AQ Principal Ms Josephine was interviewed recently by Straits Times for an article published in The Sunday Times dated Sunday, March 12, 2017, about the DSA programme. The full interview, reflecting AQ’s stand on DSA is as follows:

1) What do you think about the DSA changes in the current education landscape, particularly the removal of general academic ability tests to focus on specific talents? Will this work, or create more stress, and why?

“In my opinion, the General Academic Ability Tests (GAT) gives Secondary schools an insight to the child’s academic ability and helps gauge if a child can cope with the academic standards of that particular school. By removing the GAT, it may give rise to a “mismatch” between the student and the school.

For example, if a child is very talented in dance and gets selected after going through the school’s audition, this child might eventually face possible academic challenges. There is a possibility that the child will be struggling to match the academic requirements of the school where the rest of the fellow peers got admitted by meeting the minimum required T-score of that school.

This may create more stress for the child in her secondary school years. On top of having to cope with school workload, the child still has to commit to the long hours of dance training in school. The school admission of a child with no considerations on the academic abilities might lead to an unfortunate wrong matching. We should review both the academics and talent and try to strike a balance.”

2) Roughly how many pupils have you helped with the DSA? An estimate is fine. Are you seeing more parents year on year sending kids for help to get through DSA, and how many per cent more each year?

“Every year, we will have a handful (about five) of our own existing students applying for schools through DSA. They are mostly shortlisted and selected and given offers from two or more schools. There is certainly a growing awareness amongst parents on the DSA program. We are receiving more enquiries in recent years from parents of non-existing students (some even with little or no dance background) on how we can help prepare their children for their upcoming DSA auditions.

In such cases, we explain to the Parents that there are no shortcuts to this art form. We cannot achieve optimal dance quality by simply attending a few hours of private lessons. Dance technique takes years to hone, and the successful candidates are often those who have done Ballet Exams, Performances and Competitions since five to six years of age. Thus, by their DSA audition in Primary Six, they would have at least six to seven years of regular dance training.”

3) How do you help the kids to do well at the DSA? In what areas? Elaborate.

“In our previous years, we conducted a DSA preparation program for our own students that has a 100% success rate. The length of this program was six months before the DSA exercise. In addition to choreography Dance work and Dance Masterclasses, these Students were also taught interview, portfolio writing and audition skills.

After observing all the successful candidates in their respective school placements, our follow up with these students found that not all were happy. Some had to struggle academically, and it had an adverse effect to their self-esteems at that age. Through this experience, we decided to stop offering this program, even though it generated extra revenue for the Studio.

We now take a more pragmatic approach for all our existing students. AQ Dance now runs a Scholarship program for our students who are genuinely interested and show talent in dance. These students are selected through an audition process (which gives students audition and interview experiences) on an annual basis.

These selected Students are as young as five years of age. Selected students are given extra dance training (often at no additional costs) and opportunities to represent our dance studio at various competitions and performances in group and solo categories. This program helps boost every individual child’s portfolio and gives them opportunities to pick up life skills (discipline, teamwork, resilience, etc). We feel that this prepares them better, not just for the short term DSA goals, but in other aspects of their life as well.

Now, we no longer purposefully prepare our students solely for DSA. If a student wants to take the DSA route, we do our best to help to fill up forms and refresh their solo pieces for the audition. For all the deserving students, we will assist to write them testimonials.

We trust that the Parents and the various academic schools involved will do their due diligence in ensuring that the child and school is a suitable match. At the end of this journey, we want the students to be placed in the schools of their choice, and hopefully, be happy and rewarded for all the extra efforts they have put into their dance and academic aspirations.”

4) Do you think the changes would reduce competition and promote joy of learning? Elaborate.

“We are confident that the Ministry of Education (MOE – SINGAPORE) is making changes to the system in the students’ best interests. However, we should continue to further review if removing the GAT completely is truly beneficial in the overall assessment. The streamlining of the DSA application process, by way of the MOE proposed centralised system, will certainly make it easier and more transparent for all applicants.

There will always be individuals that will try to “work” any given system to ensure that they have the maximum possibility to achieve their school of choice. My personal thought on this is that while one may eventually get their desired choice, one may end up with a very unhappy and burnt-out child.”

Sunday Times – DSA Schemers (12th March 2017)