Parents, here’s what you should know about DSA

ST recently published an article titled “Schools, stop using the ‘kiasu’ practice of using DSA to ‘chope’ bright kids”. The article cites examples of sports-loving kids not getting places into popular schools through DSA. It also reported that about 60% of kids who got places into schools through DSA would have gotten in via PSLE. It then exhorts schools to stop using DSA as “an extra avenue for schools to be “kiasu” (afraid to lose) and “chope” the bright students first.”

It is true that all of those popular schools (e.g. RI, RGS, HCI, NYGH, ACS, MGS, SJI) have this strange thing called DSA for academic talent. That is for kids who are academically bright. Which, I agree, seems odd. Isn’t that what PSLE is about? To ensure that kids who are academically bright have the first right of choice for the most popular schools? Then why DSA for academic talent?

From the school’s point of view, there are at least two reasons to explain the DSA through academic talent.

The first reason is they are looking for students who may be strong academically in a particular area but weak in others. The clearest example are kids who are science whizzes but suck at Mother Tongue. Kind of like a Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory.


Sheldon – brilliant at Science and Math, but can’t speak Mandarin to save his life…

Such a kid would probably not do well enough at PSLE to get into the most popular of schools (e.g. RI, RGS, NYGH, HCI). But those schools would still want him. Because he’s great at Science and Math! He could potentially help the school win awards in Science and Math! And his crap standard of Mother Tongue will be largely irrelevant by the time the kid gets to the A-Levels. So it won’t affect the performance of the school much.

The second reason is they want/have to take in GEP kids. This is more or less an MOE directive. The idea that a kid who is in GEP in primary school should continue to be in GEP at least through secondary school has been an integral part of the GEP since it started. So unless the kid screws up terribly, if the kid is already in GEP, he is automatically guaranteed a place in a secondary school that offers GEP. It just happens that the means to channel that kid into that school is through DSA.

The schools pretty much can’t change the policy of having to take in GEP kids through DSA for academic talent. But by and large, they don’t mind. That said, schools may be upset if they suddenly aren’t allowed to take in kids who are strong in specific academic areas but weak in others.

However, if they suddenly aren’t allowed to admit students for academic talent through DSA, it is highly unlikely that they will admit more students for other talents (e.g. sports and the Arts) through DSA. Understanding why this is the case is the most critical thing parents need to know if they are trying to get their kids into one of those brand name schools through DSA.

Why should a brand name school give your child a place?

Just because you applied? Definitely not. The demand for a place in any of the brand name schools are far greater than the number of places available. Before DSA, the “currency” for this marketplace of places in schools is the PSLE result. The higher the score, the more you can “spend” to ensure you get into the school of your choice.

With DSA, the “currency” has changed. The process is still meritocratic. Except that the definition of merit has changed. Merit is now (more or less) whatever would advance the interests of the school. In other words, if your child can somehow help the school achieve what it aims to achieve, then your child has a very good chance of getting in to that school via DSA.

Let me explain. If a school, let’s call it Rainforest Institute, for whatever reasons, die die must win the Rugby championship. And your child happens to be damn good at rugby. Then he has a good chance of getting into Rainforest Institute. On the other hand, let’s say Rainforest Institute has no interest in competing in underwater basket weaving. But your child is Singapore’s best underwater basket weaver! Too bad. If that’s his only talent, then he definitely won’t be getting a place in Rainforest Institute via DSA.

So. Parents. If you want your kid to secure a place into a brand name school via DSA. Ask yourself (or your kid) this question: What can your child do for that school? Can he/she show that he/she will become instrumental in helping that school achieve what it aims to achieve?

Start planning early

If you really want your kid to get into a brand name school via DSA, you need to start planning early. Identify the brand name schools that you want your child to get into. What sort of achievements are those schools gunning for? Sports? What games? Rugby? Basketball? Soccer? Badminton? Track and Field? The Arts? What disciplines? Music? Dance?

Then look at your kid. Take a good hard look at him/her. Does your kid look like he/she is talented enough to represent any one of those schools in the areas they are gunning for achievements in? It’s not enough for you to think he/she is. What evidence do you have to convince those schools you are interested in?

So you need to start planning and putting into motion the plans to collect enough evidence to convince the schools you hope your kid to get into that your kid will be instrumental in helping them achieve what they were aiming to achieve. What sort of evidence would be convincing? Examples would include:

  • Winning high level competitions in the relevant field.
  • Being invited to train in the relevant national youth team.
  • Having a portfolio of work (usually for the Arts) that have been judged by critically acclaimed masters to be brilliant.

This will take time and effort. Your kid needs to put in much time and effort in training in whichever discipline. Your kid will have to go through different rounds of competitions before getting to the right level to be deemed worth considering by the brand name schools. If you think your kid can do this in one year, you are deluded. If you haven’t started on the process by Primary 3 or 4, you are likely to be too late already.


Do you really want your kid to get into that school through DSA? More importantly. Does your kid want to be in that school in the first place? If your kid isn’t the sort who would keep up academically in a particular school but still went in via DSA, would your kid really be happy? Would he thrive? Or would he end up flunking out? Remember, of the 10 kids from RI who took O-levels in 2015, only one managed to do well enough to go to JC. The other nine essentially flunked out (note: I’m not sure if all 10 of them got into RI through DSA… but it is possible that some of them did).

Do you really still want your kid to DSA?

If you do, then understand the needs and desires of the school you want your kid to DSA into. Then think about what your kid can do for that school. And start early. This also applies if you want to get your kid into the GEP which would almost ensure him a place in one of the brand name secondary schools.



One thought on “Parents, here’s what you should know about DSA

  1. Singapore parents should relax! Your sons and daughters need to have a childhood. (Is childhood still in the vocabulary?) You are putting so much pressure on your children that they are missing out the most enjoyable human experience in growing up.

    Liked by 1 person

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