The Applicant Series showcases works done by hopeful writers who have applied with inkmypapers over the years. The results and comments will be provided first, followed by the actual essay/report written by the applicant
Applicant’s Results: Pass
Title: Write a 1,000 word essay on: “Should the expanded DSA scheme for pupils entering Secondary 1 be further revised for it to be reserved only for non-academic talent?”
Comments: Overall, the applicant did well with very good usage of English and listing out congruent, logical arguments. However, he seems to be quite raw in the way he structures his argumentative essay which our training program should align him to.
His introduction is way too long. For a 1,000 word essay, writing 250 words for introduction, or about 25% of total word count, is pretty suicidal considering that introduction is not an important part of an essay and should be kept to about 10% of total word count.
We eventually hire this applicant after he also passed our two-week training program and he has done numerous good work for our customers.
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.
Arguments for upholding the current expanded DSA scheme
The DSA scheme should be realigned according to its original purpose, given that parents and schools alike have been gaming the system for the academically talented to get into schools especially those with an Integrated Programme (IP). The considerable number of academically gifted students in schools that have gained admission under the program call attention to how schools use the scheme to recruit academic talent apart from those talented in non-academic skills. The 2012 figure of the MOE showing that more than half or 60 percent of those admitted through the scheme would have passed if their PSLE scores alone were considered.
It also highlights the inequity that exists in the system, due to the fact that children with more resources are able to gain skills and hone existing ones faster, over children who have limited access to such assistance. In certain cases, parents enroll their children into special classes that will enhance their children’s non-academic abilities, with the sole focus of attaining high marks upon assessment in the DSA. Given that aim of the DSA is to increase diversity in popular schools as well as levelling the playing field, such actions undermine the purpose and eventual goal of the program, by viewing it as ‘shortcut’ to select schools (Davie, 2016)
Arguments against upholding the current expanded DSA scheme
However, ostracizing a group of students specifically from the Gifted Education Programme (GEP) would be unfair, given that being in the GEP is no guarantee of preparedness for the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE). The popular belief that GEP students would ace the PSLE rests on the assumption that they have the talent to perform exceptionally, when in some cases parents have prevented their children entering GEP owing to its lack of focus on the PSLE. It also does not exempt them from the tests and interviews required in gaining entry to secondary schools.
Also, a scant 1 percent of students in a cohort or 500 students enter the GEP, that if all of them would be admitted through the DSA, they would comprise 18% percent of the 2,700 students accepted in 2015. Making villains out of a group of children while promoting the interests of others would diminish the concept of people as a resource.
Presented with these contrasting viewpoints, it is apparent that further refinement in the DSA is needed for the scheme to fulfill its purpose of providing opportunities to students that excel in areas other than academics. While returning the program to its original purpose would be advantageous to its intended beneficiaries, there needs to be additional safeguards and assessments whether a student truly needs the intervention afforded by the DSA. Deterring other groups of students can also become counterproductive, if by virtue of their ability or family background, they fail to qualify in getting the assistance.