Not just one mindset to the top

If you are getting all stressed about the frenzy and nitty gritty details of the new PSLE scoring, and want a breath of fresh air, this is for you.

First, pause and take a deep breath. All that anxiety is not good for you, nor your child.

Let me share the story of my daughter.

She was a diligent child, paid attention in class, and did her homework. We had 5 young kids then, and with no time nor desire to be her tutor, we were completely hands off, except to provide encouragement.

Here grades were consistent and there was no reason for her to have tuition.

Until 3 months before her PSLE.

She scored Bs and Cs for her Prelims and I thought she needed additional help. On hindsight, it was a waste of time and money. Her SAP school had set the exam papers so tough which seemed an unnecessary and demoralising strategy.

For the PSLE, she scored 3 As and 1 A* which to us were excellent grades, all by her own efforts over the past 6 years.

However, it surprised us that even with straight As, her aggregate was 230. With the T-score system, the value of an A became discounted because there were too many students with high scores.

Actually, the biggest change with the new grading system is doing away with the T-score, and students will no longer be measured against how well they do in relation to their peers in that cohort.

It will follow the O and A level system, where the grades will be based on their absolute standards, NOT in comparison with their peers.

Anyway, back to my story.

We looked at her aggregate and chose a school with COP of 228, which was 2 points below her actual aggregate, so that she would get in quite comfortably. It turned out to be a very good school in our opinion, with a Principal who led with a heart, and very caring and dedicated teachers who went the extra mile.

She made it to a JC and there, she studied hard, played hard, and took on a plethora of extra activities like mission trips, public performances and headed countless committees.

Somehow, she managed all her responsibilities as well as her studies.

She scored straight As and was amongst the top scorers in her JC.

Many friends and relatives congratulated us, like it’s some kind of badge of honour that she was well on her path to becoming a successful lawyer or doctor and was also offered the provisional PSC scholarship based on her grades and extra-curricular activities.

Honestly, I am as proud of her achievements as I am of my other daughter, who will be graduating very soon with a degree in fashion. The funny thing is, her sister who pursued fashion had a higher aggregate for PSLE than her.

We encourage our kids to follow their passion and find their purpose, rather than conform to our pre-set expectations of the path we want to force upon them.

We didn’t immediately narrow down the top courses based on her eligibility but kept her options open and explored courses based on her interest.

It was a toss between law or liberal arts at Yale-NUS. She is clearly an arts student. She enjoyed literature, taught herself to play 7 instruments and loves performing arts. After her A levels, she went to Artfriend, bought some materials and produced paintings that were pretty amazing for an amateur!

Life-like doggie

We attended several open houses, spoke to artists, musicians, arts graduates and concluded that she could keep these interests as hobbies. She applied to law schools both in Singapore and in the UK and we finally decided that it was best to study locally as we still have 4 younger children to support through University. It turned out to be a wise choice due to the current situation.

She started school and told us how she was the only one who scored so low at PSLE haha. The majority of her classmates had scores of 270 and above.

It is not that she is a late bloomer, but most of them had tuition all the way from primary school till JC.

It was an intentional choice I made right from the start and was prepared that my kids would not have that kind of perfect scores like their tuition-aided peers. I wanted them to have a balanced view of life and to develop other skills. They learnt to be independent, self-directed learners, and spent a lot of time exploring and creating.

I aimed to give them a happy childhood, and was always mindful that the mental health of our children are just as important.

I am deeply concerned about the mental health issues and suicide cases amongst our young people. There are many contributing factors – the impact of social media on their self-esteem, high academic demands, expectations of parents, grappling with teenage issues of relationships and identity. I shudder to think that the severity and finality of taking one’s own life has been lost on this generation of young people, and the impact it will have on their parents and family. The almost nonchalant response of peers towards a life lost is chilling.

We all need to take a step back and look at the big picture. How can we bring the stress levels down? No one can fix this problem alone. Not MOE, not the parents, not the schools, nor the counsellors.

The only solution is if we can come to a consensus that making mental health a priority cannot be compromised, and that underpins everything else.

I try to support my children where I can and keep a lookout for their breaking points. We want them to do their best and not waste their potential, but not at the expense of their mental health.

Success to me means that they are always willing to try, to keep going forward, to learn from their mistakes, lend a hand to others, be a good person, develop other interests, enjoy the journey, and know when to push forward and when to rest.

this sweet child made me my fave biscoff cake once her exams were over

Being in law school is no joke. The amount of content they have to pore over can be overwhelming and they study long hours. She relaxes by baking and is getting quite good at it! We joke that if the day comes, when she becomes jaded by the profession or of having no work-life balance, she can do the trendy thing and become a home baker.

Kate will sit for her PSLE in 3 years’ time.

I am unperturbed by the new changes because nothing very much has changed fundamentally. Not the curriculum, not the exam questions, nor the number of places in each school. Yes, it all sounds rather confusing and we have to get used to the new numbers, but I view it as being similar to the O level system.

Will I re-strategise and do anything different from my 5 older kids?

The answer is no.

I will just be more careful in choosing her 1st choice school, and ensuring that it will be within the COP based on the past years because there will be a much larger number of students in that same band, vis a vis vying with students with the same aggregate in the old system.

I am indeed heartened to see some parents staying calm and level headed and not adding to the noise surrounding this change.

Ultimately, we don’t want our kids to be just book smart but to acquire all-round skills and the resilience to help them navigate life and the future workplace.

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 co-Founder of The Little Executive, a nurturing centre to develop children in areas like resilience and executive function. She is a Parent Coach and her signature Mummy Wee: Parenting Secrets courses help parents navigate this challenging journey. She is an Award winning blogger at Mummy Wee Blog and has been regularly featured on national TV, radio and print media.

Executive Function skills for PSLE students

We ran a series of Executive Function workshops for Primary 6 students to get them ready for the PSLE and it was clear that this is a missing piece of the puzzle in their exam prep.

The months leading up to the PSLE is crucial, and they need to be able to manage themselves, not get distracted by other things and to focus on their revision. Parents who have gone through this milestone with their older kids realised that it is getting the kids to start on their revision and to stay focused are the hardest part! It is not easy for 12-year olds to get organised, draw up a plan and stick to their revision schedule.

These are all Executive Function skills, and children need to be taught these skills explicitly. Over the years, we have noticed how our own TLE kids who work on these skills weekly are way ahead of their peers when they join us at our P1 Prep camp.

We asked the P6 students how they were feeling about the PSLE and almost all said they were stressed. Either because they felt that the workload was too much and the work itself was too difficult, or that it was hard to focus on revision when they would rather be on social media or play games on their gadgets. Some were stressed because they were afraid that their parents would scold them if they did not do well.

We helped them to gain the awareness that they could be in control of their own thoughts and actions. This was a powerful realisation for them! They realised that while their impulse may be to check their notifications on their phone, they could make a decision if they wanted to give in to their impulses, or use new strategies to stay focused on their work instead of constantly being distracted.

The students were very honest and admitted that they spent long hours playing on their devices especially when their parents were at work. It was heartening that by the end of the workshop, they were motivated to try harder.

We introduced them to an interesting activity using plasticine, and it helped them to think of all the things that they needed to exercise more self-control in.

Parents with P6 kids know that by this age, it is futile to keep nagging and forcing them to do what we want them to. They need to want to achieve it themselves, and that internal drive is what will spur them to push on despite the challenges they will face.

We guided them to see the strengths they had, to encourage them and show them that they can do it! Some of them shared that their parents only nag or scold them, and that there’s no point in studying because even if they improve a little, their parents will still not be satisfied.

Parents need to play a part too! It is a long and demanding year for our P6 kids, try to affirm and celebrate their small wins. If they come home with a 10% increase in their marks, give them a pat on the back and tell them how proud you are for the effort they have put in. The next step will be to aim for another 10% gain for the next test, and the next.

They were given hands-on challenges to develop their Growth Mindset. It was not easy to build the tallest tower and many faced failure when the tower collapsed and they wanted to give up. I heard many versions of “Ms Michelle, it’s too hard. I don’t want to try anymore.”

I kept encouraging them, and asked those who were successful in building it up very high to share their strategies. One boy explained: “You need to start with a strong base, then at the parts when it is weak and starts falling, you reinforce with more plasticine. Settle that part first before moving higher.”

That was such great advice which his classmates could learn from, and it ignited a fresh wave of motivation in the kids who gave up. Sometimes, when the project seems too huge and daunting, we need to break it down into more manageable chunks.

Isn’t that helpful when we are learning something new as well? Get the foundations strong, don’t neglect the weak links, and keep pushing forward. I loved how simply he put it.

They learnt that to tackle the PSLE they need to have that same resilience, to persevere even when the work is hard or when they face all sorts of other challenges. To aim towards daily improvement and keep moving towards their goals.

By the end of the workshops, they felt more encouraged and empowered knowing that they could control their minds and that the outcome is in their hands, and they were excited to put into action all the new strategies they have learnt.

My hope is that one day, Executive Function skills will be a part of every school’s curriculum because not all students are fortunate enough to have parents who can afford to send them for enrichment classes.

Many of my TLE parents who are MOE teachers themselves see the change in their own children and have been trying to raise awareness with their HODs and Principal because they have witnessed that if kids don’t pick up these skills in the primary school years, the gap just keeps getting bigger by the time they reach secondary school.

My amazing Executive Team

While we continue our mission to help as many children as we can to develop this strong foundation, the good news is, if you have a child taking PSLE this year, we have launched this same programme at The Little Executive so that all Primary 6 kids can have access to it.

It runs as a 2 day camp during the June school holidays, 10 & 11 June, 9am-5pm, $620. For my Mummy Wee readers, mention that you got to know about this camp from my blog and you’ll get a 5% discount! Hope to meet some of you soon 🙂 More details and to register: https://www.thelittleexecutive.asia/holiday-camps

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 co-Founder of The Little Executive, a nurturing centre to develop children in areas like resilience and executive function. She is a Parent Coach and her signature Mummy Wee: Parenting Secrets courses help parents navigate this challenging journey. She is an Award winning blogger at Mummy Wee Blog and has been regularly featured on national TV, radio and print media.

Let’s not hide behind the convenient “late bloomer” narrative

My son had his first Edusave Award.

Many would call him a “late bloomer”. However, I feel we should not use the “late bloomer” label loosely, because it blind sides us to the potential we could have provided for him.

Being a “late bloomer” suggests that either a child finally “wakes up” and studies hard in secondary school, polytechnic, or University, or a child’s “intelligence” kicks in at a later age. Both of which are not true in his case.

Let me explain.

My son has a learning profile that does not match our current education system. He was a very active preschooler, outspoken, curious, and the type of child who thinks out of the box and always asks “Why?” and “Why not?”

He does not do that out of defiance, but because that’s how his mind operates. He genuinely wants to know the reason why something is the way it is, or why something can’t be done. Can we find a way to get around it? Has it been proven? Only after he has tried all sorts of ways to get around it without success will he conclude that he hasn’t managed to find a way yet. Many a times, he stumbles upon new discoveries while figuring things out.

However, this does not sit well with formal education as teachers have a syllabus to get on with, and they can’t manage a class of 40 with random kids piping up constantly, even if their questions or observations are legitimate. I understand, because I am an educator myself.

From the time he was young, we could tell that he is a bright child. He had never-ending questions, all logical, but it took a lot of patience to answer them! He easily picked up the rules of games quicker than his older siblings, and was doing advanced puzzles which he found around the house.

At 4, I sent him to Act 3 for a week of speech and drama holiday camp and the teacher said that he could memorize all his lines as well as the lines of every other child in the play in one morning.

When it was time to enrol him in preschool, I was in a dilemma. Having peeked into the kindergarten classrooms of my 4 girls which were of the traditional model, I was certain that my son needed an environment that was more hands-on and developmentally appropriate. Despite the logistics hassle, I decided to put him in a school with an experiential learning philosophy with a lot more outdoor time.

As expected, his preschool teachers commented that he talked a lot, moved non-stop, had lots of big ideas, was a natural leader, was curious how things worked (yes, a nightmare for most teachers) and was very creative. His creations and designs were very complex, always symmetrical, and had detachable parts that could “fly out”. Only when he was creating could he sit for long periods, fully focused, and he had the patience to dig through the entire box to find the pieces that he needed. He could conceptualise things easily in his mind, and could visualise them vividly before they take form.

They understood his learning style, and could accommodate them without compromising the curriculum outcome.

However, once he entered Primary school, all I heard was complaints from his teachers. His education journey went downhill from there. I had a lot of calls and texts from his form teacher.

Feedback from his P1 form teacher:

He talks a lot and asks too many questions when he should just listen to the instructions and obey them. He’s unable to sit still at his desk and pay attention and gets easily distracted and ends up distracting his classmates.

His perspective as a 7-year old:

When I questioned him about his “bad behaviour” that his teacher kept complaining to me about, he was surprised. He said that she kept repeating herself and taught the same concept 3 times so he tuned out and was thinking of his own stuff. The lesson was boring so he chatted with his friend next to him. It was hard for him to stay put on the chair and listen to her talk. He wanted to walk around the classroom and find something interesting to work on.

This kind of “out-of-the-norm” classroom behaviour earned him a reputation of being a “naughty” boy, and it became a self-perpetuating prophecy.

His P6 science teacher even told me at the PTM that he should save all his questions for when he goes to secondary school. Right now, just keep quiet, conform and focus on the PSLE and regurgitate the “key phrases”.

The one and only teacher who told me that he was not a naughty boy like everyone made it out to be was a male teacher. He shared that my son was actually a sweet boy when you spent time to get to know him and to hear him out, and he admitted that an international school would have suited him much better.

With the wisdom of hindsight, of my 6 kids, this child should have been homeschooled so that he could reach his potential and not feel like a misfit.

The turn around finally came when he entered an all-boys school in Secondary One. For the first time, he didn’t feel judged or labelled, and the teachers were more accepting of their different learning styles.

Not surprisingly, his favourite subjects in school is Design & Technology and Art. The other subjects with a content-heavy curriculum are still not ideal for his learning profile, and I’m looking forward to checking out the options in Polytechnic, where it is practical based and industry relevant, which would suit him much better.

There are indeed many more pathways now after the O levels. MOE has done a lot to widen the options at the tertiary level and I love asking my kids’ friends what courses they are in! The most unexpected one I’ve heard so far is a perfumery and cosmetic science course, and other interesting poly courses include game design, sports coaching, vet science, animation and film production. More importantly, the opportunities for our children to enter University via other routes besides the A levels or IB path are also increasing.

All of that is excellent, as we nurture life long learners, but what about the precious first 10 years of their formal education?

If my son’s primary school education was of a different model, one of exploration and experiential hands-on classroom activities, he would certainly not be a “late bloomer”.

It is too late for him to turn back the clock, but not too late for us to look ahead and take this group of children seriously.

These are the mavericks who have the potential to chart new horizons for the future of Singapore in a progressively disrupted world. Let’s not systematically kill the spirit of such kids but let their unconventional genius find root and take shape.

The sad thing is, my son is now very quiet, school is uninspiring and uninteresting, and his only creative outlet is in digital games, where strategy, creativity, and innovation is called for.

I can’t wait for him to finish his secondary education and to move on to something more relevant which sparks his interest, and where he can finally bloom.

Why a co-ed school was wrong for my son, and more school stories.

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 co-Founder of The Little Executive, a nurturing centre to develop children in areas like resilience and executive function. She is a Parent Coach and her signature Mummy Wee: Parenting Secrets courses help parents navigate this challenging journey. She is an Award winning blogger of Mummy Wee Blog and has been regularly featured on national TV, radio and print media.

PSLE results: A test of the parents, more than the child

We think that tomorrow is a big day for the child, with the release of the PSLE results.

Actually, the role of the child in this whole PSLE business is over.

It ended with the taking of the exam paper.

The real test of the child was if they had managed to persevere despite it being tedious to study for the exams. If they had risen to the challenge, and displayed a positive attitude throughout. If they had shown resilience, and surmounted difficult family circumstances and continued to press on. If they had overcome the curveballs thrown at them over this unpredictable year.

If my child had put in their best effort, I would be happy. Because I see the PSLE for what it is.

Having had 5 kids go through the PSLE, and the oldest two now in University, I am aware that it is only testing a narrow band of a child’s overall abilities.

With a tiny sample size of 6 kids, I have observed that some children have a natural advantage in this particular testing model, while others, a disadvantage through no fault of theirs.

Furthermore, it does not test their creativity, innovation, sporting abilities, artistic talents, entrepreneur spirit, nor skills sets or character traits like adaptability, resilience, teamwork, empathy, integrity, loyalty or kindness, which would paint a more holistic picture of a child’s abilities and aptitude.

The stark truth is, ALL CHILDREN DO NOT START THIS RACE AT THE SAME STARTING POINT. So it should never be seen as a race, competition, or point of comparison. It should be taken as a sorting mechanism, for the good of our children.

Take the pressure off your child. They are only 12!

A child may wonder what is wrong with him if he scored 190 while his cousin scored 260. He may erroneously conclude that he is “stupid” or “inferior”, when his strengths lie beyond the scope of this testing mechanism.

And woe to us as a society if we dim the lights of this wonderful and varied talent pool of our young generation.

Take for example my 6 kids. They are born with different academic abilities.

Let’s use the analogy of cars. One has the speed capabilities of a sports car while another is more like a family MPV. Even if they put in the same amount of effort, the sports car will always go further and faster. But, not to say that the MPV doesn’t have lots of other advantages.

If tomorrow our child comes back with a low score, it takes courage to reflect on why we may be feeling disappointed.

Are we disappointed that we can’t brag to our friends about our child’s achievement?

Are we disappointed that this transaction which we paid for and put in so much effort over the past 6 years in sending them for extra tuition did not yield the returns we thought it would?

Or are we disappointed that our children did not put in their best efforts? If your child was not bothered, had a poor learning attitude and did not study as hard as he should have, it should have been addressed in the run up to the exams. Not now. They are already feeling the sting, and they need your assurance and love.

Even if my child came back with an excellent score, we must also be mindful of what we are praising, especially if there are siblings around. Because there are sports cars who win the race without even trying. And that is not an attitude we want to applaud or encourage.

We need to root our children in the fundamentals of what is important as they step into the future. Strong fundaments of resilience, drive, purpose, hard work, adaptability and discipline.

If we say that we love them unconditionally, our response should be no different if they get 210 or 250, if they had tried their level best.

I will ensure that the child who scored 210 knows that I see her effort, witnessed her resilience, and applaud her for her determination.

I have had 18-year olds ask me, in all seriousness. “Does my mum think I’m a grades machine?” She is only happy when I come home with a good grade.

Tomorrow, the spotlight is on you, parents.

When your child shows you those 3 digits, and they are upset because it is the lowest amongst their circle of friends. Are you able to sincerely support your child? Knowing that he tried his best?

How are you going to frame your child’s results for him? Whether he did “well” or “badly”?

The lesson and the message that a child gets from his parents during moments like this is what shapes his thinking and view of success and achievement.

I remember to this day, that my parents said to me when I went to collect our PSLE results, “What matters is you tried your best, and know that we are behind you always.”

Those words of unconditional love and unwavering support was what kept me strong despite all the daunting challenges I faced in my adult life.

Can your child say with confidence that “My parents love me for who I am.”

If they can, I say, you have passed the test with flying colours. And remember, this is just the beginning. Let their light shine!

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 co-Founder of The Little Executive, a nurturing centre to develop children in areas like resilience and executive function. She is a Parent Coach and her signature Mummy Wee: Parenting Secrets courses help parents navigate this challenging journey. She has been regularly featured on national TV, radio and print media.

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 ~