Recently, parents were shocked to find out that the Ministry of Education had instructed schools not to accept appeals from students whose Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) scores did not meet the secondary schools’ cut-off points.
But current Primary 6 students have one last option: DSA, a scheme that recognises excellence in sports, arts or academics.
In his response to the question on the effectiveness of DSA, then MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC Alvin Yeo said in Parliament in 2012: “In general, schools can decide on their DSA admission criteria, as long as they are merit-based and transparent.”
CUT-OFF AS LOW AS 200?
Jackeline Carter, 51, says PSLE “entry scores to top schools via DSA used to be as low as 200”. The founder of J-Carter for Public Speaking introduced a DSA prep programme for the application process after an increasing number of parents approached her for help.
The DSA’s “flexibility” with scores, however, may be a disservice. A recent article circulating online revealed that all but one from a 10-student Raffles Institution (RI) Secondary 4 class fell short of junior college entry following the O-level results release on Jan 11.
Some of the boys, who reportedly got into RI via DSA for sports, were told to “attain a minimum score of 200 (at PSLE) and clear a general aptitude test”. For students who didn’t apply via DSA, the entry prerequisite stood at 259 points.
Raffles Girls’ School student Lakshana Kumar also shares her struggles with adapting to a top school after successfully entering via DSA.
In a blog post, Lakshana says she “expected to adjust easily” until she failed mathematics, a subject she was strong at in primary school.
MAKE MY KID A CHAMP
But parents still invest in courses and training to help their children qualify for top schools. Fabian Williams Coaching Concepts (FWCC) director Fabian William, 38, says: “I have parents asking me to make their child the next 200m sprint champion in order to get into top schools via DSA.”
One-on-one sessions with FWCC coaches range from $150 to $300 for a session of up to 60 minutes. Group training of between four and 24 students cost between $120 and $180 per month for unlimited sessions in the athletics-based programme. For a triathlon-based group programme, it ranges between $180 and $300 per month for unlimited sessions.
Fabian, who grooms youth sportsmen, adds: “It is not impossible to do that but the journey will be unsparing for the child, and I am the one who has to try to sleep at night knowing I condone the torturous preparation for a 12-year-old.”
He notes that a number of schools are repeatedly named when parents enquire about training at FWCC. “They all have intentions of making it into big-name schools like Hwa Chong Institution, Anglo-Chinese School, Raffles Institution and Cedar Girls’ Secondary School,” he says.
“One parent approached us, insisting that his child had potential to become a 100m sprint champion and asked us to prepare him so he can get into a ‘credible’ secondary school via DSA.
“Out of curiosity, I asked the parent how he deduced that the child had the potential to be a sprint champion.
“He replied, ‘Because I could have been a good sprinter in my time.’”
MORE ANXIOUS PARENTS
Jackeline is also seeing growth at her centre. She says: “They used to approach me in April ahead of DSA exercise but now, I see parents come as early as November the year before.
“At the moment, five of my 17 students are in Primary 5.”
Her 20-week programmes aim to prepare primary school children for DSA application including interview and persuasion skills, putting together a portfolio and how to write a personal statement. Jackeline, who claims her success rate is 80 per cent, adds: “The slots are filling up quickly. Parents of Primary 4 pupils are also asking me if they can send their children for DSA prep now.
“I foresee it getting tougher for schools. DSA seems like it’s going to be more popular, especially after MOE’s new ruling on appeals.”
NO TO DSA
But not all parents are banking on DSA. Candice Wong, whose daughter is in Primary 6, refuses to take the DSA route.
She says: “My daughter has represented her school in floorball for the last two years. While she is one of the best players, I refuse to push her to apply through DSA just so she can get into a top school.
“It is not that I don’t believe in her but at the end of the day, if I push her to get into a top school, I am not the one who will struggle.
“I can provide her with all the help possible but she will be the one to bear the brunt of the stress every single day for four years.
“Why would I do that to her?”
A version of this article first appeared in The Straits Times.