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Under the Ministry of Education (2018), the Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme was intended as a means for primary school students in Singapore to secure a place in secondary schools. By focusing on areas other than general academic ability, students who possess specific talents and achievements such as in sports and arts, can secure a spot in their preferred secondary school. The goal of the program is to provide flexibility and broaden the education system through recognizing the talents and abilities not demonstrated under the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE). The planned expansion of the DSA in 2018 includes a 20 per cent limit for students availing of the scheme and entering non-Integrated Programme places, along with removing the need for students to undergo general academic ability tests. It will also lift the cap on schools which are autonomous or have niche programs regarding the number of students they can accept, with certain schools retaining their cap or full discretion in admission. However, since its introduction in 2004, the program has been subject to criticism wherein it is accused of giving academically gifted students placement in select secondary schools, rather than students who excelled in other key areas apart from grades (Yang, 2017).
This essay will present the opposing arguments that are in favor and against the expanded DSA scheme, through examining its benefits and weaknesses in relation to the stakeholders, which are the students. It will also tackle the current issues surrounding the program, specifically problems in the current form of its implementation.
Definition of the expanded DSA scheme
The Ministry of Communications and Information (2017) through its Budget 2017 microsite, briefly outlined the expanded DSA scheme that is meant to allow students greater opportunities through access to schools with suitable programs. The provisions include a shift in the focus schools from students with strong general academic abilities towards those with specific talents. They also include the discontinuation of general academic tests in DSA selection.
Concerns regarding transparency and social equity remain, as well as putting additional strain on students that are interested in availing of the DSA. A primary worry is that children from wealthier households would be able to meet or exceed the criteria, given that they would be able to afford preparations and training in improving non-academic skills. Parents from such households who choose the DSA scheme are also presumed to be more informed, in which combined with their financial capability, would undermine the purpose of the program in leveling the playing field for students (Seah Kah Cheng, 2017).
Apart from highlighting an aspect of the socioeconomic divide among Singaporean students, it could also hinder or place added financial burden for lower-income households availing of the DSA, arising from the possible gap in ability that results from enhanced training. More parents would also want to avail of a program that effectively ensure their child’s place in a preferred secondary school (Williams, 2017). Primary school student Xuan Qi (2016) expressed concerns also linger on the reduced slots available for those students entering via the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), due to the increased cut-off of such schools, along with the added strain of producing a portfolio not only impressive on the academic aspect but also in the non-academic as well.
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