Sec schools must assess students 'holistically'

SINAGPORE - All secondary schools under the Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme must now take students' character, resilience, and leadership qualities into account when they decide who to accept.

Some schools already consider these attributes during interviews and selection camps, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat acknowledged on Friday.

His ministry will make a "small but important change" by making this practice consistent in all schools to emphasise the importance of personal qualities.

The decade-old scheme lets Primary 6 pupils secure a spot in a secondary school even before they sit the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE).

Pupils are currently considered based on their abilities in some academic subjects, sports or artistic fields.

There were 121 secondary schools which took part in the DSA last year, including Raffles Institution, Methodist Girls' School and Crescent Girls' School.

Last August, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said in his National Day Rally speech that the DSA criteria would be broadened to include good students with special qualities such as resilience and leadership.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) had said then that more details would be announced later.

With the change, primary schools will now identify the small handful in their cohorts with exceptional personal qualities who thrive in adversity, and secondary schools will consider students "holistically" during the DSA selection, Mr Heng said.

The move is part of a broader effort to support holistic development.

The minister, however, acknowledged parents and teachers' warning that it was difficult to quantify personal qualities.

"We fully appreciate this. So these are qualitative aspects best observed through daily interactions over a sustained period of time in school," said Mr Heng.

He said that there was no need for parents to send their children to enrichment classes and tuition to prepare for the DSA scheme, and added that MOE does not intend to expand the DSA scheme to include new categories or more places.

The ministry is also looking into switching the PSLE from the current T-score to a grading system similar to the O and A levels, and Mr Heng said changes will be carefully calibrated.

Agreeing with a point made by the Workers' Party's Mr Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC), the minister said there would be "no sudden changes".

"We will give parents, teachers, schools sufficient time to adjust. Right now we are focused on working with parents so that they may better understand the variegated landscape of our schools, and needs and interests of their children."

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