From ‘Parents compile online lists of PSLE top scores’, 30 Nov 2015, article by Calvin Yang, ST
A move to stop revealing the names and scores of top performers at the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) to reduce the emphasis on academic results has not stopped parents from compiling their own lists of top scores.
When primary schools withheld the scores of their high-fliers after the PSLE results were released last Wednesday, some parents went online to assemble unofficial lists of aggregate scores attained by the supposed top pupils in their children’s schools.
They told The Straits Times that these lists give them some indication of whether their children have a shot at getting into “brand name” secondary schools here.
Engineer Daniel Yeo, 44, whose son got his results last week, said: “It is about managing expectations. At the end of the day, we don’t want our child to be disappointed if he can’t get into a particular school.“
‘At the end of the day’, when results are out, no parent for all practical purposes, cares if MOE claims that the reason why top and bottom PSLE scores are not disclosed is to ‘align practices with the emphasis on holistic development and all round excellence’.
Without official announcements from MOE, we now have instead rumour, speculation and questionable ‘crowdsourcing’ on education forums like Kiasu Parents. Now people don’t just make assumptions of what the ‘best’ schools are, but which among these unofficial lists are the ‘worst’. When it comes to the PSLE, there’s no limit to how creative our parents can get, even though ‘creativity’ is not something you’d associate most Singaporean kids with.
As a consolation to those who did not fare so well, the media gets famous people to confess their ‘terrible’ PSLE results to public. Like ex-gangster turned lawyer Josephus Tan’s middling 183 for example. Sometimes happy successful people are where they are now not despite their atrocious PSLE score, but BECAUSE of it. Maybe to get a more ‘holistic’ explanation of why the rest of your life is not determined by a 3-digit number, they should interview not just winners at life but disgraced failures too, people who are obviously very smart and can ace the PSLE with one eye closed, but end up as storybook villains, like folks from a megachurch going to prison for corruption. So you can tell your kid that spending your education in a ‘middle-class’ school doesn’t mean you won’t descend into a life of sin and debauchery. In any case, you’re still giving undue attention to The Score, which is exactly what MOE does not want.
This isn’t the first time people obsessed with PSLE ranking bypassed the MOE’s gag order. You can also gauge how good a secondary school is by ranking their cut-off scores. Despite not divulging top scorers, schools continue to honour kids who score ‘above 250’, which already tells you that anything less than 250 is mediocre. And then there are braggy-ass parents who insist on telling the world on Facebook how well their children did, which eventually will draw other FB parents into a heated T-score comparison war. My kid went up on stage but yours didn’t. HAHAHA.
Not many parents are willing to groom their children into artists like the Holycrap family. The urge to keep up with the Jones’s is part and parcel of not just the Singaporean but human psyche, so for the rest of us, with perfectly average children with no special talent to exploit, the PSLE is the proverbial trial by fire that allows parents and their kids to express and exaggerate that survival instinct, more so in a potboiler society where high office candidacy is still restricted to degree holders, and children have nothing much to live for other than homework and CCAs.
It’s dog eat dog, winner takes all, and the T-score is the golden snitch, the battle scar, the trophy on the shelf. I don’t care if that guy on stage in the top 1% is a douchebag, his score is an aspiration. And that’s what the PSLE, and the MOE’s futile diversions from it, is doing to us all. We’re engrossed in the numbers game to the point that we even make PSLE jokes of the PSI when it hits the 290s.
One Jurong West Secondary School principal exposed the hypocrisy behind the dictum ‘every school is a good school‘ by asking how many of our elite actually put their children in neighbourhood schools. Every school will want to distinguish themselves from the rest. Every school has its own tradition of excellence, however you want to define it, in academia or otherwise. That’s all part of the ‘branding’. Even if I say to hell with the PSLE and decide to push my child towards Wushu mastery, I would have to choose carefully. I’d go for one with a track record of winning competitions, just like how a kiasu parent who wants his child to become a rocket scientist would track PSLE scores in addition to how their science team fares in Robot Olympiads.
If the MOE wants every school to be as ‘good’ as the other, then it’ll have to do much more than playing hide and seek with PSLE scores, which desperate parents have the means to sniff out anyway. It has to come down hard on schools known for their ‘exclusivity’ to a certain class of Singaporeans. It has to do away with this mindset that top dollar gives you top education. It has to review the entire GEP scheme. The top brass should have no shame telling people that their kid is working part time at McDonalds’ to pay for an education in arts or drama. We’d have to find a cure for this tuition epidemic. We’ll need to stop rich people from moving house just to get a better chance at securing the school ‘of their choice’. If we continue to jail parents for lying about their addresses, then the ministry has failed in its mission.
Yet at the same time, we shouldn’t succumb to the ‘Zuckerberg’ myth that results are not important, that you could drop out of school and become a internet multibillionaire. And we shouldn’t bring everyone down to the common denominator like some socialist utopian state. Ultimately, we don’t want to hear if this school is as ‘good’ as that school. What we want is this – It doesn’t matter which school you go to or how well you did. It’s what you made of your education, and who you are that’s most important.