Revisiting Policies and Schemes? GEP & PSLE

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Revisiting Policies and Schemes? GEP & PSLE

Postby jetsetter » Sun Mar 22, 2015 9:39 am

BY SANDRA DAVIE, SENIOR EDUCATION CORRESPONDENT
http://www.straitstimes.com/news/opinion/eye-singapore/story/learning-life-policies-parents-need-change-too-20150321

*****************

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat's recent call for a transformation in Singaporeans' attitude towards learning has resonated with many.

Mr Heng, who was speaking at the Ministry of Education's (MOE) Budget debate in Parliament earlier this month, urged students, parents and employers to move their focus away from exams and grades towards acquiring deep skills.

He said this was necessary as jobs will keep changing in the future, and people will need to keep learning, mastering skills and learning for life.

He warned that not doing so could lead to a dystopian future where stress levels climb, and "the system churns out students who excel in exams, but are ill-equipped to take on jobs of the future, nor find fulfilment in what they do".

Several parents who responded to his speech agreed with his predictions, and said there was an urgent need to transform the system.

However, more than a dozen parents who e-mailed and wrote in to The Straits Times Forum Page also pointed the finger at MOE, commenting that several of its policies - such as the continuation of the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) - are partly the cause of students' and parents' "obsession with grades", as Mr Heng termed it.

A typical comment came from Madam Carrie Tan, who said: "It is one thing asking parents, students and employers to change their mindsets. But what is the ministry doing to encourage this change? It should lead the way in relooking some of its policies."

To give the ministry some credit, over the past decade it has changed - and even done away with - some policies that skewed priorities in education.

Two notable changes were dropping the ranking of secondary schools and streaming of children in primary school. From 2008, pupils were instead banded according to their strengths in different subjects.

In recent years, it has also done away with exams for lower-primary children. It is in the process of making further adjustments to some policies, including how the PSLE is being used for progression into secondary school.

But perhaps the ministry could go further and be bolder in bringing about the shift that Mr Heng called for.

I am reminded of a comment made more than a decade ago by then Education Minister Teo Chee Hean when he changed the way schools were appraised by MOE: "Unless we change what counts, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to change the orientation and focus of our education system."

(tbc)
Last edited by jetsetter on Sun Mar 22, 2015 5:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Revisiting Policies and Schemes? GEP & PSLE

Postby jetsetter » Sun Mar 22, 2015 9:40 am

GEP ripe for changes

SO, WHAT are some of these policies and schemes that can be revisited?

First, there is the three-decades-old Gifted Education Programme (GEP) that, through a screening test at the end of Primary 3, selects the top 1 per cent of the cohort - about 500 pupils a year - for a special scheme that aims to stretch them to the fullest and make them "responsible leaders" of society.

GEP pupils are supervised closely by teachers in smaller classes. They cover the same syllabus as their peers in the regular mainstream programme, but in greater depth and with more emphasis on creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving.

However, a Straits Times report on the programme last year revealed that the majority of primary-level GEP pupils were taking supplementary tuition lessons outside of school.

It led to many asking if the scheme just served to extend the advantages of these bright pupils, most of whom came from well-off backgrounds.

One must question the relevance of a scheme that applies the term "gifted" to 1 per cent of students - and only to those who are academically gifted. It skews the perceptions of children and parents that academic achievement is the only measure of "success".

This goes against the grain of what Mr Heng is pushing for - to recognise the unique gifts inherent in all children, in other areas such as music, the arts or sports.

Many have suggested that the programme can be broadened to nurture talents in all fields and be made available in all schools as enrichment programmes.

Another often-heard criticism of the GEP is that it has become a conduit for the Integrated Programme (IP) in the top secondary schools.

Most GEP pupils gain places in the IP at such schools through the Direct School Admission scheme, even before they take the PSLE.

This, in turn, has partly fuelled a demand for GEP preparation and tuition - that is, the idea that a child can be "drilled" into being "gifted".

This leads to another policy that needs to be reviewed - the Direct School Admission scheme.

Here, MOE has already taken steps in the right direction.

Currently, students get in for exceptional academic ability, or for sports or artistic skills. The ministry has said it will broaden the scheme to include pupils with special qualities such as resilience and character. While this is a good thing, it needs to go further.

It should return to the core objective of the scheme, to recognise a diverse range of talents in non-academic areas.

The way it has been implemented by top schools, it appears to have become yet another route that gives the academically bright an advantage.

Parents are right to ask: "Why should children in the gifted programme compete for places through this scheme when, by all accounts, they would do well enough in the PSLE to get into the secondary schools of their choice?"

The ministry also needs to be bolder with the changes to PSLE.

In recent years, more parents have called for it to be done away altogether, saying it just places extra stress on pupils.

However, MOE, which announced a review of the PSLE two years ago, said the exam is still needed to assess pupils' educational standards and provide a fair basis for secondary school admission.

It has not said exactly how the exam will change, other than saying the PSLE T-score would be replaced by wider grade bands similar to the A1 to F9 grades for the O levels. These grades will be converted into points for admission to secondary school.

(tbc2)
Last edited by jetsetter on Sun Mar 22, 2015 5:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Revisiting Policies and Schemes? GEP & PSLE

Postby jetsetter » Sun Mar 22, 2015 9:40 am

The problems with PSLE

WHILE this is a step in the right direction, it does not go far enough.

MOE should look at ways in which the exam can be made less of a high-stakes exam. Right now, for most pupils, the PSLE aggregate score is all that counts in determining which secondary school they will go to.

A child may perform well above average throughout the year, but if he is unable to handle the stress of the exams, he may end up in a school or even a stream he may not be suited for.

Perhaps MOE should consider including continual assessment test results, project work and co-curricular activities as a component of the PSLE score.

A more holistic PSLE assessment would encourage children to develop all-important life skills such as communication, creativity and teamwork.

But all these tweaks still mean that the PSLE remains.

The big question, of course, is whether a national examination at age 12 is necessary at all. After all, Singapore is one of the few countries in the world to have such a crucial exam for children as young as 12.

There is sound research showing the negative effects of test-taking on young children. High-stakes tests do not promote curiosity or critical thinking, but instead engender a narrow focus on getting the right answer, as well as curricula tailored to deliver that.

Subjects such as art, music and physical education, which education experts see as vital to growing 21st-century skills such as teamwork and thinking out of the box, inevitably get sidelined.

Indeed, as Mr Heng said, a transformation of the education system is required. To make it happen, the ministry must change what counts in the PSLE and what it counts for.

But even if the ministry shows the political will to slaughter more scared cows in education, nothing will change unless parents play their part.

I am reminded of the MOE's announcement in 2010 to do away with exams for children in lower primary. It said children would instead go through "bite-sized forms of assessment" such as "show and tell", drama sessions or journal writing.

While many parents welcomed the move, many others went into panic mode, fearing their children would not study as hard, and began buying up the soon-to-be-defunct exam papers of top primary schools. Some parents even enrolled their children at tuition centres that conducted mock exams.

This one-step-forward, two-steps-back dance cannot continue. The bold transformation of the education system, as Mr Heng said, will need the collective will and action of employers, teachers, parents and students.

Parents will need to recognise their children's strengths and build their character instead of being preoccupied with grades; employers will need to hire based on skills, not degrees; and teachers should strive for all-round development of their students.

The Government must adjust, tweak and even do away with policies that stand in the way.

All must be ready to take the necessary steps to forge a new school system that will serve Singapore - celebrating its golden jubilee this year - for the next 50 years.

(end)
Last edited by jetsetter on Sun Mar 22, 2015 5:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Revisiting Policies and Schemes? GEP & PSLE

Postby lee_yl » Sun Mar 22, 2015 10:32 am

I welcome the efforts by government but there is a systemic challenge here, so long as parents see that graduates who have good degrees have good job prospects and rosy career progression, interest in acquiring deep skills will at best remain lukewarm.

Moreover, being an East Asian society, since time immemorial, we have valued scholars 秀才/状元 over manual labour. One manifestation is that the natural progression for hands-on engineers is often along the management track and in Singapore, we seldom see an engineer still practising his trade after 30 years.

Unless we start to see plumbers, bakers and locksmiths earning more than a manager or banker, our attitude towards acquiring deep skills won't change.

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Re: Revisiting Policies and Schemes? GEP & PSLE

Postby pirate » Sun Mar 22, 2015 4:32 pm

But even if the ministry shows the political will to slaughter more scared cows in education, nothing will change unless parents play their part.

Parents do not make the system. They merely adapt to whatever the system is. They are price takers, not price setters. The government is the one crafting the system. Policy makers asking parents to change their mindset are just playing taichi.

If the policy maker changes the ecology, parents will change their mindset. If parents do not change their mindset, it is because they do not see any material change in the ecology. That is a failure on the part of the policy maker.

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Re: Revisiting Policies and Schemes? GEP & PSLE

Postby ChiefKiasu » Sun Mar 22, 2015 9:40 pm

pirate wrote:Parents do not make the system. They merely adapt to whatever the system is. They are price takers, not price setters. The government is the one crafting the system. Policy makers asking parents to change their mindset are just playing taichi.

If the policy maker changes the ecology, parents will change their mindset. If parents do not change their mindset, it is because they do not see any material change in the ecology. That is a failure on the part of the policy maker.


I agree. However, policy makers themselves are constrained by the current realities of the mindset of educators, cultural/political leaders and parents. Remember the backlash when MOE merely suggested that the weightage for MT be reduced for PSLE back in 2010? It was quite serious then.

We can argue that the current situation is a result of all earlier policies made by MOE, so that discussion would be moot. But moving forward, it will be tremendously difficult for anyone to make any fundamental changes to the incumbent system.

Is the education system really broken now? Do we need to change it in ways as suggested by Ricardo Semler in the TED talk below?


And would we, as parents, accept the uncertainties created by such radical transformation of education?

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Re: Revisiting Policies and Schemes? GEP & PSLE

Postby pirate » Mon Mar 23, 2015 12:21 am

ChiefKiasu wrote:
pirate wrote:Parents do not make the system. They merely adapt to whatever the system is. They are price takers, not price setters. The government is the one crafting the system. Policy makers asking parents to change their mindset are just playing taichi.

If the policy maker changes the ecology, parents will change their mindset. If parents do not change their mindset, it is because they do not see any material change in the ecology. That is a failure on the part of the policy maker.


I agree. However, policy makers themselves are constrained by the current realities of the mindset of educators, cultural/political leaders and parents. Remember the backlash when MOE merely suggested that the weightage for MT be reduced for PSLE back in 2010? It was quite serious then.

We can argue that the current situation is a result of all earlier policies made by MOE, so that discussion would be moot. But moving forward, it will be tremendously difficult for anyone to make any fundamental changes to the incumbent system.

Is the education system really broken now? Do we need to change it in ways as suggested by Ricardo Semler in the TED talk below?

And would we, as parents, accept the uncertainties created by such radical transformation of education?

The ecology is such that only x% of each cohort will be able to secure a local university place. It does not matter how well each cohort does. Only x% will get in. And this is against the larger economic ecology that a university degree remains the safest and most secure path in Singapore to avoiding poverty (I agree with lee_yl on this).

The proposal to change the weightage for MT was not a significant change of the ecology. It was merely a change that will advantage one group of children (ie. from English educated families) at the expense of another group (those whose mother tongue are not English). It was nothing more than a proposal to change the composition of the x%.

Because the ecology did not change, the mindset also did not change. Hence the backlash from parents who fear that their children will be squeezed out of the x% by the proposal.

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Re: Revisiting Policies and Schemes? GEP & PSLE

Postby havok_ex » Tue Mar 24, 2015 4:07 pm

pirate wrote:
But even if the ministry shows the political will to slaughter more scared cows in education, nothing will change unless parents play their part.

Parents do not make the system. They merely adapt to whatever the system is. They are price takers, not price setters. The government is the one crafting the system. Policy makers asking parents to change their mindset are just playing taichi.

If the policy maker changes the ecology, parents will change their mindset. If parents do not change their mindset, it is because they do not see any material change in the ecology. That is a failure on the part of the policy maker.


the mindset is not the fault of the government. If the end game is a good job, then even the private sectors have a part to play. Seeing that private sectors are focused on money and productivity, they have no reason to employ those who they deem not profitable to their own companies, and they being private coys, we have no say over their employment methods.

You cant force companies to hire sub-par employees. Even if 100% of the cohort is allowed into university, the demand for talents will still be unchanged. companies will still only hire depending on how much they need and will only hire the best few. The rest will be left with paper degrees without any use.

The logic of limiting the number of graduates is because our economy cannot sustain 100% graduates. Our economy can probably only take 45% graduates.

The mindset is the fault of the people. Policy makers cannot force private coys to hire the incapable and pay them more. Neither can the government do that. When hiring people for govt positions, they have to hire the best, hiring sub-par grads can affect society in a bad way because these people's decisions will affect the population.

The blame largely falls on unmet expectations of parents. All parents want to think that their children are smart and special but that's not the case. They must face the facts that not all children are hardworking or smart. And society being society, those who are smart and hardworking will be sought after over those who are not. Unless we switch over to a communist society, nothing can change.

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Re: Revisiting Policies and Schemes? GEP & PSLE

Postby sushi88 » Tue Mar 24, 2015 5:12 pm

pirate wrote:Parents do not make the system. They merely adapt to whatever the system is. They are price takers, not price setters. The government is the one crafting the system. Policy makers asking parents to change their mindset are just playing taichi.

If the policy maker changes the ecology, parents will change their mindset. If parents do not change their mindset, it is because they do not see any material change in the ecology. That is a failure on the part of the policy maker.


So what are you suggesting? 100% to go to the university? :?

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Re: Revisiting Policies and Schemes? GEP & PSLE

Postby pirate » Tue Mar 24, 2015 6:32 pm

sushi88 wrote:
pirate wrote:Parents do not make the system. They merely adapt to whatever the system is. They are price takers, not price setters. The government is the one crafting the system. Policy makers asking parents to change their mindset are just playing taichi.

If the policy maker changes the ecology, parents will change their mindset. If parents do not change their mindset, it is because they do not see any material change in the ecology. That is a failure on the part of the policy maker.


So what are you suggesting? 100% to go to the university? :?

I am saying that there are still not enough places in local universities to cater to those who are able to benefit from a university education.

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