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The PSLE results come out tomorrow.

All over Singapore, 12-year-olds and their parents would be holding their collective breath for that dreaded result slip. Logically, we know that worrying won’t change things – the papers have been graded and the die has been cast – but being human, we aren’t logical all the time.

After the cheers are made and the tears (hopefully of joy!) are shed, the next step comes: Choosing the right school.

If you are a parent of a 12-year-old and you haven’t yet had the time to look at how to do it, MOE has a comprehensive and easy-to-follow guide on choosing the right secondary school for your child.

How to choose a good school

PSLE Results 2021
Image source: Shutterstock / Dr David Sng

Some parents have been prepping for this ever since the new grading system was announced.

Pupils will be given Achievement Levels (AL) 1 to 8 for each subject, instead of grades like A* to E. A pupil’s total PSLE score will be the sum of the AL of each of the four subjects, giving a range of scores from a possible best of 4 to the worst of 32.

These scores will be used to determine where the children go under the new Secondary 1 Posting System. With the fewer number of performance bands, in the event of schools being oversubscribed, tie-breakers would be used: in the order of citizenship, choice order of schools and finally, computerised balloting.

A friend of mine, whose daughter took the PSLE this year confided to me: “The new scoring system is supposed to bridge the gap between students who perform poorly and students who perform well. But I feel that the scoring system is not fair for those who are average or above average. I still prefer the previous system.”

MOE has reassured parents that the new scoring system is designed to make the PSLEs less of a stressful experience, but my friend remains unconvinced.

He told me: “There’s no such thing as ‘every school is a good school’ because every school has a cut-off point.” He went on to explain that students who perform well will still aim for the top schools because they offer better programmes to help the students learn holistically.

However, he did give a caveat: Selecting schools should not be just a decision based on academics because parents have to look at their child’s interests and strengths. For example, he said, St Hilda’s Primary, where his children are enrolled in, has a journalism course and has its own video channel on MOE’s intranet where students can report the news.

He said: “My daughter likes to talk. She was selected for this course and got a distinction for it. However, only certain schools offer this programme. Some schools also offer more diverse CCAs such as sailing or fencing where external coaches are employed.”

PSLE Results 2021
Image source: Shutterstock / Jerome Quek

He hopes his daughter can enter an autonomous school as these have more programmes that can help students develop a set of core skills. He says his daughter has many skills that he and his wife have encouraged her to invest in. For example, he is very happy that she recently won a leadership and presentation award.

He says: “Academics is important, but I tell her there is no point doing well if you are not confident, adaptive and able to communicate as this is what employers look out for in future.”

Location of school is also a factor. He says: “I don’t want my daughter to go to school so early and come home very late (because of the commute). By the time she comes home, she is going to be very tired.”

When I asked him about who makes the ultimate decision, he replied: “It’s about 70-30 (in favour of parents!) She is going for (virtual) school open houses. We will recommend but we will take into consideration that she needs to have fun going to school, and that’s where her input comes in.”

PSLE Results 2021
Image source: Shutterstock / Charan Rattanasupphasiri

And are kids okay with that?

Kaylene, a 12-year-old who studies in a school in Punggol, told The Pride: “My parents helped to give me some advice on which school is better for me based on my strengths and weaknesses. I then decided on my preferred school choice.”

Her parents added that they do take Kaylene’s preferences into account when discussing with her on what was the best choice to make for her.

Making the decision together

Last month, I attended The Straits Times’ inaugural Smart Parenting webinar.

It was an insightful presentation where MOE’s deputy director-general of education (curriculum) Sng Chern Wei addressed parents’ concerns and answered submitted questions read out by ST’s education correspondent Sandra Davie.

I even Zoomed into one of the school introductory talks that were held after the forum.

Here’s the kicker: My girl wasn’t even taking her PSLEs this year. She’s P5.

I had told myself that I wouldn’t be one of those parents. Yet here I was, on a beautiful Saturday morning, with the bright blue sky and the warm sunshine outside, sitting in a dim, cramped room peering at a small screen.

My girl, who was ignoring me, was happily doing what most kids do on a Saturday morning: Nothing.

And I was grouchy at the unfairness of it all. “Hey, aren’t you supposed to be listening in with me too?” I prodded her. She got invested for all of 15 minutes before going back to tumbling around on the bed.

Looking at her, I was struck by a thought: Kids grow up too quickly.

PSLE Results 2021 Parenting
Image source: Shutterstock / Asia Images Group

In Jewish tradition, a boy has a coming of age ceremony when he turns 13 (12 years old for a girl). The bar mitzvah (or bat mitzvah if it was for a girl) marks the time where a child becomes an adult and becomes subject to the laws and practices of the Jewish tradition.

Other cultures have a similar practice: For example, the quinceañera is celebrated in Latin American countries on a girl’s 15th birthday to celebrate her transit into adulthood. Similarly in Japan, the Seijin No Hi falls on the second Monday of January, and celebrates young people who turned 20 the preceding year, officially marking the day these youths become adults.

Regardless of country or community, whether formally or informally, every person has some point in our lives that we start to take responsibility for our own decisions.

I know, adulting, right?

Which brings me back to my kiasu parenting.

How to talk to our children

PSLE Results 2021 Parenting
Image source: Shutterstock / Art_Photo

As I was listening to the well-meaning principals and experts drone on, I was struck by a thought: Do I sound like that to my kid?

She is getting to an age where she rolls her eyes more than rolls around in laughter at my jokes. And she is prone to giggling to herself as she texts her friends on her phone.

And before you laugh at me for being needy, consider this: How do you change the way that you talk to your children as they grow up?

When do you stop telling them what to do and start discussing with them instead? When do you stop saying “do as I say” and start asking “tell me how you feel”?

It is not an easy transition to make. It requires us to pay attention to our children as they grow and change and have opinions of their own. It requires us to be empathetic to their needs and yes, humble to accept that our word is not law anymore.

And when arguments flare up, discouragement and anger can lead to disengagement.

Don’t let teachers (they have so much to do already!) parent our kids for us.

Don’t let your child be over influenced by their peers – without proper guidance, they may go astray.

It is a responsibility that we as parents need to shoulder. Yet part of that responsibility is to know when to include our children in important life decisions and when to let them go their own way. Wouldn’t you want them to be able to choose for themselves, knowing that you’ve equipped and trained them to make the best decision?

Crossroads are important. They will slowly but surely determine where your child goes in life.

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One of my strongest childhood memories is that of my parents asking me which secondary school I wanted to go to. It was ages ago (and under the old T-score scheme) and I had put in St Andrew’s Secondary as my first choice since I came from its affiliated St Andrew’s Junior School. But my scores, when they came out, qualified me for a SAP (Special Assistance Plan) school.

I still remember the conversation my parents had with me. They told me that life in a SAP school would be harder, but potentially more rewarding. They told me what they thought, then asked me to think about what I wanted.

And then they told me that they would respect my decision, whatever it was.

I took the scarier route, and it set me on a path that led me to where I am today. But more than that, I’ve always remembered that trust they put in me.

That is the biggest gift a parent can give a child.

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