Parliamentary Replies

May 05, 2020

COVID-19 Adjustments to 2020 DSA-Sec

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament

Mr Darryl David, Ang Mo Kio GRC

Question

To ask the Minister for Education how will the period of home-based learning and school closures affect students applying to secondary schools under the Direct School Admission programme.

Response

1. Despite the COVID-19 situation, the DSA exercise this year will proceed. The timeline for accepting applications will be broadly similar to previous years, which is mid-May to early June. But there will need to be some adjustments in how schools evaluate the students.

2. Let me first give some background. Since 2018, we have made three significant changes to the DSA process.

3. First, we moved DSA away from being an evaluation of general academic abilities, and instead, focused on specific talents and aptitudes of students. Second, with that shift, we encouraged more schools to participate with their respective niche talent development programmes, and as a result, expanded the number of DSA places on offer. Finally, we simplified the application process with a centralised DSA portal that allows more students to access DSA opportunities.

4. These changes are part of our continuing effort to recognise students' abilities for admission to secondary schools, beyond using PSLE exam results. It is an important shift we are making to the entire education system, moving away from the over-emphasis on examinations and grades, and focusing on what matters to our children in the future, which is their curiosity and passion, ability to learn for life, and mastery of their chosen crafts.

5. We will therefore do our best to maintain the same number of DSA placements this year compared to last year, which is about 3,500. In selecting students for DSA, schools will continue to uphold the principles of transparency, objectivity, inclusiveness and student-centricity.

6. However, the evaluation methods will have to change as we need to observe safe distancing measures. We will not be able to depend on traditional selection methods like trials and auditions. Instead, our schools will implement the following measures:

7. First, schools will conduct interviews through video-conferencing tools, which our students and teachers are familiar with. To ensure an even playing field with a common setting and equipment for e-interviews, students will go to their own primary school to participate in the e-interviews. These sessions will take place from early July to mid-September, and will be scheduled and spaced out to avoid inter-mingling of students. Schools may also conduct simple e-auditions in a similar way, for arts categories such as singing, dancing or drama.

8. Second, without selection trials and with the suspension of the National School Games, secondary schools will need to give more recognition to the student's talent, potential, passion and character through their school track record, and information provided in the students' online applications. Schools will look out for the student's demonstrated dedication to a sport and training attitude, even without placement in a national competition. This is not entirely new, but if the circumstances this year force schools to re-evaluate their definition of a good sportsperson, it is not a bad outcome at all. Each school will have to decide how it wants to evaluate a student, and apply it consistently and fairly.

9. Third, our primary schools will step up efforts to encourage students with ability and potential, especially those from less advantaged family backgrounds, to apply through DSA to suitable schools. This will ensure that students from less advantaged backgrounds have equitable opportunities to access DSA.

10. MOE will announce the details shortly.

11. Mr Speaker Sir, let me make a final comment. COVID-19 has taken away regular classes, and also our tried and tested methods of grading and DSA selection. But instead of stalling our education reforms, it has underscored their importance and provided impetus to journey on.

12. We recognised the importance of digital literacy, we always did, but acceptance of online learning tools and capabilities across schools were uneven, and we therefore needed a fairly lengthy phase-in period that I announced in Parliament during COS. But having everyone forced into home-based learning helped us overcome that almost overnight.

13. We wanted to emphasise more on Character and Citizenship Education and especially moral education, and COVID-19 has provided us with many important teaching moments.

14. Similarly, we have progressively been reducing the over-emphasis on examinations and grades in our current system. Now, COVID-19 is forcing us to adopt more alternate evaluation tools and make greater efforts to exercise judgement on the potential and character of a child.

15. Education reforms will therefore continue. So will the DSA exercise, and all the more so this year.