True Story: In This Primary School In Singapore, 97 Marks Isn’t Good Enough

17 January 2017

Parents of some children in St Hilda’s Primary School, a well-known primary school in Singapore, have complained about the selection process for Higher Chinese.

Pupils are routed into Higher Chinese classes in Primary 2 based on continual assessment test results in Primary 1. What upset the parents was that pupils who scored as high as 97 marks in Chinese last year were told that they had failed to make the cut for Higher Chinese.

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A father, whose child was keen on taking up Higher Chinese, was told that even though the boy had scored 97 marks, he did not fall into the top 25 per cent of the cohort for the subject and did not qualify.

The school’s Chinese department head said a number of pupils in Primary 1 scored 97 marks.

The parents, who asked not to be named, said that although they were told of the selection process in Primary 1, they did not expect the bar to be set so high.

The mother of another pupil who missed out said she was disappointed that the school would not take into account a pupil’s interest.

“My child is interested in Chinese, that’s why I was disappointed that despite her doing well, she was not selected to study Higher Chinese,” she said. “(The Education Ministry) urging young people to follow their interests and aspirations just sounds hollow.”

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The father of the first pupil felt such practices run counter to policymakers urging parents to stop chasing the last mark.

“The ministers had been talking about how we need to move away from differentiating students more finely than necessary,” he said.

“Changes are being made to the PSLE so that pupils focus on their own learning and not on competing with their peers. Surely, such practices go against this thinking?”

He said streaming pupils in Primary 1 was “way too early” and it would be better for schools to allow all children to take up Higher Chinese from Primary 1, as is the practice in the 15 Special Assistance Plan (SAP) primary schools.

At all SAP primary schools, children take Higher Chinese from Primary 1. At the end of Primary 4, those who do well are encouraged to continue with Higher Chinese.

Another parent with a Primary 1 child in St Hilda’s Primary said he was worried for his daughter, who wants to take Higher Chinese.

“How can 97 marks be not good enough?” he said. “These are the kinds of practices that push parents to send their kids for high-end tuition that costs $1,000 a month.”

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St Hilda’s Primary School introduced Higher Chinese at Primary 2 in 2014, but it also continually reviews pupils to ensure they are learning at a suitable pace. Pupils have opportunities to offer Higher Chinese beyond Primary 2, if they show they have the ability. Pupils who wish to opt out can also do so.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) said most schools offer Higher Chinese from Primary 5. But as some pupils can go beyond the standard Chinese Language curriculum, and since the Higher Chinese curriculum is already available for SAP primary schools, schools could offer it to pupils with stronger ability. A pupil not offered Higher Chinese in lower primary can still take it later.

MOE said it was up to the schools to decide on selection criteria: “There is flexibility…for a child to take up or drop Higher Chinese Language at different levels.

“Such differentiation in curriculum allows schools to more effectively engage students with varying language abilities.”


By Sandra Davie, The Straits Times, January 2017

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