-Sec portal, you may provide information on non-school based activities and achievements, which are related to your child’s talent areas. This section is non-compulsory, and there will likely be a limit of 10 entries — please refer to the portal for the latest requirements. 
  • Applicants can apply for more than one talent area from a school, but if you are doing so, you must indicate these as separate choices.
  • Different schools have different selection processes. If shortlisted, your child may have to attend interviews, auditions, or trials
  • Selection results are usually released in September. There are three possible outcomes: Confirmed Offer, Wait List, and Unsuccessful. (Read more about these outcomes.) 
  • Some students may have offers from multiple schools, or multiple offers from the same school. Students will need to rank their choices during the School Preference Submission period
  • For children interested in applying for the International Baccalaureate (IB) track in DSA secondary schools that offer this, they will have to show a disposition towards IB learning.

If in doubt, please do not try to make an informed guess. Instead, enquire with the MOE or check directly with your school of interest for the most accurate information.

Apart from administrative matters, parents may have other DSA concerns, and our KSP community has been trading questions and insights in our DSA 2021 discussion thread. Too busy to pore over the entire thread? Below, we highlight some advice from our members that may be useful to you.

1.  Ask how many DSA places are available

Don’t rely on hearsay, but contact schools directly to ask them about the number of DSA-Sec places for the domain/talent area that your child is interested in. KSP member zac’s mum says that asking this question helped her to temper her expectations, especially when she found out that there were only a “handful” of places available in a certain school.

2.  Find out about students who have received Confirmed Offers

KSP mom ccdd shared that her daughter, who received a Confirmed Offer for badminton, held leadership positions in primary school and represented her school’s badminton team. The team did not do well in the zonal inter-schools competition. However, her daughter played against the primary school affiliated to the secondary school that gave her the Confirmed Offer — in that game, her daughter had won.

In addition, the mother had signed her daughter up for three external competitions to gain experience; her daughter did not take home any medals for those competitions either. Such information is useful, because it helps one to realise that some schools are looking for qualities beyond awards and wins.

To hear more of such stories, tap into your network and seek out experienced parents who have gone through the DSA applications in the past one or two years — especially for the schools that you have shortlisted. Don’t rule out those whose children were unsuccessful in their applications, as they too can help to shed light on the selection process.

3.  Assess your child’s ability to cope in a top school

Some parents, such as KSP member Tzuke, feel that students should not choose schools where their academic ability deviates significantly from the calibre of students typically accepted by the school. It may be tricky to gauge this, especially in 2021 with the new Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) scoring system kicking in. But if your child has been struggling academically and you are eying top schools, there may be a mismatch and you must weigh your choices carefully.

Of course, this is a personal decision, and you will need to have quality discussions as a family, as well as with trusted loved ones and mentors, to decide what is best for your child.

4.  Don’t waste time on DSA applications if your child is academically strong

This is debatable, but some parents feel that if children are easily able to gain entry to a school based on academic merit, they can skip the stress of the DSA applications and simply focus on preparing for the PSLE instead.

However, take note of the following:

  • NUS High School of Mathematics and Science, School of Science and Technology, and School of the Arts only accept students through the DSA-Sec process.
  • Singapore Sports School has its own admissions process.

It’s true that the DSA process is not stress-free, as there will be selection tests and the uncertainty of results, which may dampen your child’s morale. On the flipside, some parents view going through the DSA process as an opportunity for exposure and growth — your child will have to practise his or her interviewing skills for instance, and be resilient in the event of a disappointing outcome. And why miss out on a chance to land a spot in a desired school or stream? Again, this is a decision to be made only with your child’s best interests at heart.

5.  Don’t let others cast doubt on your choices

Some of our members have shared success stories about talented children with lacklustre grades, who gained entry into top schools through the DSA and have done well. Some children are late bloomers, while others have the grit, resilience, and discipline needed for learning success.

“I have come to realise it is not the children who show prejudice. In fact they are not concerned about each other’s [scores] at all. And students who [enter schools] via DSA… are treated equally by the classmates and teachers,” says KSP member Luxedream.

“During our DSA journey… it was the ‘well-meaning’ parents around us who made us worry and sowed doubts in our minds about our decisions… Honestly there is no right or wrong here, it all depends on the child. If the child is self-motivated and thrives in a competitive environment without being overly stressed, then a big pond is perfect. As parents, I believe we know our children best.”

Still have burning questions about the DSA? Join our DSA 2021 conversation, and let our KSP community assist you!

 

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