Widening doors to top schools

Widening doors to top schools

Many parents have welcomed the latest tweaks to education policy announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday, saying they will lift the lid a little off the pressure-cooker Primary School Leaving Examination and Primary 1 registration exercise.

As with all else in education, the latest slew of changes will take years to take effect. A long view of the policy changes announced this week suggests that the changes with the most significant impact will be those that improve student diversity.

Bringing back diversity TWO changes in particular will do this. The first is the decision to make all primary schools keep at least 40 places for children with no family ties to the school, such as a sibling or parent who is an alumnus.

The second is the move to have top secondary schools take in more students from different backgrounds through the Direct School Admissions scheme. This allows pupils to secure secondary school places early based on talents such as sporting or artistic skills. The criteria will be broadened to admit good students with other "special qualities" such as resilience, drive, character and leadership.

Top schools are to seek out such pupils, and primary schools can nominate candidates.

These changes will improve student diversity in the top primary and secondary schools, to help social mixing among students during their impressionable years.

These will hopefully go some way to halt the trend where popular primary schools and top secondary schools are becoming "closed circles" for a select few.

Even PM Lee acknowledged that this was happening.

In this year's Primary 1 registration exercise for example, the popular Henry Park Primary along Holland Road had only nine out of 300 places remaining for those without connections.

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