Member of Parliament Ms. Carrie Tan raised a parliamentary query on 18th September 2023 about the rationale for requiring homeschoolers to meet a certain benchmark for their PSLE. Education Minister Mr Chan Chun Sing replied, citing the need for a baseline foundation in the education of homeschooled children. Read on to learn about the benchmark and what it means for homeschoolers.
Singapore citizens of compulsory school age who are homeschooled must sit for and pass the Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE) at the Standard level the year they turn 12 and attain the benchmark the Ministry of Education (MOE) sets.
The benchmark is a subject that homeschooling explorers or new homeschoolers occasionally raise for clarification. This article attempts to meet those needs and relieve the more experienced homeschoolers from making regular iterations about the PSLE benchmark. I also endeavour to demystify the implications of not meeting the benchmark for homeschoolers.
The points raised in this article are based on my observations and personal conversations with homeschoolers – students and parents – who have repeatedly attempted to meet the PSLE benchmark. They are not the case for every homeschooler in both forms and degrees.
Frequently Asked Questions
“What is the PSLE Benchmark for Homeschoolers?”
Homeschoolers who fail the PSLE must return to a national primary school the following year and re-take the exam. Those who pass but do not meet the benchmark may continue homeschooling, but they must re-sit for the PSLE until they clear the benchmark or the year they turn 15, whichever comes first.
This benchmark is pegged at the 33rd percentile of the aggregate score of all students taking four Standard-level subjects in the PSLE that year. Effectively, this translates to one having to score well enough to qualify for the Express stream of a national secondary school.
Under the former PSLE scoring system, the benchmark ranged from 198 to 201. With the new scoring system that took effect in 2021 based on Achievement Levels, the benchmark is purportedly set at 21.
“What does the PSLE benchmark mean for homeschoolers who fall short of it?”
The implications of not meeting the benchmark for homeschoolers vary based on their prior educational plans, heightened need to accommodate neurodiversity, and mental health, among other considerations. This section outlines the most common and significant considerations that arise:
(i) Impetus to Consider Educational Path
Homeschoolers find themselves at the crossroads of whether to take the unfamiliar path of enrolling in a national primary school the following year, where the benchmark ceases to apply, or to continue homeschooling while resitting for the PSLE. Under these circumstances, conversations between parents and children about future educational pathways may not be entirely based on the assessment of the child’s strengths, interests, and aspirations but instead driven by practical considerations.
(ii) Delayed Enrolment into Secondary School
Even homeschoolers who initially resolved to continue their education in national secondary schools after the PSLE find themselves having to defer their plans. When the benchmark is not met, they cannot enrol in a secondary school – even for the Normal (Academic) or Normal (Technical) streams (under the old regime, or with effect from 2024, into Posting Groups 1 or 2)*. Exceptions to this rule are rare and only granted on a case-by-case basis. Within parenting circles, some have shared how the prospect of deferment might lead their child to abort their intention of pursuing their studies in the national schools at the secondary level so that they may progress with their education.
*From 2024, Full Subject-based Banding will be implemented, and the Express, N(A) and N(T) streams will be removed
(iii) Disrupted Learning Process
Students who continue homeschooling to proceed with secondary-level learning may find their progress abated by further PSLE preparations and exam-taking. Students are encumbered by a heavier workload and might persistently play catch-up on completing their syllabus for their subsequent landmark examinations. Those who find it hard to straddle the two worlds might prioritize one over the other, each carrying its own implications.
(iv) Multiple repeat attempts at the PSLE
Some homeschoolers underwent the PSLE for the maximum number of three times. This reality translates differently for different individuals. For some, it simply means turning up for the seven exam-taking days each year. For others, multiple repeat attempts at clearing the PSLE benchmark may be stigmatizing, aggravating the conditions that may already contribute to mental health issues. Retaking the PSLE multiple times takes a toll on a child’s mental health, including self-esteem, and in some cases, it could significantly impact psychological well-being.
Homeschool students are no different from school-going ones – some have the genuine challenge of levelling up to the exam standard in general or struggling to do well in all four subjects at the Standard level, especially Mother Tongue. This could be due to neurodiverse needs and/or natural dispositions that are not characteristically rewarded in academic settings. The difference between the two groups of students is the latter could offer to take the PSLE at the Foundation level.
“How do homeschoolers adapt to the PSLE benchmark?”
Most homeschoolers accept the PSLE benchmark as our reality and commit to it as a condition of homeschooling in Singapore. For homeschooling parents, this could mean letting go of their initial visions or desired curriculum to focus on the PSLE syllabus or investing more financial resources towards helping their children reach the standard required for the exams.
Homeschooling parents acknowledge that despite our best efforts, some children persist in not meeting the academic standards predicated by the PSLE benchmark. When this happens, a combination of academic, social, emotional and mental factors arise that need to be managed. One thing is for sure:
The homeschoolers’ stance towards the PSLE benchmark is far from monolithic. The viewpoints vary based on each family’s ethos and abilities and over the course of time. The journeys are different for every homeschooling family, with each harbouring stories of strife, success, resentment, or resilience. It is important for homeschooling communities to support one another with openness and empathy.