Tue, Oct 20, 2009
The New Paper
Parents up in arms over PSLE maths paper, but...

by S M Ong

EVERY few years it seems, parents are "up in arms" over how ridiculously hard a Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) paper is. This year, it was going to be my turn. My oldest child took the PSLE two weeks ago.

I've never been "up in arms" before. I was looking forward to it. I even started working out.

Related link:
» PSLE Maths exam 'made son sad and lose confidence'
» Parents: Chinese PSLE exam was not fair

And right on cue last week, parents were up in arms over the this year's PSLE mathematics paper.

One parent complained on the AsiaOne forum: "My daughter cried the moment she came out of the school gate after the maths paper."

Another one wrote: "My son was so sad and lost his confidence when he finished the paper.
"Why make it so tough for kids in Singapore? Every year, we hear about how PSLE maths kills the children's confidence and drains them so much that after the paper, they would lie flat on the bed."

I want to join in this indignation, but...

Okay, there's no way I can say this without sounding like I'm bragging even though I'm not, but here goes: My son thought the PSLE maths paper was easy.

Not "so-so" or even a non-committal shrug, which is how he usually communicates nowadays. He actually used the word "easy".


At first, I was somewhat relieved that this could be one of those years when the Ministry of Education decided not to kill the children's confidence - then I heard about the complaints that the exam was too hard. Was this the same exam that my son took?

So I asked him if he was sure the maths paper was easy. "Yes!" he snapped, annoyed by my incredulity.

Now I'm really worried. Why can't he lose confidence like the other kids?

The trouble with my son is that in the past, whenever he thought an exam was easy, he usually did worse than expected. And when he thought the exam was tough, he did surprisingly well, possibly because he was less complacent.

Unfortunately, as parents, we can't really gauge whether a PSLE paper is actually "too" difficult. Usually, someone would cite an exam question that most educated grown-ups couldn't answer to show how unfairly difficult the paper is to the childen.

But this is hardly a reliable indicator because as an educated grown-up, I can't even do my daughter's homework - and she is in Primary 4.

"Didn't you go to university?" she would sass me.

"Yes, but I got only a basic degree in journalism," I would retort. "Not a PhD in primary school maths!"

"Then what are you good for?" she would ask.

I wonder that myself.

As for my son, I can't do anything about his PSLE now, except wait for next month's results and cry then.

And in two years, I'll be doing it all over again with my daughter. It will be my last chance to be "up in arms". I have a feeling she won't let me down.


This article was first published in The New Paper.

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