Synthesis 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 synthesis essay defending your position in order to argue for your particular stance on this issue
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Written by one of our best applicants, who eventually become one of our writers, the paper is very well synthesised using numerous sources.
Singapore’s education reforms in line with its holistic education trajectory continue to spur debate. The Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme was developed to promote inclusivity and diversity in education by rewarding strength and talent in both academic and non-academic domains in the admission of Primary Six students at the Secondary One level (Prime Minister’s Office Singapore, 2011; Stewart, 2013). Under the current expanded DSA scheme, selections rest on both academic and non-academic achievements and talents (Ministry of Education, 2018). Challenges hound the DSA scheme under its present formulation, with parents, teachers, and members of the public proposing to revise its admission criteria.
The DSA’s admission criteria has been criticized for privileging academically strong and rich students from prestigious schools – an end-result contrary to its supposed objective of rewarding talent and not test results among students. A finding by the Ministry of Education indicated that 60 percent of those admitted through the DSA lived in HDB flats (Davie, 2016). These issues warrant an examination of the DSA scheme, particularly of whether or not the admission criteria must be revised to exclude general academic ability and reserve it for non-academic talent only. Through an evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the current expanded DSA scheme, this essay argues that in order to guarantee that the DSA is faithful to its core objective, it must be further revised to disregard academic ability and reward non-academic talent only in its admission requirement.
Those who argue in favour of upholding the current admission criteria in the DSA maintain that this is what the programme’s mandate dictates. First, the introduction of the DSA scheme was meant to revamp the direction of Singapore’s education system by de-emphasizing on examination results and focus on a broad range of non-academic competencies and talents (National Archives Singapore, 2016). The DSA scheme aspires to veer away from academic-centric parameters of achievement towards excellence in leadership, sports, and the arts. Clearly, the scheme never intended to do away with academic ability altogether but minimize its importance in admission requirements. With its current admission criteria, the expanded DSA scheme achieves its mandate. It evaluates children’s competencies both in academic and non-cognitive domains but places greater emphasis on the latter in the selection process.
As a result, recognizing both academic and non-academic ability in the DSA scheme evens out the playing field for students since it will measure a mix of competencies. Educational researches are unanimous in finding that not all academically gifted students fare well in non-academic domains while not all students gifted in non-academic aspects like sports and arts excel in high stakes examinations (Tan, 2011). Configuring the DSA to include both academic and non-academic ability as admission criteria will guarantee that Singapore students possess a broad range of competencies, which is the very essence of holistic education. Critics point out that the PSLE already rewards academic ability; hence, the DSA must include non-academic ability exclusively because it disproportionately favours pupils from the Gifted Education Programme (GEP) (Davie, 2016). However, this proposal could inadvertently discriminate against GEP pupils who, despite popular belief, do not in reality undergo a program designed to secure achievement in the PSLE (Tan, 2016).
Opponents of the current expanded DSA scheme argue that it has left behind the very students it aimed to include with its present admission criteria (Davie, 2016). There are several reasons why a revision will be more beneficial. First, if the DSA scheme is revised to consider only talent in the non-cognitive domain as prerequisite for admission, then children who are already less likely to excel when assessed through performance in examinations have a greater likelihood of admission. Ideally, the current expanded DSA scheme should populate schools with students gifted in both academic and non-academic domains. However, the present education system in Singapore is rigged against students who are not exam-smart and rich (Koh, 2014). Despite pronouncements that the DSA is not designed to become an entry pass to premier secondary schools, it has become exactly that in practice. The DSA scheme has been manipulated by elite families who eventually secure for their children their schools of choice (Davie, 2016). Since the admission requirement rewards both academic and non-academic domains, children of privileged families can afford hiring mentors and tutors in enrichment classes to build their portfolio in sports and the arts. Affluent parents are also able to afford classes that coach pupils on the proper behaviour and decorum in interviews necessary to secure admission. Ultimately, more privileged children are better prepared and hence more likely to be selected through the expanded DSA scheme.
Moreover, a revision of the current DSA scheme to exclude general academic ability in the selection process upholds the original mandate of the programme. The point of the programme is to promote diversity in student skills by reducing the importance of general academic ability tests in the admission process and highlight instead, other non-academic strengths. Pupils strong in general academic abilities already possess an advantage in placement through the PSLE, which measures academic strength. Hence, allowing the DSA to siphon students who possess abilities already measured by the PSLE will handicap the programme in identifying gifted pupils who are strong in the non-cognitive domains. Instead of rewarding pupils who demonstrate excellence other than academic strength, such as in leadership, sports, and the arts, the present admission criteria has inadvertently created an environment where it has instead left them behind. If the DSA does not ensure preferential treatment for students with non-academic abilities through the proposed revision, the diversity is expects to create is unlikely to occur.
Singapore aims to educate children with the confidence and resilience needed in a rapidly changing and complex world through reforms. This essay evaluated the arguments for and against the current expanded DSA scheme as a tool towards such reform. From the above, it is clear that however well-intentioned and laudable, the current expanded DSA scheme of judging both academic and non-academic ability has created an uneven playing field characterized by overrepresentation of academically excellent students from elite schools succeeding, instead of seeing schools populated with students having a wide range of competencies. Revising the current expanded DSA scheme to reserve it for non-academic talent alone is the proper recourse towards achieving inclusive education, of ensuring that no one is left behind in terms of ability.