Raffles Institution's (RI) experiment with the "dual track" system seems to have gone a little awry. Its "pioneer" GCE 'O' level class achieved dismal results when the 10 students were given their grades on Jan 11. All but one scored 20 points and above for their six best subjects. If this means nothing to you, consider that this knocks them out of junior college and they would be hard put to land their choice of course in a polytechnic.
Entry into junior colleges typically requires a score of 15 20 and below, according to the Joint Admissions Exercise information booklet. The 'O' levels score is tabulated by looking at six subjects for JC and five in the case of applying for polytechnics. Students who ace their subjects get six points. But this can go down to two points, if they subtract two points for passing their Higher Mother Tongue as well as another two points for fulfilling their Co-Curricular Activities' (CCA) requirement.
TMG spoke to three of the students and a parent of another who expressed resignation, disappointment and, in the case of the parent, outright shock at the grades. Only one of the 10 fared well enough to enter JC with a score below 20 points. One student recalled the mood in the school auditorium where they received their results. "I went with my family to collect my results and they were very shocked." As for the other students and parents, he said: "Everyone was just shocked. Everyone was wondering 'how did this happen?'"
Last year was the first time in seven years that RI students sat for the 'O' levels. It has been running the six-year Integrated Programme leading seamlessly to the 'A' levels since 2007. But two years ago, it reinstated the 'O' level track for students who might not be able to cope with the "through-train" system. The school, while taking the cream of the PSLE crop with a high cut-off point, also admits students through the Direct School Admissions (DSA) system because of their facility in a sport. The students we spoke to said the school's cutoff point was 259 during the year they gained admission, but they were only required to attain a score of 200, and to clear a general aptitude test because of their facility in a sport.
At the end of Secondary Two, the 10 students, most of whom were school athletes, were asked to move to the 'O' level track to do a fixed combination of eight subjects.
One student, who played hockey for the school, said he was surprised by his results because he did fairly well in school, scoring 12 points for his mid-year examination and 17 points for his preliminary examination. Teachers had been assuring the class that the preliminary examination was meant to be tougher than the 'O' level papers. But his final 'O' level results were a far cry from what he had expected. He scored 24 points. He wondered if the school lost out because teachers were unfamiliar with the 'O' level syllabus: "When we were doing the paper, we all knew that something was wrong."
Another student, a track-and-field athlete, conceded that training for competitions might have taken time away from studies. He was out of class for between two and three months last year because of national and international competitions. "Just like how the other students put in time and effort into their work, we as sportsmen have to also put it in our sports."
All three students are looking to get into local polytechnics, including one who is applying through the Joint Polytechnic Special Admissions Exercise, which is based on students' specific talents and capabilities. In other words, it is the DSA process all over again. The parent intends to send her son abroad for his studies.
Parents were upset enough to call for a meeting with the school management. They met on Friday (Jan 15) to discuss, among other things, whether the school's teachers were au fait with the 'O' level syllabus and the option to re-take the 'O' levels in the school. This year, RI has at least another 10 students who will be sitting for the 'O' levels.
When contacted by TMG, RI declined to comment.
Other schools which have a "dual track" programme include St Joseph's Institution (SJI) and Anglo Chinese School (Independent) (ACS(I)). They have the four-year 'O' level classes as well as six-year classes which culminate in students taking the International Baccalaureate.
SJI had 347 students who sat for the 'O' levels last year. A check with its website showed that 96 per cent of its students qualified for JC, which means that most of them scored below 20 points. 'O' level students in ACS(I) scored an average of 11.89 points.
The hockey player advised his juniors not to be complacent about getting a place in Raffles Institution (Junior College) (RI(JC)), or even any JC. He did not attend any polytechnic open houses because he thought he would be moving on to RI(JC). After getting over the initial shock of his grades, he spent the next two days scouring polytechnic options to submit his application. "I had to decide my entire future in two days."
This story first appeared in The Middle Ground.