Bonus points for “Higher” Mother Tongue

January 15, 2006 at 6:52 pm 2 comments

Two letters (from Michael Heng and Handayani Budhi Kosasih) in the ST Forum today (Jan 16) made me go re-read the one submitted by Celine Teo a few weeks back.

Dec 31, 2005
She got perfect score, but can’t get into elite JCs

I COMPLETED my O levels last month and was posted to a junior college (JC) through the Provisional Admission Exercise.

Under current guidelines, students who take Higher Mother Tongue can get two bonus points deducted from their JC entry score. As a result, students like myself who do not take the subject are not eligible for the deduction.

Of course, students who do very well in their co-curricular activities (CCAs) are also awarded two bonus points.

When I was admitted into secondary school, I was neither in the top 10 per cent of the cohort, nor did I score an A* in my Mother Tongue. Hence, I was not eligible to take up Higher Mother Tongue in secondary school.

It was only two years later that changes were made to allow the top 30 per cent of students to take up Higher Mother Tongue.

So although I got a perfect score of six in my preliminary examinations, I was unable to gain admission to elite junior colleges where the cut-off was three points.

Yet students who had an L1R5 score of seven were admitted to these JCs, because they took High Mother Tongue and did well in their CCAs, thus gaining four bonus points.

This loophole in the system has certainly put students who do not take Higher Mother Tongue at a disadvantage.

I would like to propose that one or two bonus points be awarded to students who get an A1 or A2 for their O-level Mother Tongue exams. This suggestion helps late bloomers who may excel in Mother Tongue only in secondary school.

I hope changes can be made to level the playing field.

Celine Teo Ying Zhen (Miss)

I once had a vested interest in this issue; for I “played the bonus points game” to my advantage despite having a less than positive experience with the learning of Chinese in school. Even back then, having 6 points was no guarantee one could get into two of the “elite” JCs’ science streams, as had happened to Celine. (Or was she referring to the top 5 JCs?)

There were the students from the affliated secondary schools (2 points bonus), students with at least a C6 for HMT (2 bonus points) and another 2 bonus points for those who got in during the 1st 3 months and decided to stay on. There were many folks who ended up with “zero” points, although rumors had it that the school would only allow a maximum of 4 bonus points to be counted to your L1R5 score.

I can’t speak for those who took Higher Malay or Higher Tamil, but Higher Chinese was much tougher than the “normal” Chinese (CL2). So much so that a number of SAP schools (including the one I attended) deemed you a failure if you can’t get an A1 for CL2, on the assumption that you are on the HCL track, so you would have absolutely no problems with CL2.

For those of us struggling with the language in secondary school, the two bonus points was an incentive. We were spending a disproportionate amount of time on the subject just to stay afloat.

If Celine’s suggestions are taken up, I can forsee:

– SAP students with borderline grades, the new rule could force a difficult decision: Should they continue to take HCL and risk getting a lower grade for their other subjects and thus bring up their L1R5 score? HCL would no longer offer them a 2 points buffer against their non-HCL peers who did well in CL2.

– Academically (and linguistically) strong students who are not likely to have any problems taking HCL would not take it, as they could still get their 2 bonus points from an A grade in CL2. It may not pay to take a harder class.

My suggestion instead? Let anyone who wants to, take the HMT. Then weed out the weaker students after gauging their performance during the mid-terms. And not use the PSLE as a benchmark. If they perform well, they deserve the 2 bonus points.

The current system antagonizes two groups:

1. Those SAP students who have no interest/barely passed HCL staying on in the program just to take advantage of the two points but get traumatized and swear off the language forever.

2. Non-SAP students who enjoyed their mother tongue classes and did well (overall) but felt discriminated against during the post-O level JC postings.

So, to those who championed that our meritocratic educational system has many routes to success, it still boils down to one’s performance in the first important national exam, the PSLE. See the cascading effect?

Related: Tongues Engaged

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Overseas Voting; Joint undergraduate degrees (NUS/foreign) Creative Giving at MIT; Korean visitors; Blogging Hiatus

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Peishan  |  January 15, 2006 at 8:48 pm

    Surprised to read that perfect score can’t even land you into ‘elite jcs’. WTH is elite? And do you really want to get into a school that doesn’t really want you anyway?

    But I’m also surprised that people actually take Higher Chinese for those extra bonus points. I never paid much attention to those bonus points, thought they never really meant anything. Instead, I took HC to get out of doing it again at JC. Heh.

    Reply
  • 2. skybellzz  |  January 15, 2006 at 8:51 pm

    The reason why schools make certain sec schs take HMT is coz they believe that the students will be able to cope with the heavier burden of an extra language subject.

    Well in the first place,I believe that the education system should not just deduct 2 points just because you TOOK higher mother tongue – in which case, everyone will be vying to take the subject if like you say, anyone who wants to take it should take it, even if they do not do well in it.

    The schools and teachers should actually access students’ mother tongue abilities to determine if they should and can take up HMT. Even SAP students who are weak in MT may not be able to cope with the extra load. And JCs should not deduct 2 points just becoz students took HMT, but yet, should deduct 2 points only if they did really well (C6 is too low a grade!) and/or counted their L1R5 with it. That will then leave a chance for all the other students.

    As an SAP student myself, I know how tough HMT is and it is definitely a reward for me to be able to deduct 2 points from the hardwork.

    But the final word is,

    Life IS unfair. We just hafta face it. Ugh.

    Reply

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