The Direct School Admission – Secondary (DSA-Sec) Exercise (usually known as “DSA”) is a programme in Singapore that was introduced back in 2004 in order for Primary 6 students to be guaranteed a place in a secondary school of their choice, prior to the Secondary 1 Posting Exercise, which follows the release of the PSLE results.
Another aim of the programme is to grant secondary schools more autonomy in selecting their students. Is the DSA for everyone? Recent reports in the media have suggested that the process could possibly backfire.
But before you start panicking, let’s clear the air on what you need to know about the DSA. What exactly does it entail? As a parent, how can you help your child to ace the selection tests? Where can you turn to for additional help for your child? Jackeline Carter, founder of the J Carter Centre for Public Speaking, and parents of children who have been through the DSA preparation process tell us.
1. Do Your Homework Early
When we say early, we mean before your child enters Primary 6. Your child should be using his or her December school holidays to do research on the schools that he or she is interested in. What should you be paying attention to? Find out each school’s
(i) distinctive programmes
(i) selection criteria
(iii) dates of the trials, tests or interviews
Check out the respective schools’ websites and call up the schools for more information, or visit the schools to get a better idea of what you will be signing up for.
41-year-old Administration Manager, Seeneth Kahlid, says that she and her husband brought up the possibility of applying for the DSA to their son, Iqbal, 12, when he was in Primary 4. This was after he started taking up drums lessons. “Bu he wasn’t too keen about it until late last year,” says Seeneth. Iqbal did all the research on schools by himself. “He looked at the potential schools’ websites, downloaded the FAQs and read up on the admission criteria by himself. All we did was to speak to his drums instructor and his drama teacher to get their reassurance.” Iqbal is hoping to get into the School of The Arts (SOTA).
2. Do Not Put All your Eggs into One Basket
Select up to three schools for DSA application. Choose one popular school, one dual-track school, and one specialist/JC/Express school. Consider, for example, the combination of Raffles Girls’ School, CHIJ St. Nicholas, and NUS High School.
The first school is popular with GEP (Gifted Education Programme) students so if you are not from the GEP, your chances of getting in here will probably be reduced. The second school offers the ‘O’ Level track as well as the IP (Integrated Programme) track; it tends to take in more non-GEP students. The third school does not offer special consideration to GEP students — everyone goes through the same selection process and testing. All’s fair and square.
Housewife Madhavi Kumar, 41, says that her daughter’s entry into School of Science & Technology (SST) via the DSA in 2011 was not their ideal. She feels that she should have done more research on the choice of schools. “She did not get into her first choice, National JC, but made the cut for SST. The syllabus at SST is not very holistic — there is barely any focus on arts. It’s not for everyone,” says Madhavi. “I also did not like the idea of learning everything online. She has to bring her laptop to school everyday. There are no proper textbooks and notes.”
3. IP Schools Come With Advantages
IP schools usually have a low Student-Teacher Ratio in the classroom (approximately 25 students to one or two teachers). The teachers — both locals and foreigners — are also highly qualified. IP Schools are allowed to hire their own teachers and often have excellent facilities.
Students in IP schools tend to receive a more holistic education as they do not need to take the ‘O’ Levels, thus more time is spent on elective programmes or work attachments. There is also a strong emphasis on leadership skills and academic success.
IP schools are affiliated to Junior Colleges, especially the popular ones. Students from IP schools receive direct entry to their affiliated JC.
Are these reasons appealing enough to parents? According to 43-year-old Operations Manager, Gracia Low, they are. “I think not having to mug for the ‘O’ levels takes one significant burden off the shoulders of our kids.”
The mother to an only daughter who gained entry into an IP school three years ago also values the affiliation to Junior Colleges. “This way, I do not have to worry about my girl securing a place in a JC with a good reputation,” she adds. “Overall, I am satisfied with the secondary education track that I have chosen for my daughter. I know she is capable of handling the academic stress. If she needs emotional support, we are here for her. If you think your child can handle the DSA selection processes, then why not give it a shot?”
4. Build Up your Child’s Experience
Every IP school offers more than one domain for students to apply to: Sports, Performing Arts, Music, Academics, and Leadership; while Express schools offer niche domains such as Robotics, Chess, and Drama.
Your child should exhibit a talent in his chosen domain. With regards to sports, music, performing arts, and niche areas, your child must have pursued the interest as a CCA or through private instruction.
Music and performing arts instruction should have begun no later than Primary 1, and sports and niche areas, no later than Primary 3. As much as possible, your child should have had experience in competitions or performances, or have represented the school in this domain.
5. Seek External Help if You Need It
Your child will have to go through an interview for the DSA. Do not worry if he or she is not a natural speaker. There are DSA preparation classes in Singapore to help your child get set for the DSA.
Is external help really necessary though? Perhaps not. Seeneth says, “The DSA provides an avenue for children to develop their areas of interest while balancing their studies at the same time. If they are driven by their passion for a particular field, I am confident that the results will show automatically.”
Gracia agrees. “I believe in relying on natural abilities. Hence, I did not see the need to send my daughter for any external preparatory classes. There’s no point in forcing a child to develop a talent if the bare foundation or interest is not there. It will only backfire in future.”
6. Communication Skills are Important
Your child needs to be able to communicate effectively during his DSA interviews. If he is not already a confident speaker, how can you ensure he becomes one?
J Carter Centre offers the Trinity College Communication Skills Grade 3 course to hone communication skills. This twenty-week course covers speech writing and delivery, persuasion skills, current affairs discussion, DSA interview preparation, preparing of portfolio, writing personal statements, Free Response Tasks, school and domain selection and more.
Students will complete the course with a Trinity College International Certificate in Communication Skills which they can include in their portfolio.
7. Start Your Preparation Early
“Each year, the DSA becomes more competitive,” says Carter. How early should you start preparing your child for the DSA? “Once you have decided that the route is suitable for your child, you can commence as early as in Primary 5.”
Since last year, the J Carter Centre has started coaching Primary 5 students so that they will have more time to prepare for DSA in 2016. “Eventually we will have to consider admitting Primary 4 students to the programme as the COP (Cut-Off Point) tends to increase on a yearly basis,” says Carter.