Two reasons: one, the mindset of parents in this country HAS NOT CHANGED. If anything, parents have become more kiasu than ever. This is not to say that all parents are kiasu, but as long as the majority of parents believe in chiong-ing to ridiculous extremes to chase the "best" school, the top grades etc, change cannot take place, no matter what tweaks are done to the education system.
The second reason is related to the first: the changes that MOE have made do not address the root problem of parents' mindsets. Removing DSA via academic ability will simply shift the focus onto sports and other abilities. If your attitude is that the DSA is a fast ticket to the school of your choice, then you will work backwards to calculate what it takes to get the DSA. This accounts for the horrifying number of pre-schoolers being pushed into swimming, golf, theatre and what have you, with the aim of hot-housing them for the sole purpose of DSA.
Honestly, how do you, as a parent, know that your 5-year-old has or will have a real passion or talent in competitive badminton? Or violin? Or hip hop? The short answer: you don't. These misplaced efforts have the potential to do real damage by forcing a child into an activity which serves only a pragmatic purpose, with almost no consideration for his or her real interest. I personally know of parents who pour thousands of dollars into singing or acting lessons with the hope that their kids can get DSA into SOTA, without even thinking whether their children have any interest in pursuing the arts as a career.
Education Minister Ng Chee Meng was quoted as saying, "With this expansion, students can better access schools with suitable programmes via DSA to nurture their strengths, talents and interests."
That may be MOE's intention, but the way that parents are trying to game the system, I argue that the DSA currently does not nurture strengths, talents or interests. If you have been training for a sport for 7 years by the time you're 12, chances are you will be very good at it, simply due to the amount of time invested. It does not mean that you have the natural strength or talent in it, let alone interest. In addition, the DSA nurtures nothing. Let's not kid ourselves - students don't have their abilities honed upon being successful in DSA. The DSA rewards students who ALREADY display ability.
The only way that the expanded DSA relieves stress is simply by increasing the number of spaces allocated. So instead of being able to take in only 2 basketballers, maybe a school can now take in 5. In other words, the child now doesn't have to be the top 2 trying out, just the top 5. Whoop dee doo!
Another problem is the schools themselves have a pragmatic agenda. Schools who offer DSAs via sports and arts see these kids as potential medal grabbers for school glory. Don't believe me? When was the last time a school offered DSA for a sport or CCA that wasn't competitive?
In fact, this clumping of DSA students into niche schools for specific activities creates other problems at the secondary school level. The same old schools tend to dominate all the medals in specific sports, which is not surprising because they already took in all the top players to begin with. It makes a mockery of competitive sports and the arts, leaving very little room and recognition for schools who don't take in DSA kids and actually DO nurture students with no prior experience. Forget about sportsmanship, growth and effort. Those take a backseat.
The DSA, therefore, has become an avenue for schools to become "elite" in certain sports and the arts, in the same way that branded schools like to trumpet their academic achievements, when the chances of success are already skewed in their favour. Ironically, instead of closing gaps, the DSA has inadvertently created an unlevel playing field in a whole different arena.
I was initially reluctant to post about this topic because I felt that nothing I said would make a difference. It's like using a fly swatter to pit myself against the kiasu parents wielding Thor hammers. Plus, I'm perfectly aware that the parents who follow my blog tend to share my views, so I'm only preaching to the converted.
But in the spirit of giving encouragement, I thought I should share Andre's case, so for those of you who are despairing, you might take heart.
When Andre was in p6, he tried out for DSA for badminton to a few schools. He was rejected by every single one of them. There was one particular school that his badminton coach recommended him to, that she was quite confident he would be successful in. Then just three months before the badminton trials, the school changed the coach. The new coach took a different approach and didn't select Andre.
|At a badminton competition|
In addition, many of the schools which offer badminton DSA are SAP schools, meaning Andre would have had to take Higher Chinese. With his horrendous Chinese standards, this would have been an unequivocal Disaster with a capital D, and maybe caused Andre to be retained. As a poetic ending, Andre's school badminton team, with no DSA students, beat out that earlier school he had missed out on the DSA for, in this year's school badminton tournament. It's a lesson in sportsmanship, humility and character-building.
I'm sharing this from the vantage point of a parent who has been there and done that. For Christian parents, have faith that God really knows what's best for your kid. You may not see it now, but it's my experience that every time we try to arm twist God into giving us what we want, it usually turns out to be disastrous. No need to chiong and stress - just trust that He will provide. Remember, God knows the future, we don't.
For non-Christian parents, I know it can be nerve-wrecking to trust that you're making the right decision in not chiong-ing with the crowd. But from the many parents I've spoken to and know about, I found that a significant number of children who took up DSA sports or arts eventually regretted doing so and dropped their speciality. I'm not saying that DSA, or even preparation for DSA, is bad. I'm saying that if you want to take this route, do make sure that your child is truly passionate about the chosen sport/art form, and it's not just because you're trying to bypass the PSLE or chope a place in a desired school at all costs.
As I'd also observed from the paths Lesley-Anne and Andre's friends took, the vast majority of them ended up in a similar route in higher education. At Yale-NUS where Lesley-Anne is now, the students come from a wide spectrum of schools and had amassed an equally wide range of grades, which makes me believe even more fervently that all the panicking and stress are so needless. The Big Bad PSLE is REALLY just one exam and it doesn't make as great an impact on your child's future as you might think.
It all boils down to perspective. At the end of the day, if what you want are happy and fulfilled children with values and character (and I hope you do), then understand that it doesn't start with killing their childhood with work, drills and more work (both academic and non-academic). I see so many unhappy teenagers around who are stressed out, insecure and hate their parents, and I say this emphatically: it's not worth it.
"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." - Jeremiah 29:11