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When 97 marks isn't good enough

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Parents of pupils at St Hilda's Primary upset over Higher Chinese selection criteria

Parents of some children in a well-known primary school have complained about the selection process for Higher Chinese, which starts from the get-go in Primary 1.

St Hilda's Primary pupils are routed into Higher Chinese classes in Primary 2 based on continual assessment test results in Primary 1.

What upset parents was that pupils who scored as high as 97 marks out of 100 in Chinese last year failed to make the cut.

A father, whose child was keen on taking up Higher Chinese, was told that even though his boy had scored 97 marks, he did not fall into the top 25 per cent of the cohort for the subject and hence did not qualify.

The school's Chinese department head said a number of students in Primary 1 scored 97 marks.

The upset parents, who asked not to be named, said that although they were told of the selection process in Primary 1, they did not expect the bar to be set so high.

The mother of another student who missed out said she was disappointed that the school would not take the pupil's interest into account.

"My child is interested in Chinese, that is why I was disappointed that despite her doing well, she was not selected," she said.

"(The Education Ministry) urging young people to follow their interests and aspirations just sounds hollow."

The father of the first student felt such practices run counter to policymakers urging parents to stop chasing that last mark.


"The ministers had been talking about how we need to move away from differentiating students more finely than necessary," he said.

"Changes are being made to the PSLE so that students focus on their own learning and not on competing with their peers. Surely such practices go against this thinking?"

He said that it would be better for schools to allow all children to take Higher Chinese from Primary 1, as is the practice in the 15 Special Assistance Plan (SAP) primary schools.

At all SAP primary schools, children take Higher Chinese from Primary 1. At the end of Primary 4, those who do well are encouraged to continue.

Another parent with a Primary 1 child at St Hilda's Primary said he was worried for his daughter, who wants to take Higher Chinese.

"How can 97 marks be not good enough?" he said.

"These are the kinds of practices that push parents to send their kids for high-end tuition that costs $1,000 a month."

St Hilda's Primary principal Kew Mee Ying told The Straits Times that the school introduced Higher Chinese at Primary 2 in 2014.

She said it continually reviews pupils to ensure they learn at a suitable pace and added that pupils have opportunities to take Higher Chinese beyond Primary 2 if they show the ability. Pupils who wish to opt out can also do so.

MOE said most schools offer Higher Chinese from Primary 5.

But as some pupils can go bey­ond the standard Chinese Language curriculum, and since the Higher Chinese curriculum is available to SAP primary schools, schools could offer it to stronger pupils. A pupil not offered Higher Chinese in lower primary can still take it later.

MOE said it was up to schools to decide on selection criteria: "There is flexibility... for a child to take up or drop Higher Chinese Language at different levels.

"Such differentiation in curriculum allows schools to more effectively engage students with varying language abilities."

Primary SchoolMINISTRY OF EDUCATION (MOE)Singapore