Friday, September 14, 2012

Slaughtering the PSLE sacred cow

What intrigued me is that the writer was a psychiatrist. If his family has problems coping with school pressure, there must be many more who are finding it excruciating to endure. There is also no lack of anecdotal evidence from his patients to bolster his case against unhealthy stress in schools.

I am so happy my kids are done with the PSLE. The stress then was manageable and I think it helped that we do not press them to be top students. Overall they did credibly getting into a high band secondary school and the elder child did very well for her Os.  I wonder what it must be like if our kids are still caught in primary school! I am reminiscing how tired I felt the last time I took a look at the latest PSLE assessments books at Popular. I couldn't tell if they were more difficult than the ones my kids used, and they used the hardest we could find. I just could feel again how tired we all were. The main reason for that wasn't because it was difficult but there was no joy studying and gaming tests.

I wonder if I may use as an analogy how magnets are made to reconsider the PSLE.

We know that if you expose steel persistently to a magnetic field it eventually become magnetic even after the external magnet is removed. Perhaps we are too afraid that if we remove the PSLE, academic standards would fall. I think the drive to strive hard to achieve high academic scores could already be ingrained in us.

We cannot do away completely with major exams but may be we can add more years between starting school and when the big exams are due. People worry less or not at all about the distant future. We can arrange this by simply giving up the PSLE. Denise Phua in her facebook post said listening to Min Heng presentation, she felt that is where we are eventually headed. Well threatened and frighten this sacred cow till it is pallid and weak in the knees. Grow the courage to kill it. We should always learn to live with confidence rather than in fear. All sorts of fears (kiasi) are breeding and reinforcing negative energy in our society. This is no way to live. Even tribal people who live more dangerous lives are not as negative as us!

If all schools can become good schools, we do not need elite schools beyond NUS High, SOTA and the Sports School. 

If you want to preserve Raffles and Hwa Chong, you could reestablish them into institutions where pupils compete to be exchange students to those schools for a couple of years whereupon they return to the schools they come from to take their major exams. This is adapting the exchange students concept in universities. Such alumni of Raffles and Hwa Chong could stay in touch informally especially with infocomm technologies. There is nothing to stop them from self organizing to create wonderful outcomes in a Complex Adaptive System fashion. That is what highly motivated and smart people do naturally.

If we have the courage and confidence to slaughter our sacred cows we have a bright future compared to the one dominated by fear. With our tired paradigm, we have had to expend considerable resources to produce so little results. Time for some creative destruction. The recent lesson of how Nokia lost their position to Apple is instructive. We must have the courage to eat our own lunch or someone else would, and this is not a matter of if but when.


  1. My take is that they will NEVER take such a bold move.
    Bold is not in their vocab. Removing the Band is inconsequential, just like the usual half-ass effort they are prepared to do for token symbolism.
    If I am not wrong, the parents will continue with the banding/ranking in hidden way.
    Heck, I would also say we kill half the tuition industry and free up those resources where the society can truly reuse/recycle these labor to contribute to real GDP.. currently, half of them are a cancer to the society.

  2. The idea of having schools like RI and HCI with 6 year programs is so as to allow them to groom the students over a prolonged period. The suggestion of using RI and HCI as temporary avenues to provide for some sort of higher education is absurd. It is difficult for students and teachers to adapt and build rapport so suddenly with each other. Rather than providing a holistic education, we will end up fragmenting our student's education.