Sec 5 class advised: Go to ITE instead

There’s a reason why there are so few success stories of bad kids turn good. Or lousy students top the school…

Principal tells students that they are unlikely to do well at O levels

By Sandra Davie, Education Correspondent

CALL it a disheartening start to the new school year.

A group of 27 girls in a Secondary 5 class in a mission school – which shall remain unnamed – were advised by their principal on the first day of school last week to seek transfers to the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), since they were unlikely to do well in the O levels this year.

To back her point, she even flashed the girls’ detailed N-level grades on the board in class using an overhead projector; she also stressed that she wanted 100 per cent passes in her school.

The result: teens with punctured self-confidence and some fuming parents.

The girls, who had done well enough in last year’s N-level examinations to get to Sec 5, were looking to repeat their good performance at the O levels this year and move on to the polytechnics.

Those with strong N-level results had a new option this year: They could have skipped Sec 5 and headed for higher-level technical courses at ITE, but the deadline for applications closed on Jan 2.

Five girls from the class confirmed the incident. They have decided to stay on in the school, but if they choose to take their principal’s advice, they can still apply for ITE courses starting in April.

The father of one of the five, describing the incident as ‘totally defeating’ for parents like him, said he and his wife had been motivating their daughter to aim to do well in the O levels this year.

‘My daughter’s self-esteem had gone up multiple levels just seeing her results and realising her hopes to attempt the O levels.

How are we to motivate our children to do better with second chances when there are principals who are so uncaring and unethical?’

More… His daughter said she is not considering a transfer to the ITE because she wants to go on to a polytechnic after Sec 5.

She added: ‘It is very sad when your principal doesn’t have faith in you and will not give you a chance.’

But having decided to stay on, she said she feels added pressure to do well: ‘I feel quite nervous, and so do quite a few of my classmates.’

Another parent said that after the principal’s talk, he had to do ‘damage control’ to convince his daughter that she stood a good chance of getting into a sports management course in a polytechnic.

A third parent, a mother, is considering writing to the Ministry of Education (MOE).

Saying this was a result of school heads being too concerned with MOE’s annual ranking of schools, she added: ‘This is a mission school at that. Where’s the compassion?’

She said she thought moves to weed out weaker students by urging them to drop difficult subjects were a thing of the past.

When annual ranking of secondary schools was introduced in 1992, some schools were reported to have pressed students to drop ‘tougher’ subjects such as Literature, in apparent attempts to protect or improve their rankings.

MOE has tweaked the system, taking fewer subjects into account.

About 60 per cent of Normal stream students who sit for the O levels do well enough to win places in the polytechnics.

Of the five girls who spoke to The Straits Times, only one defended her principal, saying she ‘meant well’.

Said the teen: ‘My class is a weak class. Some of the girls may be better off in the ITE.’

Wow. I thought teachers/principals are supposed to encourage these kids? Didn’t she study educational psychology when she was in NIE? At least I know that’s a core module for all my teacher friends.

Oh. I’m so sorry. I forgot that being so high up, she’d probably forgotten how to be a good teacher. She just well.. manages.

Being in the N level stream may not be such a disgraceful thing in this time and day, but if the students were to compare themselves to some of the students from the express stream in the same school they might still feel that inferiority complex. Schools are supposed to help them kill that inferiority complex and channel it into something motivating and encouraging. Not talk down to them. And make them feel worse.

No wonder kids have no respect for teachers nowadays.. Not when your principal looks down on you.

And she tries to explain herself:

THE school principal told The Straits Times yesterday she was merely trying to give her girls a ‘wake-up call’ when she spoke to them on the first day of school.

She confirmed that she had used an overhead projector to display the girls’ results, but that it was to impress on them that they would have to work hard to qualify for a place in the polytechnics.

She said: ‘It’s a fact. If a student scored a Grade 4 or 5 for a subject in the N levels, she is unlikely to pass the subject in the O levels.’

N-level subjects are graded from 1 to 5, with 1 being the best grade.

The principal added: ‘Some…who don’t qualify for poly will end up in the ITE anyway, so they might as well go direct to the ITE.’

She confirmed that she told the girls she wanted 100 per cent passes in her school, but that what she meant was that she wanted all her girls to do well in the O levels – not that she did not want poor performers to tar the school’s record or lower its ranking.

Noting that well over 80 per cent of her Normal stream students who sat for the O levels last year did well enough to qualify for the polytechnics, she added: ‘But it takes a lot of hard work and the girls needed to know that.’

When given the principal’s side of the story, two of the parents interviewed said that if all she wanted was to give the girls a wake-up call, she could have done it differently.

One parent said: ‘I would have preferred it if she had called the parents in and given them the hard facts, instead of destroying the confidence of the girls.’

Maybe all teachers and principals need a crash course in psychology. Mean exactly what you say.

I firmly believe that if the other party misunderstands you, it’s your fault for not explaining it properly in the first place.