Oct 08, 2015

    Ire over coin question reveals PSLE anxiety

    I REFER to the to the article "PSLE question weighs heavy on parents' minds" (My Paper, Oct 7).

    It is not uncommon that parents complain about Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) questions when it comes to this time of the year. To me, however, it reveals a more fundamental issue at hand.

    The question on the weight of eight $1 Singapore coins would have cost pupils only one mark if they got it wrong. So, why the fuss?

    The issue is that the PSLE has become such a high-stakes examination that parents and, therefore, 12-year-old children put all their mental energy and other resources into it.

    I do know of at least one teacher who mentioned to pupils the hope for a difficult examination in certain subjects so that the children would excel. This is because the mechanics of the T-score calculation give an advantage to those who do well, given the likelihood of a relatively lower mean score.

    While the T-score will, in time, be scrapped, I'm concerned it could be a problem later on if policies - such as selection-related criteria - are not reviewed accordingly.

    In the case of my 14-year-old daughter, she aced both English and Chinese subjects in Secondary 2 and is being considered for the Bicultural Studies Programme next year. However, she was asked not to apply for the Special Assistance Plan Scholarship for the programme due to her PSLE T-score being just out of the acceptable range. It did not matter that she had made progress in the two years since her PSLE.

    This is not an issue about getting the scholarship, but about why the T-score matters in this case.

    When children are pit against one another in this manner, it is no wonder that they suffer mental freezes when they are stumped and parents get upset over the smallest of things.

    Can one imagine the stress our 12-year-olds have to go through? As parents, we need to equip our children with coping skills, be it at examinations or in life in general. What the Ministry of Education can do is look at what it wants education to mean to children at the primary school level, in addition to other macro objectives it has.

    We reiterate that creativity is a goal of education, but I am still struggling to see how that is so in our current curriculum. We want our children to be less risk averse, but that thought is banished the moment PSLE looms.

    To promulgate the right attributes in future generations, a rethink is needed, such as in the ways in which children are currently taught and given freedom in creative expression during class without being put down, as well as how they are assessed.

    The current student-to-teacher ratio is also very high, leaving teachers not much room to breathe. Some class outings even turn into "scolding" sessions, with teachers being weighed down by having to manage many students.

    Requiring teachers to teach in creative ways means giving them more time to think and arming them with the right resources, manpower included, to carry out their lesson plans.

    Allowing our children to retain their innate creative skills and honing their risk-taking abilities means letting them enjoy the learning process and not taking away opportunities to explore because of high-stakes examinations that condemn them to a good few years spent in tuition.



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