Oct 09, 2015

    Let our children learn and discover

    I REFER to the letter "Ire over coin question reveals PSLE anxiety" (My Paper, Oct 8).

    Being a mother of two children who had gone through the examination, I fully understood the feelings of the writer, Suzy Egan.

    The anxiety is not so different from the haze condition on a yearly basis. The one big difference is that the anxiety brought on by the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) is self-inflicted.

    While the existence of the haze is not within our control, the anxiety built up by the examination can be defused with a change of mindset by the authority who set the examination, the Ministry Of Education (MOE); by those who carry out the role in preparing the students for the examination, namely the principal and teachers; and by those who support their children at home, the parents.


    Like what Ms Egan has mentioned, MOE has indicated nurturing creativity as one of the goals of education. How is creativity or innovation released when only one fixed answer is needed for a question?

    I have heard of cases where students simply got drilled on the correct answers during tuition. No questioning is necessary, just follow instructions. Many "mini-robots" have since been churned out of our primary level education system. They felt a sense of loss when they were thrown into the "self-directed" learning environment at the secondary level. Many did badly in their first year, sending panic-anxiety through their parents and, hence, start the next round of tuition-drilling again.

    I am always amazed that students at secondary schools are at a loss as to what learning and studying are about. They are desperate to look for the best tutor or tuition centre once their first examination result is not up to par. They do not learn how and where to source for information, or to take the initiative to explore.

    Often, the reason given by students is: "Why waste time when someone can give you the answer?" Is this indicative of how "stressful" our society has become? Productivity has to be superb at all times. They have definitely missed out many opportunities to gain the sense of achievement that comes from self-discovery, instead of being given answers on a platter.

    This also reminds me of the many occasions when I took the public bus that passes a prestigious secondary school. The students who boarded the bus have similar "scholarly" looks. Sadly, though, they also have similar "robotic, lifeless" looks on their faces. They would crowd at the exit mindlessly, moving only to give way to alighting commuters. It always makes me wonder why these future scholars have so little sense of social grace of moving farther into the bus. Is this indicative of the lack of emphasis on social education in our system?

    It is not enough to say that we have a social study subject when only a negligible percentage of curriculum time is given to it. Being children, they need more drilling on social behaviour than information-gathering as we are already moving towards a high-technology society where information can be found at a finger-click.

    The school environment is the best place for social behaviour to be practised and developed into a habit. Schools can play a bigger role here as students need to stay seven to 10 hours in school.


    I have attended many meetings between parents and teachers, both in primary and secondary schools, so I can understand and empathise with the principals and teachers who have their own key performance indicators (KPIs) to meet.

    However, I feel that a mindset change is needed here. As more authority has been given to each individual school to control their own examination schedule, the principal should ensure that teachers work together as a team to ensure that each class is seen as a whole.

    My experience has been that each teacher would give his share of the homework to the class, ignoring the students' concern that they already had homework from three other subjects for the day. The homework was to be handed in the following day. All the students got from the teacher was: "Don't complain. I believe you can do it." This situation was especially common close to the examination.

    Is this indicative of the school not viewing each class as a whole, but rather as three to five separate groups by three to five different teachers for that day? The same thing would happen the next day. Have the teachers taken into account what the students had learnt that day? Or, like what some students suspect, it is indicative of what the teachers themselves are lacking in - time-management - dishing out last-minute assignments just to meet their KPIs?

    Our children have always been heralded to be the future leaders of our nation. If such negativity sets in during their educational years, one wonders about the quality of work that such future workers would produce. One may argue that the chance of this group of complainers becoming leaders is small; they may end up as only workers. However, a leader with no good workers is just as unproductive. So, every human resource is important in Singapore. Each should be trained with the view that they are thinking souls. Each should be trained with respect.


    As a parent, I have always held the view that children have their own strengths waiting to be discovered. It may not appear in the first 12 years, it may not appear in the next four years, but I strongly believe that one who is given the freedom to explore and discover is one who will emerge a victor in his own right.

    This reminds me of an incident when a child tries to set targets for each section of a practice paper. After setting the targeted score and showing it to the parents, the latter asked the child to erase the marks. When asked why, the parents answered nonchalantly: "The targets did not add up to 100 marks."

    Perhaps, parents should be educated too, as a lifelong learning process, as they too have a strong influence in the way their children learn.

    Parents should not give their child the wrong impression that only a perfect score of 100 is acceptable, and nothing less. Parents should encourage learning from mistakes, instead of aiming for a perfect score at the first try.

    What is important is not to "cage in" a person's curiosity and desire to explore. One should allow free-flow questioning sessions in class, for instance. One should allow a child to voice out his opinion, with guidance on the socially accepted behaviour later on.

    I sincerely hope more changes are coming our way to make our society a socially educated one.