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Examinations and their scores

Someone asked me what I thought about the new PSLE T-score being replaced by the 8ALs, and here’s my take, albeit a very quick one.

Back in 2011, I documented my thoughts about the PSLE T-score.

At that time, as a parent of children who had gone or would be going through the PSLE and eventually being T-scored, I really didn’t like the idea as a mother or an educator. Putting students on a curve is like putting them into a boxing ring and asking them to fight it out while we cheered them on.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) had moved from denying it was a bell curve, to admitting that it is, and now listening and changing it. This is progress! I am happy that there are people in the administration that are willing to take the risk and introduce a change.

… But I’ll always have problems with people studying for the sake of taking exams. It just takes the joy away from learning.

Let’s backtrack a bit and ask ourselves, so what’s so bad about people on a curve or T-score?

There are many petitions, loads of written letters to MOE to justify why the T-score should be removed, and a common argument is that, since all Singaporean kids are brilliant, then all of them should be getting As.

The authorities heard us, and here comes the AL system. It practically means, if we have a whole nation of genius, the whole cohort can all get AL1 for every single subject, or in PSLE terms, an unlimited number of students can get a score of 4.

No prize for guessing what Asian (especially Singaporean) Tiger Mums and Eagle Dads will do. They will all strive for that AL1 for every subject. That’s just like getting A* for every single subject at PSLE anyway. Parents are not going to change just because there is no more T-score. There’s still that AL1 they will set their eyes upon.

It then means, parents will continue to fuel the shadow education industry a.k.a. tuition centres that now attracts more than 95% of our students, pseudo-legal printers going around getting exam papers from various schools and selling them at exorbitant prices, children taking time off from their favourite activities to cram for exams, primary six students throwing their CCA out the door after April or July to focus on exams and mums and dads taking leave to babysit exam takers.

But if the PSLE is supposed to measure the kids’ academic achievements and a means to stream them into the appropriate secondary schools, it would mean not every score of 4 is the same. So if my daughter’s score of 4 gets her into Raffles Girls’ School (RGS) and your son’s score of 4 cannot get him into Raffles Institution (RI), then my 4 is more equal than your 4.

Hm… what’s going to happen?

We have to make 4 harder and harder to get? And here it goes again… strangely difficult PSLE exams, more tuition to handle them, more mugging, more midnight supplementary classes etc etc etc. Or more creative ways to make scores lower than 4, and eventually becomes negative, just like the GCE ‘O’ levels where you get bonus if you are from an affiliated school, good CCA performance etc etc. Won’t rule those out.

O, it will never end…

In general, I think good exams cannot be studied or gamed. As long as there is a way to game it through hothousing or otherwise, then the little ones will always have to pay the price through their childhood.

Is there is solution? I think there is. Especially with the current technological advancement. But we need to think out of the box and can we? With the current willingness to change, I think there is a chance we might be able to find a solution the world couldn’t.

This article first appeared as a note on Pamela’s Facebook page.

About the author
Pamela Lim was a well-known entrepreneur who received numerous awards in Singapore and Asia, including Top 10 Woman Entrepreneur, The Most Promising Woman Entrepreneur and Netrepreneur of the Year. In 2004, Pamela selflessly gave up the entrepreneurial and business world and, as a mother and an educator, she is now constantly searching for answers and alternatives to education.

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