076 How To Prepare Children For Unexpected PSLE Results?

If parents are already stressed out, what about the children?

On a Saturday morning, I greeted a neighbour, “Have a happy weekend!”

“It’s a sad weekend,” he replied unexpectedly before going on to explain,

“The children are having a grilling time preparing for examinations.”

My neighbour’s daughter was one of nearly forty thousand twelve-year-old children taking the national examination, Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) in Singapore this year. His words reminded me that PSLE was around the corner at the third week of September.

Source: https://sg.news.yahoo.com

PSLE is widely perceived as a one-time life-changing event that greatly affects children’s future. Parents with children taking PSLE do get jittery. Many parents will take leave from work and some even resign from work to support their children in preparing for the examination.  

I overheard a mother complaining to a friend how stressed out she felt. Her complaint drew a blunt remark from her friend,

“Your child is the one taking the exam, not you. If parents are already stressed out, how are children going to take it?”

Is the stress real or imagined?

People who are unfamiliar with the Singapore education system probably cannot fully grasp what makes the PSLE so stressful. At one glance of the statistics, nearly every student passes and advances to secondary schools. With only a meagre 2% of the cohort failing, onlookers may be forgiven to think the fear for PSLE is more imagined than real.

The devil is in the details. Children are pigeon-holed into different academic streams according to their PSLE results, which directly affects their chances of gaining admission to the preferred national universities in the long run. And a difference of one point in the PSLE aggregate score may cost children to miss the cut-off point for admission to the premier schools they covet. A less-than-expected performance at PSLE inevitably brings big disappointment to parents who have done whatever they could to support their children. Most detrimentally, it is not a blow that every twelve year old student is ready to deal with.

Source: https://www.asiaone.com/singapore/parents-compile-list-top-psle-scores?amp

A friend X told me, “My daughter was utterly shocked to receive her PSLE score four years ago. She cannot go to the same secondary schools with her better-performing friends. Overnight, the world she knew collapsed. My daughter felt she was not good enough compared to peers. Her self-esteem never quite recovered since. And it got worse over the years. At sixteen now, she starts questioning why she has to go to school since she is not cut for studies.”

By many measures, Singapore is highly regarded for having one of the best public education systems in the world for producing a large pool of academically excellent children. But the deafening voice of promoting meritocracy has drowned the voices of those whose self esteem has been scarred . It is only of late that it dawns upon the ministry of education to abolish, in five years’ time, the streaming of students.

What matters most is always the child!

Knowing that my friend X has another daughter taking PSLE this year, I wondered what I could do to assuage her anxiety. Immediately, I shared with her a thoughtful message written by a well-meaning teacher to her primary-six student,

“You are about to sit for your first major examination. I know you are getting the jitters so in the midst of all this, I want to tell you that this test does not assess all that makes you special and dear to heart.

The people who scored these tests do not know how creative you are. They have not seen how well you design or draw. They have not seen how great you are at coming up with games, improvising them to entertain and amuse your friends. They do not know how confident you are when speaking in a large group. They have no idea how you have always been a teacher’s trusted helper, handling every task assigned well.

The scores that you get in this examination will tell you of how you did that day but not everything about you. They will not tell you how you have improved on something that you felt was once difficult. Neither will they tell you of how you had shown resilience in this examination and pulled through.

Whatever it is, it will not make you any less than who you really are… ”

**Special thanks to KQ for sharing her cherished message from her teacher Michele.

I was moved. The thing that matters most is never the results, but the child. And my friend X was also nearly brought to tears after reading this heartfelt message. She said, “This teacher is so thoughtful and wise. She makes me want to write a similar personal message to my daughter!”

I hope more parents and teachers would do the same!

Be prepared for the unexpected results

Last year, a few weeks after the PSLE examination, I thought there was a need to have a conversation with my then twelve year old son, Conan, about the impending release of the results. 

“We all hope for the best. But we must also be prepared for the worst.” I prefaced the topic before asking Conan, “So, what’s your prediction?”

“Well, I hope to get a score of 260. I guess it will be alright if I get 250s.” Conan spoke carefully as he made his prediction. Then he mischievously changed his tone, “But if I get 240s, that is definitely a no-no! I don’t wish to get a lower PSLE score than you did.”

I laughed at his remark before correcting his view,

“Do you know that the PSLE score is computed by a formula that compares your marks against all other students in Singapore?” That means even if you have done well enough, but everyone else is doing better, you may still end up with a lower score than you expected.”

Source: https://mothership.sg/2018/10/how-to-calculate-psle-t-score-aggregate

Conan frowned. I took a jibe at him,

“Well, it’s a possibility. You didn’t push yourself as hard as some of your classmates did. Did you not say so yourself?”

Conan disagreed with a cheeky smile, “Pushing hard is a bad idea. A balance of work and play is always important to do well in exams. ”

“Let’s hope you are right. My point is to be prepared for unexpected results.” I said before adding,

“At best, you will get to be happy for a few days. Or at worst, you go to a secondary school that you least expect. It’s not a big deal…”

Before my sentence could finish, my wife abruptly stopped me, “Oh please, stop saying things that may jinx my son’s good fortune!”

Picture from WordPress Photo Library.

After the results were out, my wife gleefully called to tell me the good news. Clearly, my words did not bring my son any bad luck.

Examination stress may leave a lasting impact on a person

Even in adulthood, I have had occasional nightmares about making a frantic search for the correct examination hall. Those nightmares started from the time I took the Singapore-Cambridge General Certificate of Education Advanced Level (GCE A -level in abbreviation) at eighteen years old. I am not sure how many children can handle exam stress well at a vulnerable age of twelve.

Examination stress may leave a lasting impact on a person. I think it’s still better to prepare our children for the unexpected results, don’t you agree?

Finally, I wish to say a big Thank You for spreading my messages. We hit more than 2300 views for the previous article! That was a big encouragement to me.

William W K Tan

4 October 2019, Friday

Like, share, comment, follow or subscribe if u like to encourage me to keep writing ✍️.

075 Insights Into Making School Choices

Can you imagine how thankful I felt when the school teachers of my two children coincidentally made a similar remark at the teacher-and-parent meetings recently, “We have no worry about his academic performance. Your son is among the top students in his class.”

I mulled over the remark repeatedly and arrived at some insights that are hopefully useful to others:

    Never let others have the final say about you
    Do not end up like a dead fish
    The big fish in a small pond
    Do not seek success dictated by others

A family of two tales

Things weren’t always so rosy.

My elder son, Kyan, aged fifteen, now studies in a high school for special needs students. Prior to this, Kyan barely coped with the academic demands in a mainstream school for nearly five years despite making good progress. His academic ability turned out to be relatively better than his classmates in the new school. His special needs teacher said, ” Kyan is an exemplary student in Maths and reading for the other students in class.”

Picture: Kyan loves solving fractions.

His younger brother, Conan, aged thirteen, now studies in a junior high school for academically excellent students. He was consistently ranked among the top five students in his cohort up to primary three. But Conan went through a rough patch in Primary five, a year after he was transferred to another school that offered the Gifted Education Programme (GEP), a rigorous education programme designed for the most intellectually-gifted students in the country. Conan revealed, perhaps with a little exaggeration, “I felt driven to the brink of depression at one point of time.”

Never let others have the final say about you

After the recent teacher-and-parents meetings, I excitedly told Conan about the positive comments I received,

“Your teachers in the new high school spoke very well of you. But I was most surprised by what your Maths teacher said.”

Conan looked at me with anticipation.

“She was telling me how good and quick you are at Maths.” I said.

Conan replied with a triumphant smile, “Talking about that, I only took a small fraction of the allotted time to complete all the problems correctly in a recent test.”

Picture: WordPress Photo Library

“No wonder.” I said, “I was told that you would always finish all the homework on the spot even before she finished teaching the class. She revealed that you are one of the two students in this cohort, whom she observed, to be of high calibre.”

Conan was grinning from ear to ear. I continued,

“Do you know what my response was?” I paused, then teased him, “I was tempted to ask your teacher, ‘Excuse me, are you talking to the right parent?’”  

We both laughed. Conan understood why I made the remark.  His confidence in Maths plummeted badly after his performance repeatedly paled in comparison to his brighter classmates in Primary five. Since then, he saw Maths as his Achilles heel. 

Picture: WordPress Photo Library

Having worked in the education field for twenty years, it has always disturbed me how children’s confidence in studies is adversely affected by test scores, comparison with peers and teacher’s comments. I cautioned Conan,

“That’s what I have been telling you. Never let test results, or for that matter, anyone else to have the final say about you. Keep trying and learning to know yourself better.”

Do not end up like a dead fish

I think one of the most precious lessons for children is to have them learn to know themselves better. I was inspired by a wise statement that Einstein purportedly made,

“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Source: https://www.tellwut.com/uploads/

As there is no substantial evidence to suggest that Einstein said these words, I made up a fable to tell Conan when he was younger.

“A tadpole and a fish were friends who grew up in the same pond.  One day, the fish saw the tadpole, which had turned into a frog, leaping to the land and hopping back into the water. The fish was envious and thought, “If my friend can do it, surely I can do so too.” So the fish leapt up high and far with all its might.  It successfully landed far away from the bank. What do you think happened to the fish in the end?”

Conan, amused by the story, replied, “It became a dead fish, of course. The fish couldn’t possibly leap back into the water.”

“Precisely, don’t be a dead fish, my son!” I added a cautionary note in laughter before saying, “Keep learning to know who you really are.”

Source: http://www.cndajin.com/

The big fish in a small pond

Conan apparently took the lesson of “know thy self” to heart.

Last year, Conan achieved a remarkable score of 270 at the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), a national examination for all primary six students in Singapore. Everyone expected he would opt for the prized school of Raffles Institution (RI) that top students were gunning for.  But he was adamant that the school would not be a good fit for him. He explained,

“Dad, I know myself. I am good at learning things quickly. But I am also laid back. That school’s competitive culture won’t suit me.”

I laughed, “I am glad that you know yourself well.” 

But I wanted him to know what he was giving up. I told him, “To many people, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to enter RI. The school has produced two out of the three prime ministers since our country’s independence. And they also produce many successful people in all fields. It’s almost like a guarantee for success in life to gain admission to the school.”

Conan replied, “No thanks. I will probably struggle and lose motivation eventually.”

After much deliberation, Conan chose National Junior College (NJC,) a reputably good high school that matched his needs and aligned with our expectation. I asked Conan how he thought of the decision after nearly nine months in NJC. He explained

“It’s just the big-fish-in-a-small-pond effect that I am doing well now.”

Source: https://nationaltrotguide.com.au/

He elaborated, “I have compared with my GEP friends who are attending different junior high schools. Most of us are doing about the same kind of stuff, except for RI. You would be in awe of the “out-of-the-world” kind of questions my RI friends have to tackle.”

“So do you think you have made a good decision?” I asked.

Conan replied, “Well, the good thing is I am having an easy time. I have lots of free time to read, play games and do the stuff I like. ”

Do not seek success dictated by others

There were moments that I wondered if I have short-changed Conan’s future by not pushing him a little harder like what some Asian tiger moms would do.

But I thought quietly to myself, “I know NJC. It was my alma mater at senior high school level. It’s just the first year in the six-year programme. It’s a matter of time that Conan has to rise to bigger challenges in the subsequent years. Let’s see how things go as he grows older.”

In the meantime, I am heartened that Conan has found time to pick new hobbies such as reading Chinese novels this year. He has also become more engaged with the family, and even takes the initiative to take care of his autistic brother. These were things that he was less inclined to do when the school stress heated up two years ago. 

Picture: Conan reads to Kyan in the library.

We’d rather our children grow up holistically to become wholesome people who keep learning for the betterment of themselves and others, than to become people who are obsessed with pursuing success dictated by others. Don’t you agree?

Like, share, comment, follow or subscribe if u like to encourage me to keep writing ✍️. Thank you!

William W K Tan

(aka Uncle William)

15 Sep 2019, Sunday