MOE not ideologically closed to good ideas but must step through issues: Chan Chun Sing on suggestion to remove PSLE


Besides generating viral maths questions, the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) is a rite of passage for many Singaporeans and can be a stressful experience.

Is there a solution to get rid of all this stress? 

Workers’ Party MP Associate Professor Jamus Lim and Progress Singapore Party NCMP Ms Hazel Poa seem to think so. 

Their answer is to abolish the PSLE in favour of a through-train programme from primary to secondary school.

But is it really that simple? 

In his reply, Minister for Education Chan Chun Sing explained that while the ministry is not “ideologically closed to good ideas”, there are various implications to such a decision.

“We have considered this, and we are still considering this. And we have to step through the issues, non-trivial issues, systematically,” he said at Day 4 of the Committee of Supply debate on Mar 1, 2023.

Explaining the rationale for not snapping his fingers like Thanos and getting rid of the PSLE just like that, Minister Chan laid out three points to consider concerning the mass adoption of through-train programmes in schools.  

1. Who gets to go to the through-train program?

Minister Chan noted that at Primary One, it is difficult, if not impossible, to know the abilities and interests of our children. 

Selecting a school, one that a child would be committed to for the next ten years under such circumstances will be a difficult task. 

Next, Minister Chan also stated the realities of life. That is that there would be no shortage of takers for through-train programs at popular schools. 

“But what about those who develop a bit later and want the chance to go to some of these schools?”

Does it mean that they will not get the chance? And how will that affect social mixing? Minister Chan asked. 

As we can see, by doing away with the PSLE, we risk diminishing the importance of merit and meritocracy from our society. 

In addition, it will only transfer the stress elsewhere, characterised by a mad rush to get into the “right” primary school. 

2. What happens when there is no assessment checkpoint?

Now, a future without PSLE might sound like utopia, but according to Minister Chan, it brings a whole new set of issues. 

For a start, said Minister Chan, how do we help our students get into the correct educational setting if we cannot assess their mastery of core concepts?

“If we have no checkpoint at all, then how do we help our students to get into the correct educational setting?” he asekd.

In his earlier speech, he reminded the House that the PSLE is a useful guide for students to take subjects at appropriate levels at the next stage of learning.

As to why this is important, consider the times we have abandoned a Netflix series because the plot is too convoluted or slow-going. 

Our students are similar creatures. They will switch off in a similar way when their learning needs are not met. 

3. How do we equip through-train schools with adequate resources?

The next hurdle, according to Minister Chan, is resource allocation. 

“Every secondary school in the through-train program must be able to cater to the diversity of learners,” said Minister Chan. 

However, how do we resource these schools with a complete suite of programs or promise students that regardless of their abilities, they will be able to gain access to the various pathways? 

These are the hard questions that Minister Chan asked, to which there are no easy answers. 

Idealism aside, there are other ways to support the different learning needs of our students without doing away with national examinations or moving entirely to a through-train system, shared Minister Chan. 

Regional CCA groupings, Direct School Admission (DSA) and Full Subject-Based Banding (FSBB) in our secondary education system are all examples of how we can support diverse learning needs.

While radical policy proposals can be attention-grabbing, we should never endorse plaster politics at the expense of our children. 

Quoting Minister Chan: “Many have said to remove the PSLE but let’s get the reasons right: why we want to or want to consider removing the PSLE? Let’s not do it for the wrong reasons and let’s not end up with unintended consequences.”

Picture Sources: MOE/MCI via YouTube