If your kid is good at sports, music or has other talents, the DSA programme may be his key to getting into an elite secondary school or specialised school. Here’s what you should know about the process.
Direct School Admission (DSA)
DSA can help your child gain early admission into the school of his choice.
The programme gives talented kids a chance to gain early admission to secondary schools and junior colleges before taking national examinations such as the Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE) or GCE O levels.
According to Jackeline Carter, a trainer, and founder of J Carter Centre, some secondary schools also offer DSA opportunities to Secondary 2 students who want to transfer to an Integrated Programmes (IP) school from Secondary 3.
DSA was introduced in 2004 and all secondary schools and junior colleges in Singapore are allowed to offer DSA.
This includes secondary schools that offer the following streams: Normal Academic/ Express (20 per cent of Secondary 1 enrolment via DSA) and IP (30-35 per cent of Secondary 1 enrolment via DSA).
Specialist secondary schools (SIS) such as NUS High School, School of Science and Technology (SST), Singapore, School of the Arts (Sota), and Singapore Sports School take in all of their students through DSA.
Apply to schools that are aligned with your child’s values, personality and abilities
Before you decide which schools to apply to, it’s important to know the type of students they are after, says Chng Hock Huat, chairman of the Gifted & Talented Education Group.
“For example, if the school is known for its outgoing and outspoken students, then your shy, introverted child probably wouldn’t be a good match for it. I suggest ﬁnding out what the culture of the school is like before deciding if that school is the right ﬁt for your child.”
But it’s not just your child’s values and personality you need to factor in. Hock Huat says your child must also have what it takes to do well academically if he gets a place in the school of his choice.
“He may be a superstar athlete, but if he’s not going to be able to withstand the academic rigours of the school, he won’t do well and his self- esteem may be affected,” he says.
“Many kids have had to change schools within a year or after a couple of years because they couldn’t maintain a certain grade – such an upheaval can have a huge emotional effect on a child.”
Involve your kid when deciding what schools to apply to
Keep your child in the loop even before you start applying, Hock Huat advises. “It’s not just about what you want for your child – he has to be keen on the programme, too.
“If he knows which school he wants to go to and why, and if he understands how the DSA can help him, he will feel a sense of accountability towards the process from start to ﬁnish and also be more conﬁdent when he attends the interview.”
Of course, when you discuss the DSA and school options with your child, do so in a nurturing, non- pressurising manner. “Make sure he knows the expectations involved and discuss how you’ll support him along the way,” Hock Huat adds.
Don’t just apply to the elite or specialised schools
“There are so many good schools to choose from, and I believe that there’s a school for everybody,” says Jacqueline Chua, principal of Paideia Learning Academy.
“So, be sure to cast your net wide when deciding which schools to apply to. If the school offers a nurturing environment and provides opportunities for your child to excel at his particular talent or skill, and your child seems like a good ﬁt for the school, then I encourage you to apply to them.”
The DSA applicantion process is quite straightforward
From 2019, students and parents will submit their applications via a common online portal, says Jackeline.
All schools will have the same application timeline and applicants need only ﬁll in one online form for multiple schools. The details provided will be sent electronically to the schools selected.
Certiﬁcates, transcripts or testimonials will no longer be required and only Primary 5 and 6 academic results, CCA and school-based achievements or awards will be entered into the online application.
The application is free and can be made by logging in with a parent’s Singpass. If you don’t have a Singpass account, approach your kid’s primary school for help. (Sota and Singapore Sports School are not participating in the online portal and applications have to be made directly to the schools).
The application process runs from April to May; the ﬁrst cut takes place between June and July, with the selection process complete by the end of August.
When you discuss the DSA and school options with your child, do so in a nurturing, non- pressurising manner.
Help your child ace the interview
The DSA interview is one of the biggest challenges your child will have to face during the selection process. Eunice Fu, English subject head for Upper Primary programmes at The Learning Lab United Square, shares these useful tips to help him get through it.
ORGANISE EACH ANSWER
Your kid must remember to organise his thoughts before answering each question – a well-structured answer reﬂects coherence and composure. He should avoid rambling answers or responses that are too brief.
SHARE PERSONAL EXPERIENCES
Interviewers love personal anecdotes. Your kid's thoughts, feelings and opinions are unique. When he shares personal stories and experiences, it makes him more memorable to the interviewer and shows originality.
GIVE HONEST RESPONSES
Tackling questions about the school your kid has applied to and the programmes the school offers can be tricky. Interviewers may ask questions ranging from, “Why do you want to enrol in our school?” to “Have you applied to other schools? If so, why are you applying to our school?”
When responding to such questions, your kid should be honest. He need not worry about sounding indecisive or uncertain about his interest if his answer is “Yes, I have applied to other schools” for the latter question.
He should further support his answer with a reason such as, “In addition to applying to your school, I applied to School Y as well, because it has a strong robotics team. And apart from my passion in sport Z, a niche sport in your school, robotics is another interest I’d be keen to further develop.”
He won’t be penalised for applying to other schools. What’s more important is the way he communicates the reason behind his decision and why each school is valuable to him.
EXPRESS ACHIEVEMENTS CONFIDENTLY
Interviewers look for conﬁdent answers, with thoughts and opinions expressed articulately. Your child should not be shy about sharing how well he’s done in school and showcasing his drive and tenacity to improve in multiple areas (academic and non-academic).
If he has strong leadership capabilities or holds key leadership positions (like head prefect, for instance), he should highlight them during the interview.
A well-organised portfolio can boost your kid’s chances
This is more about keeping track of all the competitions and events your child has taken part in over the years, Jacqueline says.
“There’s no need to spend a lot of money on a fancy folder; the simpler the better. What’s more important is what you’re presenting – certiﬁcates, awards, and so on.
“Even certiﬁcates of participation are worth showing, because it tells the interviewer that your child was interested enough in a particular event to be a part of it.”
When it comes to artistic portfolios, Jacqueline says to sit down with your kid and pick out the works that best demonstrate his ability. He must be comfortable with those choices, too, and understand why he’s selected them for his portfolio.
Rejection is a possibility – help him overcome it
The Ministry of Education revealed that some 2,800 out of 16,000 applicants got into the secondary school of their choice in 2016 – that’s a success rate of about 17.5 per cent.
MOE didn’t state the number of applications in 2018, but it said that 3,000 received conﬁrmed offers.
So, it can be heart wrenching for Junior if he doesn’t get into the school of his choice or doesn’t even get shortlisted.
“To help your kid handle the rejection, you should ﬁrst be able to contain your own disappointment,” says Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Dr BL Lim Centre for Psychological Wellness.
“A parent showing disappointment will only reinforce feelings of failure and dejection in the child.”
Then, explain to your child that, just because he didn’t get selected it doesn’t mean that his talent or skill is subpar; nor does it mean that he should quit his chosen sport or stop nurturing his artistic talent.
Remind him of all that he’s accomplished so far, explain that his talent or skill may help him later in life, and highlight all the positive takeaways from the process – for example, he picked up useful interview skills, he got the chance to audition for a top school, and so on.
DSA prep classes: Who offers what?
ACADEMIE OF STARS
Its programme aims to give DSA preparatory students a portfolio of performing arts and audition experiences through active casting opportunities. They will also achieve relevant certiﬁcations from international examination boards for their skills. Classes run for 20 weeks per semester and cost $900 per month
GIFTED & TALENTED EDUCATION
Its one-week DSA Expresso programme helps groom the subject talent in your Primary 5 or 6 child to facilitate his DSA application via the subject route. Costing $600, it covers English, maths and the DSA interview.
J CARTER CENTRE
It focuses only on preparing Primary 5 and 6 students for DSA to Secondary 1 in an IP or SIS school. It offers a six-day or 12- day Accelerated DSA Preparation Course. Both cost $998 each.
THE LEARNING LAB
Its P5P6 DSA Impressive Interview workshop focuses on preparing students for the DSA interviews, from understanding the interview process to etiquette and conﬁdence boosting tips. The $489 course runs for three hours daily over three days.
PAIDEIA LEARNING ACADEMY
This centre offers three DSA preparation programmes. For $70, it will guide your child to build an impressive portfolio. Pay $200 for a one-day programme to help Junior prepare a personal statement. Or for $650, join the Ace the Interview! Programme, which teaches your kid to think to think critically on the spot and converse with conﬁdence, experience a mock DSA interview with digital video recording, and more.
What if Junior has many talents?
If your kid is a champion runner and skilled in art, you can apply for both talent areas in the DSA programme. He can choose up to three schools and three talent areas in his DSA-Sec application.
Here’s how it works:
Your kid applies to three schools with the same talent area.
Your kid applies to two schools with two talent areas.
Your kid applies to one school with two talent areas.
If your child only wishes to apply to one school, he can apply to two talent areas from that school and leave the third choice blank.