This commentary was also published in the Thought Section of AMPlified, A Quarterly Newsletter by the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP), January 2016, Issue 29.
The Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) results released on 25 November 2015 saw a record of 98.3% of students qualified to advance to secondary school, up by 0.7% from the previous year. However, it is worth noting that the percentage of students who are eligible for the Express stream has gone down by 0.2%. According to the Ministry of Education (MOE), 21.7% and 10.4% of the 2015’s candidates had qualified for the Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical) courses respectively. This is in contrast with 2014’s 20% and 11.2%, meaning more candidates will make up the Normal (Academic) batch in 2016. Until MOE releases the annual 10-year trend of educational performance, it is hard to discern what these numbers will mean for the Malay/Muslim community in Singapore.
Achievers’ Hall of Fame
Regardless, the community has proven itself more than capable of producing remarkable results, often in the face of odds and hurdles. Those who were unsuccessful in the first attempt, such as Eunos Primary School’s Noorhaziqah Hamlie, passed their second attempts. The spotlight also shone on her schoolmate, Sharifah Fatimatu Zahra Syed Khalid Alsagoff, who, despite her family’s financial situation, scored an aggregate of 244 for her PSLE. Balancing responsibilities as bowling team captain and prefect in Haig Girls’ School, Sarah Nahar Azmi also came through with As in English, Mother Tongue and Science, scoring an aggregate of 227.
It is also a year of achievement for the madrasahs. 275 out of the 280 madrasah students who sat for the examinations qualified for secondary school. The community’s eyes were on Madrasah Wak Tanjong Al-Islamiah’s Harun Abdullah Md Jufri, who achieved a 10-year record and highest PSLE score for his school with an aggregate of 260. He achieved A*s for English and Mathematics, and As for Mother Tongue and Science. Another high-achiever, Izzul Adhan Noor Amidin, hailed from Madrasah Irsyad Zuhri Al-Islamiah. With an aggregate of 268, he was also the best madrasah student for 2015. Along with the other two offering PSLE—Madrasah Alsagoff Al-Arabiah and Madrasah Al-Maarif Al-Islamiah—their madrasahs managed to clear the MOE benchmark, allowing for Primary 1 admissions into these four madrasahs from 2018 to 2020.
Reflections on the PSLE
Praiseworthy performances of our Malay/Muslim students stand amidst news of continued reliance on a grade-based system of worth-evaluation, despite MOE’s recent de-emphasis on paper qualifications. It was reported that parents were still consulting unofficial performance leaderboards to measure their children against.
Beyond the numerical, however, a more holistic picture has emerged. Perseverance and diligence were exemplified in those who, despite personal and financial struggles, still worked to achieve success. Focus was also given to the survivors of the Sabah earthquake, which took the lives of seven students and two teachers from Tanjong Katong Primary School earlier this year. One of the students, Emyr Uzayr Mohamed Sadri, scored an aggregate of 238, despite living the traumatic aftermath. His plan to visit the site of the earthquake on the anniversary of the event to seek closure shows that his strength and bravery go beyond the examinations and into other aspects of his life.
Our madrasahs face the added challenge of balancing their religious and secular curriculum on a limited number of daily school hours. In spite of this, they were able to clear the benchmark by a wide margin. The achievements of the madrasah students showed that religion is not in misalignment with the disciplines of science, mathematics, or the language arts. Rather, it can be seen as a throwback to an earlier period when Islamic scholars were also alchemists, botanists, astronomers, mathematicians, philosophers, and poets.
There needs to be a greater eye for the softer diversities of our Malay/Muslim students, and apart from putzing around more numbers, we can look into the concept of a holistic, intelligent community by inculcating greater love for the multitudinous knowledge of the world.
Dr Nuraliah Norasid is a Research Associate with the Centre for Research in Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA). She holds a Doctor of Philosophy, with a specialisation in Creative Writing and Contemporary Mythopoesis from Nanyang Technological University. The views expressed in the article are her own.
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