Recently, there have been calls by some, including MP Mr Hri Kumar and NCMP Mr Yee Jenn Jong to scrap PSLE or at least to offer alternatives such as an option for parents to send their children to a through-train programme from Primary School to Secondary School as inspired by the Finnish school system. The reason for these calls is that PSLE has become the single most important examination in a young Singaporean’s life and to prepare for this exam, parents are sending their children to tuition classes in record numbers and depriving them of a more carefree childhood that allows for pursuit of other interests.
PSLE has become increasingly stressful for pupils in Singapore as the majority of places in the top 17 schools (from 2013) are reserved for students in the Integrated Programme, which grants entry mainly via PSLE results. This means that even if one does well for O levels, there is no guaranteed entry to one of these schools. This might deprive a number of late bloomers of a chance at an education catered for high ability learners.
In other words, the value of the O levels has diminished while the pressure on pupils to perform well in PSLE has grown tremendously over the last few years.
One could question whether it is right to stream students into the top schools at the tender age of 12 based on a single examination and keep them in these schools for 6 years even if they prove to be unable to cope with the accelerated learning.
It might be better to reduce the number of IP schools or reduce the intake of IP students in each school so that the pressure can be taken off the PSLE. However, this would mean a reversal of MOE’s recent decision to increase IP places. Perhaps change can only be effected in another few years’ time. By then, hopefully parents can be assured that whether their children go to through the O level or IP route, they have a fair chance of entering the top schools if they prove that they are capable.