What the PSLE is REALLY about

It’s the aftermath of the PSLE season, and once again, amidst the relief, rejoicing, tears and disappointments, the tough Math paper is in the spotlight.

Reminds me of similar scenes over the past decade, where we were in the thick of things with 5 kids having gone through their PSLE.

Their classmates cried and complained about how it is so unfair, how their teachers or tutors did not teach them well enough. My kids, on the other hand, were unfazed. Not because they nailed it, but because they expected that in an exam paper. Questions they could do, and questions they couldn’t. Nothing unusual, nothing to cry about.

When results were released, it was all much ado about nothing as the T score was based on a bell curve. In fact, the tough papers favoured those at the top end. During the years where the papers were not that extreme, the next band of kids were also able to score well, and the differentiation becomes blunted.

However, what has changed over the past decade is not so much the fluctuations in the difficulty of the PSLE papers but how the actual questions easily surfaced on the internet and how the response of parents is amplified via social media.

It is not necessarily a bad thing, because this does help to open up dialogue; parents and experts can weigh in on the issues, which helps everyone to ponder and make sense of where we are, especially at this juncture of our education system where things can no longer remain status quo.

I can definitely see why some parents are upset at the unreasonably tough few questions.

Parents and children have invested a huge amount of time, effort and money to ace the exams and they expect to be duly rewarded.

One of my kids went to a top primary school. She was baffled how a friend consistently scored 100/100 for Math even right up till the prelims and assumed he was extremely smart. When they finally asked him, he replied, “I have Math tuition twice a week and my mum makes me do 5 hours of Math every single day. I’ve seen all the questions.”

Jaw drop.

I MADE my kids go to the playground every single day. Yes, even during their P6 year.

It wasn’t just him. There was a whole bunch of kids trailing close, scoring 90+ for Math at the P6 level.

It’s a chicken and egg situation.

Certainly, the standard of the PSLE wasn’t so tough in our time. Many of us adults aren’t able to solve today’s PSLE questions. What happened between then and now?

Tuition happened.

Today’s PSLE is essentially testing 2 things:

1. The child’s academic ability

2. The family’s resources and priorities

Parents who have spent exorbitant amounts such as paying $200 an hour for premium tutors are up in arms with the twist in the exam papers.

Because when the goal post shifts, you cry foul. Understandably.

But the BIGGER question is…

Is it STILL, in 2019, the right thing to have only a singular focus, which is to direct all our energies and resources into pushing our children towards getting perfect scores by rote learning and repetition?

Or do we need to rethink the purpose of education in today’s climate?

IT IS TIME that the GOAL POST HAS TO SHIFT.

I suppose MOE is trying to throw these highly tutored kids off a little, in an attempt to suss out kids who have flexibility of mind vis a vis a robot like regurgitation of concepts without the ability to apply to new situations.

MOE is taking baby steps towards gearing our curriculum and testing methods to be more aligned with what is needed in the 21st century, including skills like problem solving, creativity, adaptability and resilience.

But many parents are confounded, “Why set such killer exam papers to begin with? It is demoralising to our children. Shouldn’t we be testing what they have been taught?”

Let’s imagine a hypothetical situation where the PSLE were to test what they have been taught and there are no unexpected tough questions. If every student emerges with As, we wouldn’t be able to get a clear indication of the strength of each child.

But why is there a need to distinguish one child from another?

Truth is, we need to sort them to provide for them better.

The reality is this. If you take a snapshot of any primary school in Singapore on the day the PSLE results are released, it could have kids ranging anywhere from 150 to 280. Yes, even the top schools. That is a huge range, and on a practical level, a school wouldn’t have the bandwidth to cater adequately to every student.

We need to roughly sort each cohort of approximately 40,000 students without stigmatising them with labels. And allow fluidity in the system for a child to level up if he decides to put in the effort, to accommodate late bloomers and level the playing field.


We have a world-class education system, and the goal post has been stuck in a spot that has served us well until now.

We need to recognise that it will be a grave disservice to our children if we keep resisting change and refuse to shift the goal post simply because that was the only way we knew how to play the game.

THE GAME IS CHANGING, like it or not.

As we celebrate our bicentennial year, it is an apt reminder that while we have achieved so much, we cannot afford to take all that for granted and to stagnate. We need to step up to prepare our children for their future.

The world is changing rapidly around us. We do not have the luxury to rest on our past successes. We have come so far as a country because of the foresight and resilience of our founding fathers and a shared vision of a better future.

We are at the top of our game internationally, but our success didn’t happen overnight. Similarly, if we do not adapt to change, the slide will happen too quickly and we wouldn’t know what had hit us.

My 2 older girls are already in university. I have waited with bated breath (until my face turned blue) to witness the change in our education system to one that is more relevant and applicable as the global landscape continues to evolve at breakneck speed.

It has taken MOE almost a decade with behind the scenes work to get to the beginning of real change which we are starting to see.

Honestly, I am very excited to be a part of this new phase of education reforms (ok, more like gradual steps) and walk with Kate on her journey.

I can feel the tide shifting. A few years ago, when parents find out about my “tuition as the last resort” stand, they pat me on the back and say, “Wow, I wish I could be courageous like you and give them a carefree childhood but it’s quite impossible.”

Today, more parents are telling me that they believe in equipping their children with the right skills and the right attitude, and tuition can come much later.

The comical refrain I hear at my talks is, “If other parents are not going to give their kids tuition, I won’t either!” And everyone laughs.

We need to take a step back and look at the big picture.

Are we preparing our children only for the PSLE or for life?

In real life, you can prepare all you want for a pitch. But at the crucial presentation, you may be thrown a curveball. How do you handle it?

Panic? Focus on how unfair it is? Complain?

Or are you able to stay calm, keep trying and not give up?

As parents, we have a lot of control in how we are shaping our children’s outlook on life.

We can guide our children to reflect that if they have prepared well, have done the exam to the best of their ability, then both parent and child should be satisfied.

I know I’ll be overjoyed if every single one of my kids can do that for every single exam or task they attempt! Such a great attitude.

And whatever the results or failings, learn from it and move on.

We cannot afford to be myopic because by the time it is stark in our faces, the landscape would have shifted so radically that we are lagging behind on the world stage.

We have come so far. We have a good work ethic, rigour and discipline.

Where our children fall short at are skills like analytical thinking, critical thinking, problem solving, adaptability, communication, having the confidence to pitch their ideas, having initiative, an innovative and entrepreneur spirit, being able to learn independently, yet able to collaborate and work as a team and lead others.

I am glad MOE is casting its sights firmly on the horizon, and slowly but surely moving their ginormous ship in that direction.


It’s time for principals, teachers, parents and students to be aligned. We are all sailing that same ship.

The PSLE should be a check-point, to roughly allocate our children to the right secondary schools which suit their learning aptitude and interests.

In our zeal to push our children ahead of the game, have we unwittingly magnified and distorted the meaning and impact of the PSLE into something so unnecessarily frightening for our children?

It has turned into a monster of a high stakes exam. Let’s slay this monster, together.

The chill parents can’t do it alone. Neither can MOE (they say it’s one step forward, two steps back. No prizes for guessing who is pushing back!) Seriously, everyone needs to come on board.

If we don’t let up, something will. And woe to us if it’s the mental health of our children. At a national level, the anxiety, depression and suicide rates are something that should be a concern of every stakeholder involved.

Are we raising a strawberry generation or do we want to raise a generation of resilient children who are able to define and chart their own successes?

Let us not miss the forest for the trees.


About MummyWee

Michelle is an Occupational Therapist by day and mum of 6 by night. Besides the already very demanding job of managing 5 teenagers and one 6-turning-16 tween, she is also Founder of The Little Executive, a nurturing centre to develop children in their 4Qs to survive today’s volatile world. She also makes time to volunteer with children and the elderly in her community.

PSLE results: Good or bad, what do you say?
Why we went on holiday just before the PSLE
Why a co-ed school was the wrong choice for my son

School Stories:

#1 – When your son gets into fights in school
#2 – My son the loan shark
#3 – So kids can’t play once they start school?

#11 – How #2 topped her level in English
#12 – DSA. Yet another initiative parents have warped
#13 – Tuition – First line of attack?
#14 – Why do exams have to be so stressful?
#15 – First day mix up!
#16 – The day I forgot to pick my son from school
#17 – No more T-score. Now what?
#18 – Tackling the new school year
#19 – She did it, without tuition.
#20 – So who’s smarter?
#21 – Why I do not coach my kids anymore.

“Mum, just get me exempted from Chinese.”

#5 started failing Chinese in Primary 4 and he had absolutely no interest in the subject.

On hindsight, his weak foundation started in preschool. I had placed him in a Montessori in our neighbourhood. It was run by an Indian national and as most of his classmates were expat children the Chinese teachers spoke English to them. We did not suspect that he was not picking up much Chinese as he was able to read the readers he took home. They had complex words like “mangosteen”, “durian”, “grapes”, “monkey”, “elephant” etc and we were impressed! I have since realised that it was because he saw those complicated words with many strokes as a picture and memorised them as an image.

When #5 entered P1, his classmates were rattling off Mandarin verses while everything seemed new to him. His Chinese started off in the 80-90 range but as his foundation was not strong his grades begun to slide year after year as the syllabus became tougher.

I tried hiring a private tutor but none worked out. He has a short attention span and is difficult to teach. Moreover, the native Chinese teachers were strict and did not spend time building rapport with him.

I did not panic yet as my older girls managed to score As despite not having much external tuition and assumed that he would eventually buck up. What I did was to hire a tutor to read to them stories in Mandarin for an hour a week since their grandparents did not speak the language.

After his P4 year-end exams, I had a talk with him and asked him what should we do about it. I was intending to work out a study schedule with him and was taken aback by his response. “Mum, just apply to let me drop Chinese.”

I pretended not to know what he was referring to, and he elaborated. “Some of my friends are exempted yet their Chinese is even better than mine! I’m sure I can get exempted too.” I was shocked that he had this mentality as we have never spoken about the topic of exemption before.

I explained that his classmates must have some sort of learning disability, hence the exemption.

“No, they are normal. Why don’t you ask their mums how they did it?”

When I checked with friends and kids from various different schools, it surprised me how an elite school like theirs seem to have a disproportionately high percentage of exemptions. Many parents knew about this “loophole” and had lots of advice for me. No certainty of getting an A/A* for Chinese? Better to drop one laggard and protect their overall aggregate, which also leaves more time to concentrate on the other 3 subjects. If you can afford it, why not give it a try? Brilliant strategy, until it seemed like MOE started moderating the number of exemptions they granted.

It was a tempting backdoor, but I didn’t want to send the wrong message to my kids. If you are not good at something, instead of pressing on and trying your best, let’s find a way to wriggle out of it. And I was afraid that after going through all those sessions of testing, what might he think? Maybe there really is something wrong with me.

I have to admit that I did consider that option for #5. I spoke to the hubs and in his characteristic straight way told me, “What are you thinking? He is a bright boy and there is nothing wrong with him. Are you letting him take the easy way out? Find him a good tutor. All he needs is to put in much more effort. I’ll give him a good pep talk.”

I’m glad he had swiftly put a stop to it, and ended my dilemma of taking the big step to get him tested.

That was in P4 and I did not think about it again until now.

Looking at his devastating P5 results, the reality sunk in, and my fears were heightened. What if there really is cause for concern and my child had a genuine difficulty in picking up Chinese? It would be unfair to him to let this slide.

I finally made the decision to send him for an assessment.

On the way there, it suddenly occurred to me that this cheeky boy might intentionally get it wrong because he badly wanted to be exempted from Chinese.

I told him, “Make sure you do your best. Don’t think that by getting it all wrong will you get an exemption.”

He thought for awhile then said, “How will she know?”

I told him that it is not easy to get an exemption and it has to be shown that he is capable of learning the other subjects but not Chinese.”

Sometime after that session, I went for the consultation and the psychologist told me that there might be grounds for exemption and a few more rounds of testing were needed to further assess and substantiate his learning disabilities. He would also need to be referred to a practitioner in another field for further assessment.

However, what was puzzling was that his results had a great disparity in a few components which tested the same aspects.

Strange as it sounded, I was glad to know that he may have some issues and could be exempted!

When I told him that the results were out, he beamed, “So how? I got exempted right? I purposely did one whole page of questions wrongly! And when she was testing the numbers, I jumbled them up.” He was jumping around excitedly.

I stared at him. Goodness. That explained the huge variances in his scores!

He had figured out which bits to do right and which bits to do wrong in relation to learning Chinese.

I was mad.

Then I calmed down and thought about it. In his juvenile mind, that was his goal.

For a few moments, I was conflicted. Should I let him go ahead with the next rounds of testing, knowing that he would likely foul it up, and perhaps have a chance at exemption? I can’t believe how desperate I was to “help” him.

But I would be reinforcing that he can try to think up ways to outsmart the system instead of putting in effort to work on his challenges.

The answer was clear.

I told him: You know what? The results show that there is absolutely nothing wrong with your brain nor your learning ability. In fact, you are a bright boy and you will have no problems learning Chinese if you put your mind to it. I will take you to your Aunt every weekend for tuition and she will help you improve.

Strangely, he accepted the conclusion, as though he had given it his best shot but now that avenue was shut.

I explained to the psychologist what #5 had admitted, and we decided it was best to end the testing there.

Even though he is starting from ground zero at P6, this will be a hard lesson he will have to learn.

He will have to find it in him to fight this battle, tough as it may be. And I will not succumb to letting him take the easy way out, but to stick with it.

The good news is that his Chinese teacher has given me feedback that his attitude has improved tremendously this year and he is putting in a lot of effort.

She sent me a message on Class Dojo:

“He has put in a lot of effort this week and was able to pronounce the words when I went through revision. Everyone was truly happy for him and I took the opportunity to praise him. He is starting to show interest and I think that is a very important step. As long as he continues this good attitude towards learning, I believe he will improve.”

I am so thankful for his teacher and her willingness to walk the extra mile with him to encourage him. It feels like we’re all in this together!

We have set a realistic goal of achieving a Pass for his PSLE.

I know I made the right decision.

PSLE Diaries
No more T-score. Now what?
PSLE results: Good or Bad, what do you say?
My 5th PSLE child – My son

~ www.mummyweeblog.com –  A blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

No appealing if you miss PSLE cut-off point

During the December holidays, MOE passed a new ruling that secondary schools are not to take in transfer students with PSLE aggregate scores lower than their official cut-off point.

So what exactly does that mean?

Basically, students who did not make it into a school via the Secondary 1 posting exercise need not bother to appeal.

Even those who miss by 1 or 2 points, just too bad. The sorting process is going to be more cut-and-dried.

Photo source: The Straits Times online

As one principal shared with me, this was the best Christmas present ever.

It takes the onus off principals to have to make the very tough decision of letting one student in over another based on arbitrary criteria.

Although it seems like a move backwards towards unrelenting meritocracy, I can see the rationale behind this. Transparency, objectivity, stopping the unnecessary hopping, minimising principals having to justify to pushy parents why another student was offered the place instead of their child.

I remember during #1’s time, she missed by 2 points to get into the school of her 1st choice.

During the decision making process, she had studied the book, looked at the various cut-off points, weighed the pros and cons (distance/friends/CCAs/perceived image of the school) and convinced herself that it was the best choice.

Lo and behold, the cut-off point increased by 2 points and she did not make it in.

Experienced friends told me, “Don’t worry, go and appeal. Got chance.”

I made a trip down early in the morning and easily spotted the “Appeal Box” placed on a table at the entrance of the school, and it was already filled to the brim!

Feeling extremely daunted, I went ahead and asked for the appeal form as my daughter really wished to enter that school. We had to answer questions on her achievements and awards, and not surprisingly, we did not get a call.

#1 was admitted into the school of her 2nd choice. I felt it was an excellent school, but she always had the “what if” thought at the back of her mind.

With #2, her aggregate was lower than #1’s even though she had better overall grades.

This time, I was wiser.

The image of the burgeoning appeal box stuck in my mind. As my kids have hardly any awards, I decided to play it safe.

For her 1st choice, we shortlisted a few schools and finally chose a school with a cut-off point a few points below her aggregate.

She got in comfortably even though the cut-off point had increased.

With #3, I was very keen on her following in #2’s footsteps as I was impressed by the way her principal helmed the school. Full of heart and very student-centric. It was obvious that they put values above academic paper chase.

Even though her aggregate was barely scrapping the bottom, we decided to try our luck as the siblings were looking forward to being in the same secondary school.

Guess what? The cut-off point rose again and she missed it by 2 points.

This time, I was very disappointed. The hubs said, “Go and appeal. She missed by just 2 points. Say her sister is there too. Valid reason. And next time if they need, let’s go and help out.”

I stared at him. He thinks we are still living in the old days, kampung spirit and all.

The girls were devastated and I told them we would try to appeal.


When I submitted the form, I was told that it could take anywhere up to the 3rd week of school to get a response while the musical chairs went on.


As the days drew nearer to the start of the year, #3 said that if she does not get a place before school starts, she does not want to transfer anymore. She would be happy to stay put, make new friends and start fresh with everyone else.

I could also tell that the uncertainty was unsettling. To write her names on the books or not. To alter the uniforms to the right length or not. To familiarise herself with the bus route and neighbourhood of which school?

Based on her sporting abilities, she was called in for the try-outs a few days before school started and got accepted immediately via the DSA vacancy with the understanding that she would participate in their niche sport and would not be allowed to transfer to another school for the duration of the 4 years.

As fate would have it, she sustained an eye injury in her first friendly match and is now unfit to continue in her CCA. The twist and turns of life can be stranger than fiction!

So, what now, for #4?

With this new directive, I would have to be more careful in selecting the school of her 1st choice after the PSLE results are out. It would be prudent to give a 2-3 point buffer from the previous year’s cut-off point just in case it increases due to demand.

Well, that’s just me, being the ultra chill mum that I am.

However, I can already hear the buzz going on.

Last year’s batch of parents were literally caught off-guard. They will be sharing their war stories with the next batch of parents and we can expect the latter to take it up one notch.

Now that there is no more room for showcasing their childrens’ CCA credentials via appeals nor any arm twisting, what are they to do?

Probably put more pressure on their kids academically as the PSLE aggregate becomes more critical because even 1 point makes a difference whether the child can make it into their school of choice.

The DSA route would also be more fervently pursued since the appeal option has now been choked off.

For the sake of the children I hope that the DSA initiative would be scrapped soon as the impact has become contrary to what was intended, and that our new education minister would push through more details with regards to replacing the PSLE aggregate with grades, as promised by our PM 3 years ago.

I was tempted to do my homework and start asking the parents I see around my neighbourhood to recommend some good schools with values which align with mine, with a more modest cut-off point just in case.

But as I thought about it, I can see that with her abilities, #4 should be able to make it into #3’s school if she goes in with a fighting spirit and gives it her all this year.

I have confidence that she will rise to the occasion. Sometimes, our believe in them is the little extra that they need.

To fellow mums with P6s, we are all in this together! It is going to be a year of challenges, excitement, and joy of watching them set targets and strive to achieve them. Jia you!

Based on past experiences with my older 3 kids, here are 6 things I will do for #4 in her PSLE year.

Here are 6 tips to choose a secondary school that is right for your child.

More related posts on school & such.

~ www.mummyweeblog.com -a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~



School Stories #14: Why do exams have to be so stressful?

The exam period has just ended, and as usual, children and parents were highly stressed.

I don’t get it.

Before I go on, let’s draw the perimeters. I’m referring to lower primary school kids. I understand the need for full revision for a high stakes exam like the Primary 6 PSLE. But what about the lower years?

To me, an examination is but an arbitrary guide to see if our children have learned what they are supposed to have picked up throughout the year, and to flag serious concerns, if present.

I like how in some other education systems, testing is done informally, where the children do not even know when it is just daily worksheets and when they are being tested.

My kids don’t get tuition in the lower primary years, and I resist giving them extra ‘mummy’s homework’. Thus, there’s no chance of squeezing in more sessions with the tutor nor piling on the home revision even when it’s nearing the exams.

During the exam period, they come home and play as per normal, and er, do things like making nests with twigs found at the playground.

#5 fashioned his own nest

They are inundated with past year exam papers in school and they deserve a break to relax and unwind. I don’t believe in forcing them to memorise chunks of information, only to regurgitate them and promptly forget after the exams are over. Not at this age.

In fact, I was flabbergasted when I asked a GEP (gifted education program) student, who was in my house, some P6 Science questions which #3 was stuck with and she could not answer any of them! (and this was barely a few months after she had passed the PSLE with flying colours) When I probed further, she replied rather sheepishly, “I’ve forgotten everything. We just cram to take the exams.”

This, we call education?

I get bombarded by questions on my laissez faire attitude towards their exam scores.

What if they end up in a lousy class?

All the better!

They will be with peers who are of a similar standard, and the pace will be more suitable.

Last year, #5 was in a mixed ability class because there is no streaming after P1. He got Band 2 for his Math. This year, he was streamed into one of the lower ability classes and he scored 46/50 for CA2!

Building a lil’ nest for Kate to play with

The other objection I hear all the time from my well-meaning friends is,

You have to push them, for them to do well.

Intrinsic motivation works way better, and it is a life skill for them to cultivate.

The kids had 4 extra days off from school the week before the exams. #4, who is in Primary 5, requested for some Math assessment books.

#4: Mum, can I buy a Math assessment book? I need to practice more before the exam.

Me: Are you sure you will do it? It’s only 1 week before your exams, seems like a waste. But I will buy if you will do it.

When we reached Popular bookstore, they were closed for stock take. I’ve never seen a child so disappointed in not being able to buy an assessment book before!

So. I decided to take her to the vendors who sold past year exam papers from various schools. They sold them in bundles of about 10 exam papers, costing $18.

Me: $18. Hmm. There are 11 papers in there. How many do you think you can complete?

#4: I have 8 days before my Math paper. I will do 1 each day. Ok?

Of course I bought it for her.

I was pleased as punched that she had finally taken responsibility for her own learning and wanted to do well. Whatever grade she gets in the end will be immaterial. The battle has already been won.

School Stories:

#1 – When your son gets into fights in school
#2 – My son the loan shark
#3 – So kids can’t play once they start school?

#11 – How #2 topped her level in English
#12 – DSA. Yet another initiative parents have warped
#13 – Tuition – First line of attack?

~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

School Stories #7: Who has an obsession with TUITION?

I love our current Education minister. His new road map is truly visionary. He says that:

“Parents would have to give up their obsession with grades; employers would have to hire based on skills, not degrees; and teachers should strive for an all-round development of their students.”

And how does he propose we do that?

“One is to go beyond learning for grades to learning for mastery of skills.”

“Second, develop a lifelong learning habit among Singaporeans so that they are equipped for changing economic realities.”

“The third is to move from learning for work to learning for life, so that a student develops interests beyond work and a commitment to serve society.”

I am excited to see what his ministry is going to roll out to make these a reality. He is indeed courageous to take on this path which “no other country has travelled”. I am firmly behind you, Mr Heng!!

One area they are looking to tackle is THE TUITION PROBLEM. Mr Png Eng Huat (MP for Hougang) asked for a survey to get to the bottom of Singaporeans’ obsession with tuition, joining at least three other MPs in warning about over-reliance on tuition.

Obsession with tuition?

Why does it sound like we parents have nothing else better to do with our money?

Besides a small percentage of ‘tiger mum’ parents who are giving their kids tuition even though they are already scoring all As and A*s, for most of us, it is borne out of necessity.

Here’s how my kids ended up having tuition.


For my eldest, I did not know much about the whole primary school scene when she entered Primary 1. The hubs and I chose the closest primary school to our home and left her in the good hands of the school (or so we thought). I did not give her tuition from P1 to P5 as I expected her teachers to prepare her sufficiently for the exams. The only tuition she tried out was 6 months at Berries, a group tuition centre for Chinese, when she was in P4. As I did not see any improvement in her grades, I withdrew her.

I had a shock of my life when she failed her Math and Science at the end of P5. How was she ready for PSLE?

I scrambled to ask around for recommendations and realised that everyone we knew gave their kids tuition. We had no choice but to pay through our noses for private tuition to help her plug the gaps.

In a mere 8 months, she managed to soar from failing grades to score 4 As with an aggregate of 240 for her PSLE.

For #2, she has always been a very consistent student probably because she’s a very obedient child. From the time she was in P1, I told her that she had to pay attention to her teachers and listen in class. And that was what she did. This traditional method of teaching also suits her learning style so she had no problems with school work.


Since she was not failing any subjects I held out giving her any tuition. It was only after her P6 mid-year exams where she scored mostly Bs that I decided she needed some extra help to tackle the papers. I gave her tuition for all subjects but on hindsight, 4 months was too short for her to get used to her tutors’ style of teaching to really have an impact on her grades. In the end, she scored 230, which I felt was below her potential.


For #3, she is a visual learner and a hands-on approach suits her better. It was no surprise that she always did badly academically even though it is obvious to all of us that she is extremely bright.

I made the decision to start her on English and Chinese tuition from P5 because she was very weak in both subjects. Thank goodness I found tutors who were creative and managed to make the lessons fun and engaging. I added on Math and Science tuition for her in P6 because she barely managed to pass the exams.

As they were all one-to-one lessons, she picked up very quickly because the tutors could accommodate to her learning style. In the end, she enjoyed her lessons very much and managed to score 229. With such an aggregate, she is now in a school which suits her very well and she loves school. They use different modalities to learn, such as group discussions, project work and lively debates in class. If I had not given her tuition at all, she would likely have ended up in normal academic or normal technical which is a wrong fit for her.

What do these examples show?


That if we leave our kids to the education system, it may not be able to do justice to their capabilities.

Now that I am more aware of the limitations of our education system, I am keeping a finger on the pulse to monitor their progress. And if they are not learning what they are supposed to be learning, I have to supplement it with tuition.

The tuition industry has ballooned into a billion dollar industry, perhaps it’s time to acknowledge what it does right.

Most tuition centres have class sizes with a maximum of 12 to 15 students. 40 in a class is just too big a class for effective learning. If only we could shrink our classes to 25 or 30 students.

Tutors are paid to teach. Not to run events, chaperon kids to competitions, deal with parents’ complains or attend endless meetings. Perhaps a teacher’s main job should be to teach as well.


Such a radical road map is what Singapore needs at this crossroads. I just hope that it will be rolled out with urgency. If a new minister gets rotated for this portfolio, who knows what vision he might hold?

I certainly hope things will be shaken up. Currently I have no choice but to give my kids tuition in their P6 (or perhaps even P5) year. And it looks like they might also need tuition in certain subjects in the Sec 4 year, such as in ‘A’ Maths, Chemistry, Physics or Chinese.

Let us all – parents, teachers and employers rally together and embrace this new vision to move the next generation towards a more meaningful education to face the future.

I can’t wait to save money by eliminating the need for tuition.

School Stories:

#1 – When your son gets into fights in school
#2 – My son the loan shark
#3 – So kids can’t play once they start school?



Related posts:

6 tips to Really prepare your child for P1

6 things to do in the PSLE year

~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

PSLE score – what’s it to you?

This year was the first time I went to school to collect the PSLE results. #3 asked me to go because both of her best friends’ mums were going. Needless to say, the anticipation in the school hall was killing everyone. I don’t know who was more anxious, the students or the parents.

Ok, I’m sure all of you want to know what #3 got, since I did put #1 and #2’s score up on my blog previously. Some people are secretive about it, but to me, it doesn’t say very much. So here it is. She got 4 ‘A’s with an aggregate of 229. We are all very proud of her because even until P4, she was hyperactive and found it hard to sit for more than 15 minutes. She had always been in one of the last classes and was still failing some subjects at the beginning of P6. The fact that she took the exams very seriously, was motivated to do well and gave of her best efforts was already cause for celebration. She was jumping for joy and exclaiming “I got an A for Chinese!”

On the other hand, her best friend scored 246 and cried.

The whole day, my phone beeped non-stop with people asking me her results. I understand how anxious her tutors were to know if their hard work had paid off, and I understand the concern of family. But there were many other people who just wanted to know her score.

What is it about people wanting to know other people’s kids’ scores? So that they would feel better about themselves if their kid scored higher? Or that they could put a number to a child’s intelligence? Or make all sorts of judgements about the child and his family?

Poor kids. I really feel sorry for them when adults asked them their grades and they have to face their reactions, and worse, sometimes face expressions with a split second of “oh gosh, that’s bad” before the adults regain their composure and said something positive. And strangely the adults seemed only interested in knowing the aggregate without asking them if they felt they had done their best, if they had shown an improvement, or anything else about the child as a person.

So before you ask a child his or her PSLE score, please ask yourself why do you want to know it, and what is the message you would want to tell the child after you hear it. Because kids are shaped in part by society, and your reaction to the child might stay in his or her mind for a long time. Please spare a thought for these children who are grappling with what these 3 numbers mean. 

Related posts:

Why we went on vacation just before the PSLE

Countdown: 3 months to the PSLE

6 things to do in the PSLE year

School Stories:

#1 – When your son gets into fights in school
#2 – My son the loan shark
#3 – So kids can’t play once they start school?

~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

School Stories #4: Things teachers say

I wrote a post last week about #5 getting complained by his teacher almost daily, and her suggestion that I should limit his play time and start him on tuition since he is already in P2. I didn’t expect all the negative comments I received on my Facebook page regarding the teacher.

Before you think she is some mean monster, I have to say this in her defense. In the 2 years that she has been teaching #5, she has never treated him maliciously and I believe she said all those things in his best interest (even though her views may be wrong). The reality is that the majority of his classmates do have tuition (I guess it’s because he’s in one of the top schools and the parents are generally wealthy AND ultra kiasu) thus the teacher was quick to suggest engaging a tutor.

Photo Credit: Sheknows/JGI/JamieGrill

If you think her comments were shocking, my other kids have come back with worse things their teachers have said to the class:

“There is no way I will ever like anyone of you.”

“You are all not of normal stupidity. Your stupidity is extreme.” 

(translated from Mandarin)

“I don’t care what you all do, I will get my salary anyway.”

And things some of their teachers did…

One teacher made the whole class sit on their textbooks on the floor, and if you refuse to do so, she will fling your textbook out the door and chase you out along with it.

And finally, this one takes the cake.

#3 was in P1, and she was day-dreaming during Chinese lesson. The teacher must have told her to pay attention, but she did not hear (she was day-dreaming, remember?) The teacher stormed over, and with herculean strength, she flipped the entire desk over and it crashed to the floor with a loud thud that shocked the entire class. (I reported it to the form teacher and she told me that this was not the first case and the teacher was being counselled).

Sometimes I really wonder what do teachers expect from these P1s. Just 2 months prior, they were still little kids in kindergarten. Almost overnight, they are expected to morph into mature, sensible, silent little robots who will obediently pay attention during 6 hours of school. Poor kids. Especially the active boys.

I must admit that the first time I heard about such unexemplary actions from the teachers, I wanted to storm straight into the principal’s office to sort it out.  Thankfully I’m not a hot-headed person. However, after having 5 of my kids go through this stressful, competitive rat-chase-rat education system, and after speaking to so many teachers, I can see that it is not easy being a teacher.

So why am I writing this post?

For the parents, so that when your darling child comes home and tells you what bad things her teacher said or did in class, you won’t jump out of your chair and head straight to the principal’s office. Take a deep breath, try to get the whole story from your child, and imagine yourself in the same situation.

Now that I have desensitised you, you can gently and gradually prepare your child that sometimes the teacher might say mean things out of frustration, but tell her not to take it personally. Kids do look up to their teachers, and they might hold what their teachers say in their hearts for years (both the positive and negative things). It might be good to let your children know that if there is anything bothering them which the teacher had said, they can discuss it with you.

And to all the dear teachers out there, most times, I can totally understand why you say what you say or do what you do (except the flipping of the table). Already with 6 kids I yell at them things which I regret later. Don’t ask me what I will do with 40. However, may I humbly remind you that your words are powerful, and they can either be uplifting or demoralising to the children.

Having said that, I am still utterly grateful to all the teachers who have taught my kids over the years (especially those who have touched them in one way or another), and to all teachers out there. Because being a teacher these days is no walk in the park. For you to do what you do year in, year out, I salute you.


School Stories:

#1 – When your son gets into fights in school
#2 – My son the loan shark
#3 – So kids can’t play once they start school?

~ www.mummyweeblog.com –  a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~




6 tips to choose a primary school

My 5 older kids are between Primary 2 and Secondary 4, so looking back, here are some pointers that you might want to consider in choosing a primary school that is right for your child and your family.

1) Distance

For me, this is by far the most important criteria.

For the Child:

If she is on the school bus, the further away the school, the earlier the pick up time. Schools which are very near or quite near the home have a pick up time of around 6am. Schools that are much further away might even have a 5.30 pick up time. My 3 older kids were lucky as their entire school bus was filled with kids from our same condo, so their pick up time was 6.45. Do check with neighbours or friends with kids in the school, or you can get the bus company’s number off the school’s website to get an indicative timing. Such early hours are really tough on the children, as they might end up not getting adequate sleep at night and can’t concentrate well during class. A lack of sleep also affects their immunity which makes them more prone to picking up viruses going around. 

#4’s bus picks her up at 6am and she arrives in school around 6.30. That is a whole 45 minutes sitting in the hall waiting for assembly to start (some arrive even earlier). Compare that with being able to wake up at 7am, have a quick breakfast and walk to school just in time for assembly. It has also been found that walking to school increases the child’s focus for a few hours thereafter, so that’s another plus. I know of 1 or 2 schools where the principals push the timing back to a more decent hour of around 8am. That allows the working parents a bit more time to spend with the kids at night and before school. If you live far away, the journey back home would also be longer and not only will it be a waste of time, but the child might be very hungry.

In the P5/P6 years, they may be starting to take public transport. This would help them to learn some independence, free up the parents from their chauffeuring duties, or to save some money as school bus fares increase every few years. For me, I needed to get them independent because I wouldn’t be able to juggle ferrying so many kids at the same time. The older ones were able to take the public bus home from the time they were in P5, after their CCAs or supplementary classes (which are compulsory)*. I was comfortable with that because our house was just 3 bus stops away and they did not have to cross any roads.

* Most schools do have a school bus service at 4pm for the kids who are staying back, but that monthly fee is paid on top of the normal to and fro journey, and it costs more than the daily trip.

For the Parent:

If you are ferrying your child, the further the school, the longer the time it will take you, especially during the morning peak hour traffic after dropping your child. Don’t forget that you have to do this everyday for the next 6 years. A friend was just asking me how I managed their daily schedules. With 2 kids, she is already finding it very difficult to juggle their pick up times and sending them to tuition after school. By 5pm, she’s usually very highly strung due to rushing here and rushing there getting everyone on time. For me, I eliminate a lot of the stress by keeping school and any other activity as close to home as possible to cut travelling time. It’s also easy for them to get home themselves if need be.

Project work in upper primary:

In some schools, they require the students to do group work occasionally in the upper levels. If no one stays near the school, they usually end up staying in school to do it together. If your child is on the school bus, and you are working, you will need to arrange for her to go back on her own. For us, as we live near their schools, I encourage them to invite their group of friends back so that they would have a safe place to do their work and so that I can get to know who they are mixing with. If you live far away from school, all these logistic issues get that little bit more tricky, especially if you have more than 1 child, so just something to keep in mind.

Another plus point:

We used to live in a condo very near the school and there were many kids going to the same school. When they were sick, their bus-mates or classmates living in the same condo would come and drop off their homework. They would do the same for their friends. Once, when one of their classmate had her leg in a cast, they baked a batch of cookies for her and visited her. There’s also a sense of camaraderie in the playground as they are all from the same school. It’s like the old days when the kids played together and went to the same village school, and everyone looks out for one another.

2) CCAs

CCAs will play a big part in your child’s life in primary school for several reasons. Not only does it encourage friendship and inculcate a lot of other character values not learnt through lesson time, it also allows an opportunity for your child to participate in activities that would not be found via outside enrichment courses such as scouting, being part of a marching band, or learning to be an entrepreneur to name a few. And of course, it is more convenient as you don’t have the hassle of taking them to an external vendor for the classes. Another very important point is that in secondary school, for most schools, you have to choose 1 CCA and stick to it for 4 years. So it is during the primary school years where the child should try out different CCAs to see where their interests or talents lie. Or having tried out a particular CCA, to know that they really do not enjoy it so they won’t choose it in secondary school.

Some schools have very limited CCAs, as they would rather concentrate on those few areas where they are strong in (so that they can win more medals). Some schools have CCAs which are only open to students at the competitive level, so only those who pass the try outs will be allowed in. Some other schools only encourage students to join CCAs at the P4 level, unless you have prior experience in a particular sport. On the other hand, some schools encourage the children to participate in CCAs from P1, and even allow them to take as many CCAs as they can handle. So try to find out what sort of CCAs the school offers, and the CCA policy of the school and see if it fits your needs.

3) Elite school vs heartland school

The great debate. Firstly, all ‘elite’ schools are not equal. Secondly, what actually defines an ‘elite’ school? And thirdly, should all schools in the top 10 list be automatically classified as elite? After having my kids in ‘elite’ schools, missionary schools, and heartland schools, I think we should look past these labels and get to the heart of the matter. Instead of viewing them as elite vs heartland schools, if you really want to do your homework, regardless of what sort of school it is and what reputation it had in the past, you should find out if the school has these attributes which should be the hallmark of a good school.

  • A wide range of programs for the students (learning journeys, overseas trips, post PSLE activities etc.) Just a note on overseas trips, it doesn’t necessarily mean the further the destination, the better.
  • A wide variety of CCAs to choose from, and decent coaches.
  • Adequate resources
  • Good teachers who are not over-burdened with other non-teaching responsibilities
  • Special programs which aid in learning (many heartland schools these days have very innovative programs)
  • Niche CCAs or programs which their school is recognised for. But do find out if the niche activities are only for an elite few or for the entire cohort to participate. For example, some schools have a proper rock climbing wall, but is it only for those in the school team, or for the entire student population to enjoy?

Something to bear in mind if you do want to consider putting your child in an ‘elite’ school. Would you rather your child be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond? It’s the reality in most schools whereby they allocate the best teachers to the top few classes in a bid to boost their top scorers. Also, we have heard of many stories whereby students fared averagely in an ‘elite’ primary school, but when they went to a heartland secondary school, they were placed in the top class and shined. 

Another very important point is that contrary to popular belief, teachers in heartland schools put in much more effort in teaching the students. They are aware that most of their students may not have tuition, and are very willing to give them extra help. In contrast, most kids in ‘elite’ schools have already learnt a lot of the material from their tutors, so much so that there is an incredulous refrain amongst parents of such schools that “the kids go to school more to be tested than to be taught”. The classic chicken and egg situation.

4) The Principal

Who the principal is sets the tone of the school. If the principal has the welfare of the teachers and the students at heart, I’ll say that is a great school to put your child in. Because where her priorities lie will filter down to every aspect of the school system. Is she concerned only about achieving academic success? Or is she passionate about making the school a vibrant environment for holistic learning? Is she very focused on chasing awards? Or is she keen on developing every child.

The MOE has done yet another round of rotating the principals. Hopefully, that has eased the pressure off entry into some very popular schools. And it is great that new life and expertise can be injected into heartland schools. So don’t harp too much on what the school has done or achieved in the past, but have an open mind on what the school is currently doing, especially if it has a new principal to helm the school. 

5) If you have a mix of girls and boys, consider choosing a mixed school

By watching my kids, I realised that there’s a strong sense of bonding by going to the same school. Wearing the same school uniform, taking the same school bus, talking about the same teachers. During the holidays, they get the same charity drive cards, which is so much more fun and less intimidating to do together, and they even get the same homework. For example, on the first day of school, both #4 and #5 received the same worksheet whereby they had to draw and write some things about themselves. I have never seen #5 so eager to do homework before! They shared ideas, and the older one was proud to teach the younger one a better way of colouring and decorating the page. During our daily dinners, they also have so much to talk about that went on in school that day as they will be sharing with each other some exciting tidbit about their friends or teachers. It also makes everything easier for the younger sibling to adapt to. #1 used to take #2 home with her on the public bus after their CCAs when she was in P5 and the younger one was in P3. Then it was #2’s turn to teach #3 to take the public bus home.

6) Opportunity for play?

This point may be seen as trivia to some parents, and will probably not be one of the main criteria in choosing a school, but it could be a tie-breaker. The transition from kindergarten to primary 1 is significant, not only the extra hours spent at school, but work becomes more ‘serious’. When I asked a lot of children in P1 from various schools if they liked school, I noticed something very telling. The kids who were happier tell me that they have fun with their friends during recess and before assembly in the mornings. The kids who tell me they dislike school or that school is boring usually come from schools whereby once they arrive in school, instead of going to the classrooms where they can mingle while waiting for the assembly bell to ring, they have to head straight to the hall for silent reading. And during recess, some schools have very restrictive rules, such as no playing in the field, no playing at the exercise equipment (in case accidents happen), and no staying upstairs in the classrooms. However in some schools, the kids are running around happily in the field, on the basketball court or even in the playground. Yes, some primary schools do have proper playgrounds for the kids to enjoy!

Another benefit of active play during recess is that the number of kids with ADHD or problems with focusing is rising. I think this can partly be attributed to the increased usage of gadgets coupled with a high intake of colouring and preservatives in our food. One way to alleviate it is to allow the kids to move and expand their energy during recess so that they can focus better. 

Besides, after going to school for 6 years, I don’t just expect my child to emerge with a certificate. I expect her to have formed many good friendships and memories which will perhaps last her through her lifetime. Don’t we remember the good ol’ days of playing zero point during recess? I think it was the highlight of our school day!

At the end of the day, whichever school your child gets into, the best thing you can do for your child is to partner the school. I made this mistake with my older kids. The hubs and I decided to put our kids in the nearest school to our house, which happened to be a SAP school. However, over the years, there were so many problems with the school. A lack of communication, no standardisation with the delivery of syllabus, and even getting untrained teachers for the whole year, just to name a few. I kept mentioning how disappointed I was with the school in front of the kids. I realised that I shouldn’t have done that. I should either try to find a solution for things which I could, and for those that I could not, I should just live with it as it doesn’t help the kids for me to mention all the negative things about the school.

If you are trying to get into a school which you feel is ‘better’, perhaps you should keep the plans to the adults. Because if the child gets the idea that you are trying to get into the ‘better’ school, but in the end failed and she has to go to the ‘2nd choice’ school, who knows what the child might make of that? We all want them to start on a positive note, so you might want to keep the child in the dark, and when the results are out, then you tell the child which school she is going to and point out the pros of the school.

Sane tip: It doesn’t matter what type of school it is. Look at each school as it is, without any biases, take a piece of paper, draw up the pros and cons of the 2 or 3 schools you have narrowed down, then make an informed and wise decision based on facts. There’s a strange phenomenon in #3’s school. Year after year, there is fierce balloting for places. People are fighting to get into her school as it has a good reputation for grades. Yet, after the kids enter the school, the parents have many dissatisfactions with the school and then they ask “What is so good about this school?” So don’t just follow the crowd based on popular demand, but make an informed decision.

Save tip: Besides the obvious savings of cheaper school bus fares if you live nearer the school, or even free, if it is within walking distance, I also realised another thing. For the humbler heartland schools, your child will ask you for money less frequently. If you are in a school where there are more affluent families, your child will ask you for money for all sorts of things. It could be donations, expensive CCAs like sailing or golf, or subscription for magazines delivered via the school. Of course you are not obligated to join or buy any of it, but if everyone else is buying the magazines or if your child’s best friend is participating in it, your child might keep insisting on it. So find a school which fits your requirements.

#4 is in an ‘elite’ school, and she tells me that she’s the only one in class without a phone and most of her classmates have the latest iPhone 5. I told her that’s great, she has so many friends to borrow a phone from in case she’s ever in an emergency and needs to call me. And of course, before the year end school holidays, they will invariably chat about their holiday destinations. It’s common to hear of Club med ski holidays, or even trips to the States or Europe. So just bear in mind that will be the peer environment your child will be exposed to.

I hope the above tips were useful, and for parents with kids already in the school system, if you have any other suggestions which might be helpful to other parents, do share with us via the comments!


To read a mummy’s account of her son’s first week in Primary One, click here.

For 6 tips to choose a secondary school that is right for your child, click here.

For how I prepare my kids in their PSLE year, click here.

#1 – When your son gets into fights in school
#2 – My son the loan shark
#3 – So kids can’t play once they start school?

#11 – How #2 topped her level in English
#12 – DSA. Yet another initiative parents have warped
#13 – Tuition – First line of attack?
#14 – Why do exams have to be so stressful?
#15 – First day mix up!
#16 – The day I forgot to pick my son from school
#17 – No more T-score. Now what?
#18 – Tackling the new school year
#19 – She did it, without tuition.
#20 – So who’s smarter?
#21 – Why I do not coach my kids anymore.

 

About MummyWee

Michelle Choy is an Occupational Therapist by day and mum of 6 by night. Besides the already very demanding job of managing 5 teenagers and one 7-turning-17 tween, she is also Founder of The Little Executive, a nurturing centre to develop children in areas like resilience and executive function, to survive today’s volatile world. She is also a parenting coach and has been featured on national TV, radio and print media.

~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~