Monday, 15 August 2011

Elite vs neighbourhood primary school in Singapore

There is an on-going uproar over primary school (classes 1-6) admission in Singapore with a recent article on Yahoo! News debating the issue of parent volunteers. Apparently competition is so tough for the most sought-after seats that parents have taken to volunteering and donating to the perceived “elite” schools. The assumption is that if a child starts their education in a superior primary school, that child will be guaranteed academic success, which in turn would guarantee life success; “because it is just all that simple”.

Let me attempt to explain the Singapore primary education system for the benefit of non-Singaporean readers. I might have some things wrong, having “graduated” from primary school in 1998.
  • Primary school: Primary 1 to Primary 6 equivalent to grade 1 to 6
  • Students sit for the Primary School Leaving Exam (PSLE) at the end of Primary 6
  • Students are segregated into streams based on their academic calibre in Primary 4
  • 4 streams are gifted education programme (GEP), EM1, EM2 and EM3
  • The GEP is a special programme for special students who are put through a special exam which identifies the geniuses, who are then groomed by special teachers in a special syllabus (you get the picture)
  • EM1 and EM2: students in both streams study all the same subjects with the difference that EM1 students study a higher level of Mother Tongue subject while EM2 students study the “normal” level of Mother Tongue subject
  • EM3: students identified as academically weak are assigned to this stream and are taught basic level subjects with the inclusion of technical subjects which are not taught to the other streams
  • PSLE results determines which Secondary School the children are allocated, keeping in mind a number of factors

Going through my Facebook update I came across a blog post by Kirsten Ham about going to an elite primary school and how inconsequential that was. I strongly agree with Kirsten and wanted to share the experience of going to a neighbourhood primary school.

So I am from a neighbourhood primary school and I loved my time there. I was also in EM2 just because my MT was Hindi and it wasn't offered on a Higher Level. But that made no difference to me and my friends. Like Kirsten, my parents have been very supportive of me throughout my education journey (I just graduated from my Master's course in the UK) and I give them all the credit to the fun I had in primary school and ever since.

My parents are not from Singapore and this meant they didn't quite understand the "gravity" of PSLE. As a result both my parents it like any other exam. I was even taken for movies a week before PSLE as a reward for all my studying by my mother. As you can imagine, this would be shocking for any parent to even consider today. Anyways I did well for PSLE with a 248 and went on to a good secondary school. I did far better than X, who was from an "elite" primary school. X's parents the make or break nature of PSLE. and she was always confined in the house being forced to study whereas I was left to my own studying with adequate supervision from my mother. Once when we were in primary 6, X asked me in all innocence how I had time to both study and have fun.

Based on my experience I believe that it is not the school that matters, but a multitude of factors including the attitude of the student, teaching of teachers and parental support at home. Best example of this would be that although my younger sister and I attended the same primary school, both of us had vastly different experiences. So parents really should not spend all their energy just on getting their children into the “best elite” school. That does not guarantee life success or even PSLE success.

My mother started teaching me from the moment I could talk at 2-3years old, and thus began my love affair with learning. It is that love that has propelled me all the way through graduate school despite my humble beginnings at a neighbourhood primary school. Also X, my younger sister and me all have gone on to achieve academic "success" despite our varied primary school experiences.


bina said...

well written my beta

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