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  • Writer's pictureEvery Child

PSLE Optional? How Will That Work!?

Updated: Nov 3, 2023 was formed by concerned parents to highlight the need for Singapore’s education system to improve. So far, we’ve shown you:

Ok,” you say, “but our education system requires PSLE at the age of 12 to promote children from primary to secondary schools. How do we do away with it or make it optional? What would that look like? Can we come up with a FAIRER system to replace it?


Here are some ideas we parents have, by observing systems in other countries. This is not a complete list of ideas, but just enough to try and convince you that it is very much possible to make PSLE optional. And that we can do so without negatively affecting our children’s educational journey, parental peace of mind, or the meritocratic basis of our society.

In fact, we believe that getting rid of this ‘ancient torture device’ from the last century (yes, we mean PSLE) will free our students and teachers to focus much better on developing our children holistically and to their fullest potential, and preparing them to meet the challenges of the future economy. (Do read our full white paper to understand more about the unnecessary damage caused by PSLE, and the alternatives from other education systems.)

So here are some ideas:

1) ‘Through train’ from all primary schools to a partner secondary school:

  • Every child automatically goes from their neighbourhood primary school to a neighbourhood secondary school affiliated to it. There is no need to take PSLE.

  • All secondary schools should be able to cater to a wide range of learning profiles across all subjects. MOE’s Subject Based Banding initiative in secondary schools is a good start and can be enhanced.

  • Children who are academically inclined at this age and want to enter an academically-selective secondary school can still sit for the PSLE, or whatever entrance exam the selective secondary school would like to use.

  • The number of secondary schools offering this type of selective admission would be limited to a small number of schools.

  • A very small number of schools could also have selective admission for children showing extreme giftedness in non-academic specialisations like sports, music, art, etc. But we should be careful that this does not become yet another source of undue pressure and premature specialisation for children at too young an age.

2) No alumni-based or volunteering-based (or donation-based!) admissions for primary AND secondary schools:

  • These unfairly privilege children whose parents attended ‘elite’ schools in the past, as well as children whose parents are well-off enough to take time off from work to volunteer for a school BEFORE their child is admitted.

  • Parents should of course be welcomed to volunteer their time and expertise in schools AFTER their child has been enrolled, as is the case in other countries!

3) Centralised admissions to equalise socio-economic profile of each primary school:

  • Years of letting parents target their desired primary school by moving closer has created primary schools perceived as ‘elite’, located in high-income neighbourhoods.

  • If we really want a ‘national’ education system where all children have the opportunity to play, learn and make friends with others of a different race, income or migration history, to truly start becoming ‘one people’, then we have to mindfully ensure the diversity in each primary school, much as we do with HDB estates.

(One could argue that primary schools are an even more important setting to ensure racial and socio-economic diversity than HDB estates, given the intensity and depth of daily interactions in a school setting.)

  • This can be achieved by having a target profile for each primary school that is similar to the national profile, and allocating children accordingly from the surrounding areas.

  • So parents would not apply to specific primary schools for their children. They could submit their top choices, and then be automatically allocated to a school by a computerised system. This would be based on their residential address, the choices expressed, and the goal of ensuring each primary school has a reasonable mix of socio-economic profiles.

(Exceptions could be made for children to be allocated the same school as a sibling currently studying there, or a parent teaching there, etc.)

4) Transport subsidies to support point (3)

  • Children from lower-income families assigned to a school further away than they would have preferred could be given a ‘school bus allowance’ to make up for the higher cost of transport to school.

Chongzheng Primary School students posing with an illustrated storybook that they put together under the school’s Values in Action (VIA) programme.
Pupils at Chongzheng Primary posing with an illustrated storybook that they put together under the school’s Values in Action (VIA) programme

What would we hope to see if the above 4 ideas, or something similar, is implemented? (Ideally, along with the recommendations for 25 children or less in every primary school classroom, and adequate professional support in schools.)

  • PSLE (as we know it now) would become optional, taken only by a small minority of children. Most children would be spared the developmental and mental health toll of preparing for such a high-stakes exam at such an early age.

  • Parents and families would be spared the stress of trying to secure resources to help their child compete in an unnecessary competition from an early age.

  • Proper tracking of each child’s learning and development would replace raw test scores. The KPI for teachers and schools would be to improve each child’s learning trajectory, rather than maximising PSLE scores for the school.

  • Teachers and schools will help children progress at their own pace, whether they are early or late bloomers. It will not matter which school a child attends.

  • The reduced stress and expense for families could even lead to a higher birth rate.

  • Our children will emerge from primary school well prepared for the future economy, with their growth mindset, self-confidence, risk appetite, creativity, love of learning, and self-love, intact...

Not just children from high-income families, who can afford enrichment classes based on ‘21st century skills’, and private therapy, and are then sent overseas to complete their education…

Every child.

If other developed countries can do it, so can we.

A classroom of mixed-gender primary 1 school students are playing with teachers
Students playing in Fern Green Primary School

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