Argumentative Essay: Direct School Admission (DSA)
Should the expanded DSA scheme for pupils entering Secondary 1 be further revised for it to be reserved only for non-academic talent?
In about 1000 words, write a persuasive argumentative essay defending your position in order to argue for your particular stance on this issue
Word Count Required:
This is an actual order requirement from Singapore University of Social Sciences for their COR160 Essential Academic Writing Skills module. Note: this is a sample and not an actual piece we have written for our customers. We do not ever share work that we have written for customers
Singapore’s educational system, widely recognised for its propensity to produce academically talented students, is likewise known for its stringent standards (Tan & Dimmock, 2015, p. 1). While this emphasis on academic merit has produced results, however, some have argued against the approach (Tan & Dimmock, 2015, p. 1). One such argument manifests in how the Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme purportedly allows admissions based on academic merit despite its supposed purpose being to offer opportunities for students excelling in non-academic areas (Davie, 2016), a matter that has recently been widely debated after parliament announced planned changes to the scheme (Yang, 2017). This essay shall seek to argue that the DSA should be revised to only accept non-academic talent by first defining the DSA and its purpose, before giving an overview of the issues surrounding it, and eventually discussing the arguments for and against revisions to the scheme.
To be able to suitably address the debate on the DSA, it is necessary to first discuss what the DSA is and why it exists. According to the Singapore Ministry of Education (MOE) (2017) website, the DSA is a system that enables students to earn places in secondary schools through their aptitude in non-academic areas that cannot accurately be assessed through the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE). Through the DSA, accepted Primary 6 students can secure secondary school places even prior to taking the PSLE (Yang, 2017), and cultivate their talents by gaining entry into the appropriate programmes offered by secondary schools (Singapore Ministry of Education, 2017).
With this definition and purpose in mind, a number of issues have been raised against the current state of the DSA scheme. First, it has been claimed that the DSA in its current form favours students with high socioeconomic standings, as these pupils have the means to access specialised lessons and coaching to ready themselves for the DSA (Davie, 2016). Second, there is a view that the scheme is prejudicial to students that excel in non-academic fields, as academically strong pupils are able to secure places that, in the view of some, were meant for athletes or artists (Davie, 2016). Finally, it has also been raised that the DSA has diverged from its purpose by allowing academic excellence to be one of the criteria for admission (Davie, 2016).
Arguments for Upholding the Current Scheme
Although several issues surrounding the current state of the DSA have been put forward, a number of arguments may also be raised in favour of the current scheme, and in response to the issues raised. First, with respect to the DSA purportedly favouring students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds, research suggests that young children coming from low socioeconomic backgrounds are less likely to participate in athletic activities due to lack of access to resources and opportunities (White & McTeer, 2012, pp. 204-206). Thus, it may be said that higher socioeconomic background pupils already enjoy an advantage within non-academic fields, suggesting that disallowing applications based on academic talent would make little or no difference in affording more equitable opportunities.
With regard to the latter two issues, meanwhile, William Tan Whee Kiem, in a letter published on The Straits Times Forum, claims that even students in the Gifted Education Programme (GEP), a programme that screens for academically brilliant pupils midway through primary school (Singapore Ministry of Education, 2018), do not enjoy outright acceptance through the DSA, and must undergo the same assessments as other pupils (Tan, 2016). Moreover, it is argued that the effect of accepting students based on academic strength on DSA acceptance rates is inflated, with the small population of GEP students only accounting for, at most, roughly 18 per cent of the 2,700 successful DSA applicants in 2015 (Tan, 2016). This suggests that issues raised with respect to the denial of opportunities to students excelling in non-academic fields may be unfounded.
Arguments Against Upholding the Current Scheme
In addressing the argument pertaining to socioeconomic status, it is important to note that it is generally recognised among researchers that socioeconomic status is positively correlated with academic achievement (Caro, 2009, p. 559). Thus, it can be said that failing to exclude DSA applications based on academic aptitude favours students with high socioeconomic status, as such students are afforded multiple opportunities, through the DSA and PSLE, to leverage their advantage in resources. In contrast, low socioeconomic background students who are talented in non-academic areas only have one opportunity through the DSA. This could result in such students being denied the opportunity to develop their skills by virtue of wealthier students securing DSA places ahead of them. For instance, considering the limited DSA places offered each year, a talented young table tennis player living close to the poverty line would have a more difficult time succeeding through the DSA if hundreds of wealthier students with no athletic talent were to be accepted before him on the basis of their academic strengths.
Arguing on the basis of fairness for non-academically gifted applicants and reorienting the DSA towards its original purpose, meanwhile, it is crucial to note that in 2012, 60 per cent of successful DSA applicants also obtained PSLE results sufficient to secure entry into their school of choice (Davie, 2016). Thus, it appears that, contrary to Tan’s (2016) projections, a substantially larger proportion of academically strong students gain entry to secondary schools through the DSA. Furthermore, it is suggested that the DSA is being used by schools to recruit top academic talents, and by parents to ensure their children can secure coveted places in Integrated Programme schools (Davie, 2016). Such behaviour, which may be considered exploitative of the system, appears to be at odds with the original purpose of the DSA, and can be curbed by disallowing applications based on academic strength.
This essay sought to weigh the arguments for and against the revision of the DSA, and contend that the scheme should indeed be further revised for it to be reserved for non-academic talent only. While significant counterarguments have been raised against the revision of the scheme, it is apparent that the continued operation of the DSA in its current form is prone to abuse, and can potentially promote inequalities to the detriment of less wealthy students and pupils who excel in non-academic fields. This leads to an outcome where the scheme fails to work towards, and perhaps even works against, its stated purpose. Considering that reserving the DSA solely for non-academic talent would appear to repair this defect, one can therefore conclude that a revision is the best course of action.