The extent that parents would go to try and secure a place for their child in the school of their choice via DSA seems to have reached new heights. Some parents start serious training for their kids from the time they are in primary 1 while others sign their kids up for DSA-related enrichment courses to equip them with skills to ace the interviews.
I first heard about it 8 years ago when #1 was in P4. A group of us parents were sharing how worried we were that the cut-off aggregate for the schools we were keen on were out of reach for our kids with their mediocre grades.
A more experienced mum shed light on us ignorant newbie parents that there was this route called DSA which had recently been implemented. Our eyes lit up as this seemingly whole new opportunity opened up before us and we started to consider what sporting prowess our kids had.
For the uninitiated, the Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme was introduced by MOE in 2004. The rationale being:
I contacted the coach to arrange for a trial. He agreed that she had good ball sense and was agile. What she lacked was stamina, which could be built up. #1 enjoyed the game and looked forward to the weekly lessons.
After a few months, she improved by leaps and bounds and I asked the coach for his assessment. He said that she had the potential, and if we wanted a shot at DSA, she would need more intensive training and we would have to increase the lessons to 3 times a week, for 1.5 hours each. In addition, she had to run 2.4km on her own on the other non-training days. And that was for starters.
Was he trying to groom an Olympian? Not only did it sound like a financially draining plan, but where would she find time for all of that? There was so much more I wanted for them in their childhood years.
I gave the issue some serious thought. What were our priorities? Would we allow this to take precedence over other activities if things clash? Would the rest of the family have to work around her schedule? What about financial considerations? Is it justifiable? Would she be able to cope with both the academic and sporting demands during her P6 year? What do we do if she starts to crack under the pressure? Allow her to give it up?
So many questions came to mind and try as I did, I could not align myself with this strategy. I could foresee the possibility of reaching a stage where we would be at the mercy of this sport because of the effort and money which had been thrown behind it, and it would be too late. I didn’t want to embark on something I could not sustain comfortably for the whole family.
I am happy for our kids to pursue any interest with no strings attached, but I didn’t want to be held ransom to a choice I allowed to be made. With a big family, I had to be very focused on our priorities. I was also very aware of the underlying values being taught to the kids through our decisions. I didn’t think ‘spending excessive time and money through sport to gain entry into a school’ made the cut. If she was extremely gifted in it, that would be different.
Moreover, I didn’t want her to face a day where she would feel that she was a failure because she didn’t perform well enough to gain entry into the school. Because that is not what sport is about.
Before I decided to write this whole idea off, I wanted to get the complete picture. I called up the school we were eyeing on, and asked them how many places were they offering via squash DSA. The officer couldn’t give me an answer, but when I kept pressing her, she said probably 1 or 2.
Great. Thanks for making the choice easier for us.
Over the next 8 years, I watched as friends put their kids in competitive CCAs and ferried them around for extra ‘outside’ lessons and competitions to boost their skills.
The kids could sense that their parents are very stressed about their performance, and sometimes, it seems like all that matters to their parents are their achievements. If you hang around elite coaching centres, the atmosphere is tense.
It is no wonder that some kids start to feel that life seems to be one big competition. Everyone is fighting for limited opportunities. We have to win, win, win. Childhood is tough. Life is stressful.
Over the years, as I listen to some of my close mummy friends discuss the intricacies of DSA and plot their strategies, I did question if I was not trying hard enough to support my kids. However, what stops me from joining in the fray is that I have made my decisions based on our priorities and values.
When friends ask me for advice if they should try the DSA route, I point out another angle which they usually miss. At the end of Secondary 2, the students have to choose their subject combinations (in almost all schools). If your child is at the bottom band, he may not be able to select the subjects he wants because those with better grades get first pick.
Never would I imagine a day where one of my kids would gain entry into a school via DSA.
But #3 did!
Before we went for the try-outs, we had a long discussion about whether she would enjoy the sport as she would have to participate in it for 4 years. She was hesitant as she had never tried it in primary school before, but I have always known that she would love team sports, given her sociable and cooperative nature. She also enjoys most ball games and my instincts told me that it would be a suitable sport for her.
I wasn’t too worried that she would have to stick to it for 4 years even if she didn’t like it because I knew from the older girls that things have changed and you are not allowed to change CCA for 4 years irregardless of DSA or not.
Both #1 and #2 chose CCAs which were new to them and have learnt to embrace and excel in it over the 4 years, so I was all for them persevering in one CCA. I also discovered that all CCAs have stand-down periods before the exams so I wasn’t too concerned about her having insufficient time for revision.
#3 got selected into the school’s niche sport and as I predicted, she loves it.
Do I think DSA is a good initiative? Yes, but not the way it has evolved.
You bet I am.
Sane tip: Once you get admitted into a school via DSA, a place has already been reserved for you and you can’t change your mind after the PSLE results are released. Your child is also NOT allowed to transfer to another school for the entire duration of the course.
Save tip: Sometimes we make parenting way more stressful and expensive than it should be. I am quite certain that when the MOE mapped out this initiative, they never intended it to benefit the sports vendors, but our children.
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