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Stress Management, Not Stress Eradication

Recently, MOE announced measured changes to the PSLE scores. The traditional T score, a three digit aggregate, will give way to the new Achievement Level (AL) score in 2021. The move aims to eradicate competition and stress among students and parents. Whether the changes will be effective or not remains to be seen.

Competition and stress is part and parcel of life. Living in a competitive society, most Singaporeans have the tendency to compare almost everything. This brings about a certain level of stress. With the removal of T scores, parents logically have less stress because they have one less metric to compare. However, I am guessing nothing will stop our curious and friendly neighbors from comparing AL scores. Therefore, the issue is one of stress management rather than stress eradication.

On a lighter note, when students get an unsatisfactory T score, they can always find a good excuse for not performing up to expectations. They simply claim that the entire batch of students have gotten smarter. With the AL score, they can no longer do that since the scores are not relative to other students. They can only blame themselves for not doing well enough.

Bantering aside, how should parents of affected students respond to the recent announcements?

My humble opinion is that the recent changes will do little to eradicate competition and stress. I recommend that parents monitor a child’s stress levels regularly. Excessive competition leads to excessive stress. When unhealthy levels are breached, parents should step in to help a child manage stress. Despite the changes to the scoring system, time-proven study habits that are effective remain unchanged. In order to achieve subject mastery, consistent hard work is key. Being well prepared for exams will most certainly help bring stress to manageable levels.

Besides, having competition is not always a bad thing. A healthy level of competition may be beneficial as it provides a source of motivation for students to do well. Having said that, being internally motivated is just as important, regardless of the scoring system. In fact, internal motivation can be more effective as students do well because they want to, and not because they have to.

As for the changes, what is new is that parents now have a slight influence over Secondary school postings. If two students have the same AL scores, then the choice of school will be used as a tie breaker. Therefore, it makes sense for parents to select schools that are most suitable for their children and put those as their top choices. Parents may want to scrutinize schools more closely and examine non-academic areas such as niche programmes and skills development programmes that may be beneficial to their children. That shouldn’t differ too much from what parents are already doing currently.