PSLE Changes : Changes and concerns

I had just attended my son's education merit award ceremony and it had got me thinking about the primary school system. Primary school is the foundation of a person's learning abilities and there had been constant debates about the current system. PSLE scoring system had been a point of contention and a source of stress for both students and parents. In reality, having a primary school going child will usually mean not enough time for both parents and students on a daily basis. Add the stress of PSLE, the pressures intensify.

Thankfully from 2021, PSLE T Scores will be eliminated. In it's place will be a new scoring system that is similar to O and A levels. It means that is no more magic number cut off number to look at for admission to secondary school. In its place will be a score that will be boarder in context thus 'eliminating' the perennial obsession of a single number come PSLE result day. Theoretically it will also eliminate obsessed 'concern' parents eager search for the top student in the cohort as it is apparent in parent's forum.

Going forward, there will still be scores, but given the way O and A levels are assessed, it would probably mean a larger pool of students will probably get similar grades than compared to today's singular focus of an individual grade. In today's environment, it is not surprising to find parents enrolling in numerous enrichment classes or personalized tuition so that the child can get that extra mark that will set them apart. By doing away with the T score, it will take away this competitive element and hopefully make learning for younger kids a much more enjoyable experience.
Unfortunately the changes will only impact those enrolling in P1 this year. For those who are in the current rat race, the challenges and pressures the children face continues.

Details of the change will only be announced in Mid 2016 . There are already concerns as to what it may fail to address.

  • Given the possibility of a larger number of children getting similar results, it might be difficult to distinguish one from another base on grades alone for admission. In highly sought schools, this will definitely raise more questions than answers. This might lead parents to see 'perfection' in grades so that their children would be in a position to choose the desired school of the choice. Instead of a T score of 260, Kiasu parents would now expect the child to score 4 A1s in their test. The more kiasu ones will send their children to SAP school for higher Chinese so that there are 5 instead of 4 subjects to rely on for scoring. This might lead to additional burden for the kids to excel.Instead of just changing the system, parent's mindset need to be address as well.
  • Without using T scores, parents are concern that the focus will turn into extra circular activities such as sports participation and leadership roles in uniform groups. If that is the case, it will be merely a case of moving the goalpost from left to right. Instead of attending more enrichment classes, you will see parents hiring personal coaches to horn the child's hidden potential if any. This effectively double the burden on the child if such a scenario materialise.
  • The fairer way to assess would be to consider distance to school as how primary school admission is based. This would be used in conjunction with the score the child has. Space should be allocated to the one that stays the closest if more than one student qualifies in the assessment. It is not the best way to assess, but at least it will eliminate the one hour journey for a child to get to school every day.

Personally, I do not see a need to remove the T Score. It was a system that I had grew up with and it had served it's purpose. Unfortunately you cannot compare the situation today to that of decades ago. Somehow along the way, T score had become the defining benchmark for one's success in the future.To put so much stress on a child in his or her formative stage is indeed one that is misplace.

A case in point, my T score was only a meagre 235 . I went to a school that is notorious for producing gangsters, but thankfully I stayed sound during the period. I was also a late bloomer, discovering my personal strength in certain subjects and excel in it . At the end of the day I managed to get into university and put a roof over the family's head. The T score was just a memory and served no permanent damage to my future.

At the very same breath, I do not place much emphasize on my children's grades. More importantly, I want them to learn and understand rather than memorize and forget. My elder son who is in primary school is self motivated on his own. As a dad I am proud of him . He may not be the top in his class or even close to it, but he did well enough to warrant an education merit award and another opportunity to take a photo with Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tock . What he had achieved today is mostly from his own undertaking. Nonetheless he will still be subjected to the current system and hopefully he will cope with it like how his old man did.

Soon the younger one will join in the rat race, albeit one that is potentially more relax. He may not be getting an award on the day of the education award merit ceremony, but he got away with something more priceless.An experience to have a one on one chat with Emeritus Senior Minister Mr Goh Chok Tong.

Hopefully with the changes in the PSLE scoring system, there will be many more positive experiences the child can have in his journey through primary school. That would be so much better than one that merely fixated on a number or a band that determines the time spend in primary school.

So with no T scores in the future, do you think it is a good or bad move?


  1. Thanks for sharing your insights. I guess it's almost hard to be receptive to something already in place for decades. What's more, is the endless uncertainty of being Mum of the first batch going through this. I mean, do they have a back up should some fault appear? It may seem a good move, but if focus shifts to CCA, then the 'untalented' children might be at disadvantage. Enrichment classes on CCAs they have no interest in, is torturing. If this change helps shift parents to impose less pressure on their kids, then yes, I think it's one good move. If not, it really isn't doing improvement to anyone.

  2. Seriously, what is new? Is the wheel reinvented? In fact, personally, I believe that the new system is a whole lot worse than the old system of T-scoring and this will lead to more parents wanting tuition for their kids and not reduce the reliance on tuition.

    1. Simply put, if a child fails all subjects (45 marks for all), total points = 24 points (normal academic) in new system. Old system = 135 marks (normal technical) -- child benefits and jumps in glee

    A child scores 64 for all subjects, total points = 24 points (normal academic) in new system. Old system = 192 marks (express) --- child despairs as he is lumped together with the ones who failed everything and has to go to NA stream whereas in old system with 64 marks he is able to go to express.

    2. Presently, children scoring in the mid 60s may or may not go for tuition as this grades is considered to be safe under the old system.

    Under the new system, i can forsee more parents will send their children for tution to push their children up to the safe marks of 70 to qualify for express stream.

    3. So the policy is a FAIL