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.

Our education system is starting to get exciting!

I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel! Things are coming together nicely and more changes are in the pipeline.

16 years ago, #1 entered kindergarten. It was a popular school and many of the kids came from affluent families. Little did I know that we were in for a shock. Her English teacher made her stand in the corner when she couldn’t come up with a word that begins with the letter ‘S’.

Something was wrong.

Didn’t I send her to school to learn such things? Why was she being tested and punished for not knowing? That was the first inkling I had that our system was too skewed towards testing vis-a-vis learning.

Even more disturbing, one day she finally had the courage to tell me that her teacher had dragged her to the N2 class and got a boy to complete her worksheet in front of her. She felt dumb and humiliated. I pulled her out of the preschool and put her in a church-based kindergarten where the teachers were caring and they focused more on character development.

Since then, moving them through various preschools, primary and secondary schools, I have found that it is not accurate nor fair to generalise.

There will be good systems with teachers or principals who are not aligned. There will also be narrow systems with passionate teachers who go the extra mile to help our children learn.

It is wonderful to see that the early childhood scene has proliferated over the past 10 years as child development research continues to unravel how children learn best. I have found a holistic international preschool for Kate where they play outdoors twice a day and the kids are taught how to resolve conflicts by themselves and learning is fun and experiential.

Unfortunately, that comes to a halt the moment children enter Primary 1. These 6 & 7-year olds are expected to sit in a classroom with 30 other students to learn in a one-size-fits-all system. It’s great that there will be no more exams or weighted assessments for the P1s and 2s, and a foray into experiential learning has been introduced, but there is still much room for improving the way lessons are conducted.

While in University, I was curious to know why our classmates had markedly different strengths from us Singaporeans. We were good at researching but they were brilliant at presentations and thinking out of the box. My classmates shared that their lessons were very hands on. If the topic was on gravity, the teacher came into class and tossed balls around. What follows would be an in-depth discussion with questioning and prompts from the teacher to ignite their thinking, instead of spoonfeeding them with concepts and content.

Returning to Singapore and raising my kids with the mindset of an occupational therapist, I asked myself constantly, “what is the rationale behind this activity”? I questioned the purpose of education and looked ahead 20 years because that would be the future landscape my children would be stepping into.

As my 5 kids moved into the primary and secondary levels, I was disappointed that there wasn’t a significant difference from our generation. It was only in the past few years that I started seeing the changes gaining momentum.

I was worried that our education system was not equipping them with the right set of skills to get them ready for their future. Too much time was wasted on testing and learning how to answer questions with specific key words and drill methods.

We had to strike a balance with what the schools could not provide and to guide them in the other aspects of education myself.

To be curious thinkers, to dare to try, to fail and try again, to learn to work together, to be creative, to come up with their own opinions and substantiate them, to know that there are different ways to solve a problem, to believe in themselves.

Along the journey, there were times when I had to guard against letting school extinguish their love of learning. It seems that the objective of completing curriculum and pressures of exams which teachers have to accede to outweigh the silent need of the seeds of curiosity to be watered and tended to.

It’s good that there have been changes in the exam papers, reflecting MOE’s push towards application, but the problem with change at the testing level is that students need to be taught how to think.

It is not as simple as adding thinking questions into the comprehension or Science papers and expecting teachers to be able to draw it out of them. These type of skills we are trying to inculcate are best started even as early as the preschool years and built upon year after year as they move on to higher order thinking skills.

The roadmap drawn out in the School Work Plan looks fantastic on paper, however, to equip the whole teaching force to be well versed to teach children at this deeper level will not happen overnight.

It is not difficult to deliver content. But to get the class to be engaged, to ponder thinking questions and to steer them towards having a fruitful discussion on the topic at hand, the teacher has to be skilled and it takes up a lot more time.

A few months back, I was invited to a small group session with ex-Education Minister Ng Chee Meng and these other lovely ladies. We were discussing how important it was to develop 21st-century skills lest we have a generation of children who are ill-equipped to take on jobs of the future. I asked Minister roughly what percentage of our primary school curriculum is currently targetted at inquiry-based learning and developing such skills? He did not have the numbers but hazarded a guess at about 5%.

I was flabbergasted.

He explained that we have a good system that has been consistently producing strong results. So while they recognise the need for equipping our children with a new set of skills to meet the demands of the future, they need to figure out how to carve out more time without overloading our children further.

How do we free up more time?

Curriculum. Education Minister Ong Ye Kung explained at the Schools Work Plan Seminar 2018 that curriculum has been cut twice, by 30% in 1997 and by 20% in 2005 and is comparable to other countries and further reduction will risk under-teaching. Since curriculum is at its bare minimum, they have to look to other avenues to free up time.

Removing mid-year exams in the transition years of P3, P5, Sec 1 and Sec 3 will free up an extra 3 weeks every 2 years.

From the Work Plan 2018:

“I hope schools will use the time well, for example, to conduct applied and inquiry based learning. In applied and inquiry based learning, our students observe, investigate, reflect, and create knowledge. And that will naturally take up more time.”

I am extremely pleased to read this. That is how I have been teaching my children when it comes to any form of knowledge and how we have been educating children in my enrichment centre.

However, in reality, this approach to learning will take up much more time than an extra 10 days per year. Teachers need to brainstorm, create lesson plans, share best practices and implement. It is a good start nonetheless and we are moving in the right direction.

Assessment. Personally I feel that the PSLE should stay because we need a national exam to sort the children at the end of 6 years instead of moving them straight through for 10 years of education. In fact, I find that the 6 years of primary school is the most narrowly defined approach, and it gets better once they get sorted into secondary school and beyond.

Take the tiny sample size of my 5 kids who have finished their PSLE. There is a stark difference in their learning styles, aptitudes, interests and pen and paper academic abilities and it would not be equitable to them if they were all bundled together.

#2 is the most academically inclined of the lot, and placed in a class of 40 or even in a lecture hall of 150, she is capable of learning well. However, #5’s learning style is experiential and he has been doing much better this year in a class of 8 where their teachers try to adapt the lessons to suit them. I have observed how the 3 different secondary schools my girls went through offered different niche programmes, learning approaches and pace.

Having said that, the mechanics of the questions in the PSLE and what they hope to develop in our students have to be re-examined.

More importantly, the way the PSLE has evolved to become a stress-inducing high stakes exam has to be unwound and mindsets need to change.

I am all for removing the 2 mid-year exams in primary school and 2 in secondary school as there is an urgent need to carve out more time. There will no doubt be a push back from parents who are afraid they will have no certainty of knowing how their child is faring and it will take time for parents to align with the big scheme of things.

One gripe I have is that too much time is still spent on preparing students for the PSLE. In many schools, preparations start from P5 onwards, and the entire P6 year is geared towards tackling the PSLE by drilling them with an avalanche of past year papers. That is 2 years of precious time that could be used for real learning instead of preparing them to be exam ready. I hope to see the day when these 2 are congruent – where real learning leads them naturally to be exam ready.

Many kids tell me honestly that they study only for the exams, and don’t ask them any concepts after that because they have forgotten what they have learnt.

Is that true education? If we measure our education by the yardstick of applicable knowledge, we have failed in our objective, and we have failed our children.

Removing class and level positions. This is a change in line with PSLE scoring no longer being in relation to their peers from 2021. It sends a strong message and will hopefully shift the mindset of parents from competition to learning for learning’s sake and to work towards the aim of advancement.

But as Minister Ong said, “the report book should still contain some form of yardstick and information to allow students to judge their relative performance.”

This is very necessary because of the wide variation in the standard of examinations set, thus the mark on an exam paper is not indicative.

During #1’s P5 year end exam, she scored 50+ for her English and I was very concerned as English is her strong subject. At the PTM, I was told not to worry as she was one of the top scorers and most of the other students had failed.

If schools are able to set consistent standards, and parents can be assured that an A means a child is doing well, a B means there is room for improvement, a fail means he needs extra help or hasn’t put in much effort, and so forth, then we can make sense of their marks. But if a score of 58 placed her in the top 85% then we do need the percentile of the cohort as a gauge as it paints a clearer picture. 

Joy of learning. Minister Ong says “They must leave the education system still feeling curious and eager to learn, for the rest of their lives.”

This is a lofty goal. It is sad how children enter preschool bright-eyed and full of ideas, yet they leave P6 either as robots churning out good grades or with their zest for learning squelched.

Several reasons contribute to it. High parental expectations, an overload of school work plus tuition, non-inspiring curriculum in the upper primary years, and teachers. At the end of P5, #5’s Science teacher told me, “You need to get him to conform. Don’t ask so many questions. Leave all that for secondary school. It’s time to wake up and focus on the exams. He is a bright child with so much potential, but look at his grades.” The irony is that he loves Science, and has been doing well in it, except the year when he was in her class.

At the same discussion, his male form teacher agreed that the PSLE was important, but he assured me not to worry as he feels that #5 will go very far in future, with his innovative and creative flair, natural leadership ability and eagerness to help his peers. He asked if I would be sending him to an international school as that would suit him better.

With MOE trying to do what’s best for our children, parents also have a part to play in this equation. New initiatives are rolled out to resolve problems or to enable. We have a choice how we want to react and respond to new policies.

We need to shift from teaching to the test to focus on learning to learn.

In the coming years, there is bound to be more changes, and I will be worried if there isn’t! We need to take a broader overview instead of being myopic. It starts with us parents who need to be comfortable with change. The world is changing rapidly and we will be overtaken if we don’t stay relevant.

I’m reassured to see that MOE has been planning ahead instead of being complacent as we are consistently top of the charts in international rankings. I am certain that together, we can do it! We will refine our education system into a truly world class system, and educate a whole generation of resilient learners who are not afraid to chase their dreams and have the skills and ability to do so.

Equip them right and let them fly. I have never placed emphasis on their results, only on the process of learning and #2 is testimony that they haven’t been short-changed. We were overjoyed to hear that she did really well for her A level prelims. Her home tutor called her in for a meeting and her name has been sent up for a PSC scholarship as she has not only managed to achieve stellar results but has held a full spectrum of leadership roles over the past 2 years in JC.

By equipping her with the right skills, perseverance, and support, she is ready to go far. I’m sure the rest of them will find their strengths and purpose and soar in their own time.

Tertiary Education. I am not worried even for my kids who are the round pegs in this square system. There are so many exciting courses in the polytechnics and local universities that they are having difficulty choosing just 1. And they don’t have to. It will be a lifelong journey, and our role is to guide them with wisdom. So long as they continue to want to learn and to improve their skills, the world is their oyster.

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.


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

9 more days to PSLE?!

That’s what happens when you reach your 5th child. I flipped through my diary yesterday and was shocked (yes, shocked!) to see that PSLE is in 9 days. I had written down the dates, but being bogged down with a myriad of problems, I lost track of time.

We have been focusing all our attention on #5’s Chinese because his social studies teacher showed them the grades of last year’s students and told them they would retain if they failed Chinese. However I have clarified that with the people at MOE and they assured me that he will not have to repeat a year just because of failing 1 subject. The overall aggregate will still be taken into account. I think his teacher was trying to scare them, and I have to admit that it worked.

Besides his Chinese, the rest of the 3 subjects were on track as he was placed in small classes of 8 students so we decided not to pile on any more tuition and to maintain a sensible pace of life.

He got back his Math Prelim results and it had plunged from 66 to 50. Gosh, another subject to worry about! I’m not sure what happened, but the strange thing was that he scored full marks for Paper 1 but Paper 2 was almost entirely wrong.

What do we do? Too late to search for a tutor and the hubs and I are unable to coach him (we found that out after #1’s PSLE and decided that we had to outsource if they could not cope instead of wasting time spending a whole afternoon to solve just a few questions).

Good thing that there are so many older siblings right? But I didn’t want to impose on the girls unless they are willing to, as they are up to their necks preparing for their Os and As and it’s not easy teaching #5 as he gets distracted easily. #1 has just started her degree in the Arts and is swarmed by assignments and already sleeping at 1am every night. #4 tried to help but Math is not her strong subject plus her own exams start next week.

#2 was the obvious choice as she scored an A* at PSLE without any tuition, but then again, being able to do Math doesn’t necessarily mean she knows how to teach it. She generously offered to skip her night study in school and came back at 5pm to tutor him. #5 knew better than to be mischevious and he sat obediently and listened to his sister. He even remarked, “Impressive!” when she could solve some problems which stumped him.

Seeing that they made progress, she promised to do that for the next 9 days. Last night, I saw her studying till 1.30am and felt bad as she has to wake up at 7.30am for school. But I reckon her willingness to put her brother’s interest first at his time of need is something to be happy about and encouraged.

Kate just had to be in on it

His Chinese teacher gave me a call to let me know that he has been diligently looking for him at 6.45am every morning to work on his weak areas and was happy to see that he is putting in a lot of effort in his Chinese. He advised me how to guide him for this last week and told me that I could give him a call anytime.

He also shared that #5 has a tendency to go off track at the end of every compo. He would start off well, sticking to short simple sentences. But his stamina would wane and his impulse control would reach the limit, and he would end off the last paragraph with some irrelevant and silly twist of his brand of childish humour. He does that for both English and Chinese compos.

At dinner, we spoke to him about it and none of his sisters could understand how he can do such things in his exam papers. He roared with laughter, excitedly showing them his compos and felt that it was a humorous touch that everyone should appreciate and enjoy, just as he enjoyed writing it.

His writings were indeed full of suspense and slapstick humour and the girls couldn’t stop laughing, both at the content and at how his poor teachers had to mark such things and give sensible remarks to his ridiculous nonsense.

Finally, they told him, “Boy, you have your whole life to write whatever fiction you want. You can write comic books, joke books or be a cartoonist in future. But for this 1 paper, please control yourself and end off properly.”

I am finally at peace. It’s a huge relief to know that even if he failed his Chinese he wouldn’t have to repeat a year and I don’t have to be in worry mode for the next 2 months awaiting his results.

It would be a nice reward for his efforts if he could make it to the Express stream, but we know that his Chinese score will pull his total aggregate down and are prepared for him to enter the Normal stream. I’m not worried about it as the neighbourhood school that #4 attends takes a hands-on approach to learning which suits him. And there is the possibility of moving over to the Express stream if he matures and buckles down in Sec 1 and does well. If not, I heard about the Foundation Poly year and have no qualms about him doing that after N levels.

While searching for a suitable degree for #1 to pursue when she completed her diploma, we discovered that there are plenty of pathways for this generation of children and I’m not worried at all about #5. In fact, the future looks exciting for boys like him with curious and inventive minds who enjoy tinkering, creating and exploring. The good thing is that his interests and aptitudes are very clear, which makes it easy for us to narrow down his choices for the next phase of his learning journey.

I’m glad he has come to the end of his Primary school education. The outdated method of rote learning and narrow margin for answers does not suit his learning style and it didn’t do him good to have teachers who told him to stop asking so many questions and just learn what needs to be learnt to do well in the exams. That is the only gripe I have about the PSLE, where the focus of many teachers in the upper primary is on studying to ace exams instead of encouraging curiosity, developing a hunger for learning and making learning experiential and relevant. It’s good that MOE is working on it and moving in the right direction, and though none of my kids including Kate will see the fruits of this education reform, but I’m hopeful that all our voices put together will hasten the change in mindset all round.

#5 has come a long way this past 9 months and to witness such a huge turnaround in his attitude and effort is nothing short of a miracle! Whatever aggregate he gets is secondary.

All the best to our P6s and the supportive mummies and daddies across the island dealing with this first big hurdle!

PSLE Diaries
No more T-score. Now what?
PSLE results: Good or Bad, what do you say?
My 5th PSLE child – My son
Mum, just get me exempted from Chinese
3 new teachers after CA1
A huge jump in SA1


A huge jump in SA1

After a really bad showing for his CA1 this year, #5 was placed into smaller classes for 3 subjects. He barely passed his Math and Science and failed his Chinese miserably. I asked him how that worked and he told me that he stayed in his original class for English but had to take his bag and move to other classes for the rest. His classmates also moved around, so he had different classmates for the 4 subjects but they meet at recess to eat together.

I asked him how many students were there and was surprised to hear that there were only 8 students per class! Wow, similar to being in a tuition centre.

I wondered where they had the extra manpower from and was enlighted recently. I attended a tea session with the Communications and Engagement personnel from MOE and the perennial question of our too large classes was raised.

Mrs Tan Wai Lan, ex-principal of St Nicholas Girls’ explained that after doing the calculations, if they were to spread the additional teachers across the board, it would result in a marginal reduction in the number of students per class. Instead, they have allocated extra teachers which the schools are free to deploy as necessary. Hence in #5’s school, these teachers are able to take the lower performing students.

I had no doubt that the small class size will benefit #5, as he is bright but easily distracted and in a class of 40, he can get away with a lot more without being detected. But we were really surprised at the tremendous improvement in his mid-year exams.

Bored of sitting at the table

He went from a 56 to 83 for Science and 51 to 66 for Math. Even his Chinese, which I didn’t expect to see any improvement as it takes time to master a language, went up marginally from 27 to 32 which still deserves acknowledgement for his efforts. His aunt has been working with him every Saturday for the past few months, but because his foundation was very weak, it will be a tough trek towards a pass, and we are encouraging him every step of the way.

Unfortunately, his English dipped from 71 to 67 and I’m not sure if he would have done better in the hypothetical situation where he was placed in a class of 8. Which leads to the question of where the line should be drawn; at what mark would the students be given access to a smaller class size, and the parental wish that if only all classrooms could be capped at say 20-25 kids to optimise learning.

If only there was some way education could be revolutionized. Because it is not that these kids can’t learn or don’t want to learn. The conditions for learning are unsuitable for them. Sitting for long hours in a large class of 40 students listening to a teacher talk at the front of the classroom is not the best way that they learn.

If the early childhood scene can be transformed, from traditional classrooms to more play and exploration, I’m certain a solution can be found for the primary school years. The search for change should never end.

I am hoping that #5’s positive attitude carries through to his PSLE and am thankful that in this last year of his primary school journey, he has finally experienced joy in learning which has been made possible by the attention his teachers are able to extend to them in a small class.

His aunt was astonished to see that he was keen to know what went wrong in his Chinese paper, and he went through it with her of his own accord! And he was disappointed in some of the questions where he could have gotten the right answer. For the first time, he cared!

In May, when we saw the tremendous improvement in his results, I decided to give up my search for a private tutor for his other 3 subjects as it would be best to leave it to his school teachers after seeing how well they have worked with him. Besides, having a better understanding of the neighbourhood school which #4 has entered and their niche programme, I have no qualms about #5 following along.

Last night I was mentioning to Kate and him how stressed #2 was about her upcoming drama night as her teacher had asked her to rewrite the entire play just a week before the performance. He remarked, “Oh how come she is stressed? I am taking my PSLE which everyone says is very stressful but I don’t feel stressed at all. It’s like any ordinary time.”

I’m glad my boy is unfazed by this, and the pressure in school has not affected him as it did my girl even though life goes on as per normal in our household.

But I did enlighten him that #2 was taking an even tougher exam than him – the A levels, and on top of that she has big responsibilities for the drama night, not only to rewrite the play, but she was also directing and acting in the play.

In that light, his PSLE looked like child’s play.

PSLE Diaries
No more T-score. Now what?
PSLE results: Good or Bad, what do you say?
My 5th PSLE child – My son
Mum, just get me exempted from Chinese
3 new teachers after CA1

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

3 new teachers after CA1

Term 1 practically flew by. January saw them settling down and getting acquainted with their new P6 teachers as only his Math teacher followed them up from P5. February was a short month with CNY festivities and before we can catch our breath, CA1 was upon us and we’ve come to the end of March!

The homework load was as expected, with daily homework from most teachers.

The good thing is that #5 does his homework very quickly. Unlike his sisters who waste a lot of time in the lead up to homework (tidying their desk, taking out pretty stationery, filing their notes neatly, choosing the perfect pen from a bulging pencil case, chatting with their siblings), he whips out a pen, thinks quickly and gets through one worksheet after another without dawdling. 

The bad thing however, is the quality of his work. He has given up asking us for help when he’s stuck because the hubs and I spend a long time trying to figure out each question, and his siblings are either too busy studying for their Os or As or they themselves have forgotten how to do it and it becomes very time-consuming. He goes into their rooms and the few of them will be huddled around his worksheet and he emerges 45 minutes later, and there is still other homework to be done.

So far he only has Chinese tuition on Saturdays at his aunt’s place and I’m still in the midst of looking for a good private tutor for Math and Science.

Based on his CA1 results, he has been moved to another class for 3 out of 4 of his subjects. When I spoke to his Principal recently, I brought up the issue of #4’s PSLE year, where it was quantity over quality and I asked what would be done to help students prepare for the PSLE instead of shifting the responsibility over to parents and tutors.

She promised that they will be keeping a close watch on the P6s this year and true to her word, these kids who need more help have been placed in smaller classes of around 10 students.

I was delighted but did have one more concern – yet another change in teachers and ‘wasting’ time getting to know each other as we are approaching the start of April which leaves us 5 short months before the PSLE (haha, parents are difficult to please right?).

Thus when his dear Chinese teacher sent me a final Dojo message that he will no longer be in her class and updated me on how happy she was that he is now participating well and willing to try, I voiced out my sadness especially since he had been making steady progress under her. She reassured me that she had shared her observations with his new teacher who is the HOD of Chinese and that #5 should continue to see improvements under his guidance.

It was not easy for #5 to come to like his Chinese teacher and I was not hopeful that he will find another teacher whom he can quickly build rapport with.

Lo and behold, he came home and declared that he likes his new Chinese teacher!

He related how his teacher was very friendly, did not give them homework, and even told them to write down his handphone number and that they can call him anytime if they needed help. Not just for homework, but if their mothers are angry with them and scold them, they can reach out to him.

I was flabbergasted but I guess as HOD he is concerned and has to be especially vigilant with the P6s. Over the years, I have personally heard of several situations where students go into depression, or their minds go blank during the PSLE, and even students going missing because they feared going home to face their parents and police had to be called in.

The PSLE is a very stressful year for most kids, sometimes too stressful for 12-year olds to navigate and as parents, the hardest thing is to find the balance between stretching them to reach their potential yet not pushing them over the brink.

I have been in close contact with #5’s teachers this year, and am really heartened to hear that he has had a shift in attitude and gradually adopting a growth mindset and willingness to push on.

His aunt has set him an even more realistic goal for Chinese. Instead of telling him to aim for a Pass, she turned it around and told him “Let’s aim to not fail too badly.” That took the pressure off him and he now enjoys going to her place every Saturday for Chinese tuition.

After going through so many PSLEs and O level exams and now able to look at the big picture, I am more concerned about the mental and emotional health of my kids. So long as he is starting to take his work seriously and has a good attitude towards learning, I am contented.

In a way, I’m glad he is still a simple child, joyful (no doubt still mischievous), eyes brimming with excitement and animated when he talks about subjects he loves.

One term down, 2 more to go. Jia You all P6s!!

PSLE Diaries
No more T-score. Now what?
PSLE results: Good or Bad, what do you say?
My 5th PSLE child – My son
Mum, just get me exempted from Chinese

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

“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 ~

My 5th PSLE child – My Son

Somehow, I feel like a new PSLE mum. After #1, it was more or less the same with the next 3 girls as they were on auto-pilot and there was no need to micro-manage their school work.

For #5, after a horrific showing at his P5 year-end results, I need to monitor him closely this year. We gave him a serious pep talk and I think the severity of the exams have sunk in. At least a little.

It helps a lot that there is the Class Dojo app, a lifesaver for parents like me with a boy who is still not getting with the system at P6. I can easily send any of his teachers a quick check-in text and vice versa, and follow up on the reminders they post almost daily.

So far, he seems to be pretty upbeat and on top of things and he has been putting in effort and handing up all his homework on time. I was most glad to hear from his Chinese teacher that he is trying hard but Chinese is still a subject he really struggles with. His aunt has taken on the very daunting task of tutoring him and we hope that he is able to lift himself from a miserable ungraded mark to at least a pass this year.

We attended the talk by the Principal last weekend and 2 things caught my attention.

One was the flip classroom model whereby students are to be more initiated and learn at home via Google Classroom so that when they come to class, there is more time for discussions and customised learning (whatever that means in a class of 40).

I was pleasantly surprised to hear of this transformation from the traditional method to one where there will be more opportunities for discussion and individualized attention. I was wondering if my other kids are also using it as they have never mentioned it before and asked them at dinner. My older girls giggled to themselves and tried to explain to me that it is nothing fantastic. “Mum, it’s the same as google docs. Everyone can see the lesson and questions. That’s all.”

Oh. I thought it was some kind of interactive online learning portal from the way it was explained at the talk. 2 of them have been using google classrooms, in poly and in sec 1, while the other 2 girls in sec 4 and JC 2 have not come across this as yet. I guess it will be rolled out in all schools soon enough.

Let’s see if this new method is effective, though I wish the students had more time to get used to it before the PSLE year.

The other thing which I was dismayed to hear, was the Principal explaining that this year the focus has shifted from quantity to quality, that there is no point piling them with a whole load of extra work with no real understanding.

This was the exact feedback I gave to the Level Head 2 years back after #4’s PSLE. Many students from her class and the next class fared between 180 and 220 which is disappointing for a top school, and we parents were lamenting how many of them were burnt out from doing stacks of past year papers yet there was not enough time for the teachers to go through with them the corrections to learn from their mistakes.

Yes, I’m glad they take our feedback seriously, but why does it seem like it’s still a matter of trial and error. It was disconcerting to know that there isn’t a solid system to prepare the cohort well for the national exams.

I’ve seen this swing in my other kids’ previous primary school as well. If there was an alarming case the year before, there would be a call to step down on the PSLE workload given to the point where up till March, she still had almost no homework at all until I explained to her teachers that she did not have extra tuition outside and her teachers gave her individual homework.

The more I go through the PSLE with different kids having their own learning footprints, the more I feel a better way of sorting them at 12 is needed.

The kids are stressed, the parents are stressed, the teachers are stressed. I honestly can’t tell who is the most stressed!

I’m not overly bothered about the grade he will eventually get for his PSLE (yes, I’ve reached this stage after going through too many PSLEs) but it is sad that for a child like #5 who is creative, bright, and able to think out of the box, but weak in Chinese and not keen on memorizing key words and composition formats, he may very well end up in the technical stream which is not suitable for him.

I can totally understand many parents’ fear and drive to push their children to accumulate awards and do up impressive portfolios for DSA and such.

We need to relook this PSLE game.

Is it really achieving its objective about educating the next generation and sorting the kids suitably according to their natural aptitude and abilities into the different pathways or has it become a system gamed by the adults with our kids feeling like pawns?

There is no easy solution, but not addressing it head-on soon enough is like letting a bullet train derail at high speed.

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

PSLE Results: Good or Bad, what do you say?

2017 PSLE results will be released tomorrow. I was asked for my views for a CNA article, and what poured out was enough to write a whole post after going through this 4 times!

As the PSLE is the first major exam they face, we, as parents have an important role to frame this experience for them. How we guide them to view failure and success is crucial. Our children need to know that one failure does not define them; they can get up, dust themselves and try harder next year. If they have the resilience and tenacity, they will go far despite early failures.

Thus whether they do well or not, it is a window of opportunity to start talking to them about how they themselves feel about their achievements and what they did to get there. The discussion about the process is even more important than the end result of the grade.

I remember the day I collected my PSLE even though it was so long ago. My parents were not well educated and left us to handle our school life. They did not know when our exams were nor gave us any tuition or assessment books.

The day before the results were released, my dad who had never said much relating to school told me this: “No matter what, just come home. It’s ok.”

I didn’t really know what he meant until the next day.

When we received our results, there were exuberant friends, crying friends and parents with grim faces.

My results were average, better in some subjects, worse in others. I didn’t know what to feel, as there were friends who did much better and friends who did much worse.

What stuck with me the most, was that the aggregate itself didn’t matter.

What mattered was that I could go home, not having to hang my head down or having to face the wrath of my parents. I knew they loved and cared about me, regardless of what was written on that paper in my hands. I felt safe. Several of my friends dreaded to go home, afraid of what their parents would say.

When I showed my parents my results, they acknowledged the good and the bad and told me simply to work harder next time.

These days, it is as much a PSLE mummy’s journey as the child’s, or perhaps there is even more at stake for mum. The time and money poured into sending them for tuition, having to face friends and neighbours who may be judging us or worries about our child going into an “undesirable” school.

But try to resist the urge to compare them to their siblings, label them as “lazy” or take it as an opportunity to unleash your pent-up emotions on them. I’ll admit that I have done all of the above at various times with my 4 older kids. It’s hard, but we have to restrain ourselves and not say things in the heat of the moment we might regret.

So what advice can I give to parents?

If your child has done badly, all the more, it is crucial for you to provide them with emotional support at a time when they are probably feeling lousy about themselves. They may have worked really hard, and are disappointed in their own grades. Or their close friends may have done well and are all celebrating and discussing exciting plans and looking forward to entering the schools of their choice. They may have cousins in the same year and relatives are patting them on the shoulder, telling them how smart they are or how wonderful they have done. It is not easy for a 12-year-old to experience and process all that is going on.

When one of my kids did badly for the PSLE, I had to bite my tongue. I wanted to scold her, “Watch some more TV la! Sleep late and don’t concentrate in class!” My mind darted around, looking for things to blame – Our education system for being ridiculous in expecting all 12-year olds to be suitable for this narrow examination model, her teachers for focusing on quantity instead of quality, resulting in many of her classmates scoring between 180-210, the hubs for allowing her to watch Chinese drama with him and wasting precious time, our dog for her incessant barking, affecting her concentration. I had to exercise tremendous self-control and not rub salt into the wound as I knew she was already feeling awful.

There is no point in giving them a long “I told you so” lecture the day they get their results. Instead, take them out individually for a meal or an activity to show them that above all, you love them and value them, despite their result. Try to refrain from talking about the PSLE (I know it’s hard!) unless they raise it. Then, when they open the conversation, go in for the kill! (just kidding). Talk to them about what they are thinking and feeling. They may be afraid of going to a new school all alone, especially if their group of friends all made it into the affiliated school. They may feel embarrassed, ashamed or upset that they have disappointed you.

Just imagine what they have gone through for the past year. All that stress, late nights studying, and expectations from parents and teachers, culminating in these 3 digits. Give them time and space to process their emotions. When they have come to terms with their results, you can move on to discuss how they can learn from this experience. What strategies worked for them and what did not, what are their areas of strengths and weaknesses.

For children who do well, it is also an opportunity to guide them. Acknowledge and celebrate with them if they had run the race and emerged triumphant! But instead of congratulating them as being a smart girl or boy, praise the specific effort and strategies which helped them to excel. #1 went from failing all 4 subjects at the end of P5 to scoring straight As in her PSLE. By putting in sustained effort and persevering despite the odds, it showed in her results. She was self-motivated and did 4 hours of Math practice almost daily, and went to her aunt’s house every weekend to practice her Chinese Oral, going from being shy and having a limited vocabulary to being more confident about the language.

On the other hand, there are children who are able to ace our exams year after year either because their intelligence fits our education model or because they have been highly tutored. The danger comes when they move into higher education. Some children have never tasted failure, and when they do so, it could be at the A levels or University and they are unable to bounce back. Worse, they may go into depression or even attempt suicide because of self-imposed shame or despair as they are no more seen as being smart.

I was surprised but many bright kids I spoke to regret not putting in more effort and felt they were too complacent. Don’t compare them to others saying things like, “Wow you did so much better than so and so.” Instead, hold them to higher standards because they are capable of more. Tell them that you expect great things from them, and they should still strive to put in their best effort and achieve what you know they are capable of.

The PSLE may be over, but it is not the last exam or challenge they will have to face. It is in our hands to support and empower them to ready them for the next stage and beyond.

It’s not going to be easy, but see it as an opportunity to help them take ownership of both their successes or failures. Good luck parents!

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.



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