Aug 26, 2013

    We're always preparing for PSLE

    LAST week, while the debate raged on about the new changes to the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) scoring system, I wondered what the people who actually had to take the exams themselves - you know, kids - were feeling.

    I wanted to check in with some of my friends' children in lower primary - the ones who would be most likely to come under the new system, when the kinks have been ironed out.

    The trouble was, before I could get to ask them my questions, some gatekeepers - aka parents - would head me off by saying that their child had no idea what the PSLE was.

    To my mind, children often know a lot more than we give them credit for. I thought it might be a good time to explain to the kids about a policy shift that is supposedly to lessen the stress they feel in school.

    The chatter that has been going on in the media involves the pros and cons of PSLE T-scores, versus more flexible banding and direct admission exercises.

    But perhaps kids themselves cannot care less - it is only us adults who fret.

    I sat my elder son down for a talk one day. The boy, who is in Primary 1, needed reminding to pay attention in class and play well with others in school.

    "Do you know what the PSLE is?" I asked, after I had given him the usual pep talk about respecting his teachers and classmates.

    "Of course, I do," he replied, even as I remembered that he had had two days' holiday earlier this month because the Primary 6 boys were having their PSLE oral exam and a huge banner declaring "Silence - PSLE in progress" had been hung on his school's facade.

    "Well, by the time you take it, it won't be just scores that will determine which secondary school you go to. If you get the same grades as another boy, and you both want to go to the same school, but there's only one space left, they're going to take the one with the better conduct," I said.

    "It's not easy learning how to be a good person," I added. "You have the next five years to keep practising. Learn to be nice to others, kind, resourceful. To be a leader, you have to learn how to follow first."

    I asked him if he was confident he could do all that. He assured me he was.

    Of course, my job of preparing this child for the educational changes ahead can't - and shouldn't be - done with just this one lecture. It is, in fact, just a beginning.

    A friend of mine, M, put it best when she said that the Singapore education system isn't perfect, but we, as parents, should do more than just complain.

    The key, for her, is to make sure that she lines up activities that would challenge her two sons - eight and six years old - when they return home from school. To that end, the advertising executive and her art-director husband are not afraid to ply them with thick, wordy books and complex role-playing games. They suss out workshops introducing architecture and clean-energy concepts for the kids to attend.

    Taking a leaf out of her book, I signed up my seven-year-old for an online computer-programming course for kids, called Tynker. For one afternoon, he was absorbed in drawing characters with a graphics software and then animating them - the first four of 16 chapters to complete.

    All this has reminded me that there is more to educating a child than formal schooling - that there is a huge world outside of classrooms. It is my prerogative to schedule my two sons' time after school, so that they keep learning while having fun.

    Playing crystal-ball gazing, and looking five years into the future, I would be happy if my son makes it back to his alma mater - even if it's not one of Singapore's so-called top schools. The important thing would be that he hasn't wasted his time, but has been open to trying new things and seeking out more in the areas that interest him.

    In our house, I could say, we are always preparing for PSLE: Parents Seek Learning Experiences.