Students who excel in fields outside of general academia will stand a better chance of getting into their desired secondary schools, thanks to changes to the Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme.
All secondary schools can admit up to 20 per cent of their non-Integrated Programme places via DSA from next year, Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng said during his Committee of Supply debate speech yesterday.
"With this expansion, students can better access schools with suitable programmes via DSA to nurture their strengths, talents and interests," he said.
Students may be admitted via the scheme before they take the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) if their specific talents are a good fit for the schools' niche programmes, such as sports, the arts, and specific academic strengths such as mathematics and languages.
Mr Ng also said the general academic ability tests will be discontinued from next year.
Schools can instead conduct their selection with a range of assessment tools, including interviews, trials, auditions and subject tests. They can also consider the applicant's overall portfolio and achievements.
This is aimed at bringing DSA's focus back to recognising and nurturing talents.
Some schools use the general academic ability tests to assess students' general reasoning and problem-solving skills in DSA selection, which Mr Ng said "put undue focus on general academic activities".
Over the years, the scheme, which started in 2004, has been criticised for deviating from its original intentions of looking beyond grades, with some calling it a "back door" for students to gain entry into popular schools with well-established programmes.
But Mr Ng stressed that it should not be seen as an entry ticket to popular schools.
He said: "Schools will focus on identifying students with specific talents and move away from recognising strong general academic abilities.
"Students with strong general academic abilities would already be able to qualify for the school with their PSLE results."
Child psychologist Dr Carol Balhetchet told The New Paper yesterday: "The DSA is like a relief button and parents may be a bit more relaxed about academics. They will still, however, look for schools that have developed what they think are the best programmes.
"The DSA is sometimes a shortcut for admissions to the best schools, and this mindset will not change overnight."
National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser said: "There is good intention underlying the DSA, which recognises a broader range of talents and aptitudes... for purpose of admission."
Parents and school principals have welcomed the changes.
Mr Ng said the number of DSA applications increased by 1,000 last year. About 2,800 pupils were successful in getting a place via the DSA.
Mr Ng said about half of them were admitted into the Integrated Programme.
He also announced the streamlining of the DSA application process. From the 2019 exercise, students can submit applications through a centralised online application portal using a common form.
Schools will outline their DSA categories and the selection criteria on their websites.
Currently, students have to apply to individual schools, which have their own application processes.
Read also: Expansion of DSA shows 'strong message'
This article was first published on March 8, 2017.
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