Monday, September 14, 2009

Surviving the countdown to PSLE Part 1

School reopens today and this is it - the final stretch before the PSLE. Discounting the listening comprehension exams this Friday, it's just under 4 weeks to the first paper and exactly 5 weeks till it's all over.

One whole year's work has come down to this and having gone through the experience with Lesley-Anne, it's enough to put me off national exams forever (I'm so dreading Andre's turn!)

I understand that PSLE is important but sometimes, I feel that the entire community of schools, teachers, parents and kids has just gotten carried away by the wave of mutually reinforcing kiasu-ism. At Lesley-Anne's school, it has been intensive revision everyday from Term 3. In class, the kids do exam papers from other schools. Remedial sessions have been added. If that's not enough, Lesley-Anne has been coming home with as many as 4 PSLE papers (one for each subject) a day as homework. The next day, she would hand them all up in exchange for another set. From what I know, some parents are adding to the workload by setting additional work and piling on extra tuition classes.

It's not just the parents and the teachers - many of the kids are pushing themselves at this breakneck pace. Lesley-Anne has been ultra conscientious this year. She worked out her own revision timetable and after finishing her daily mountain of homework, she would take out her files and do some additional studying. I know many parents would be envious to hear this and I am heartened that she is self-motivated. But I do worry that it's all a little too much, too intense.

When she came home from her PSLE Chinese oral exam, she was in tears because she didn't understand the words in the picture and so couldn't really talk about it much. I told her it was ok, it happens and she needn't be so upset since she already had DSA in the bag. But I understood why she felt let down. When you invest so much effort into something and are unable to perform at your best, it's terribly disappointing.

And that's where I worry that so many of these kids, who have poured their blood, sweat and tears into the PSLE, are not prepared or mature enough to manage the emotional backlash that might result from this process.

Most of the time, effort + ability = results. Based on the laws of probability, if you are reasonably bright and have been hardworking, there is an excellent chance that you will do well. But nothing in life is ever 100% certain. As we all know, so many other factors can affect an exam score - carelessness, nervousness, lapse in concentration, misreading a question, etc. This is especially so if the kids are fighting for the last few precious marks, eg from high 80s to 90s. One slip can easily cost you that A*.

The problem is that many of these kids have come to define their entire academic abilities based on that eventual t-score. I can understand how a 12-year-old might think that way but it irks me that so many parents fall into that trap as well, reinforcing the child's doubt in his own self-worth. "How come you didn't get A* for maths? It must mean you're not as good in maths as I thought." No, it could also mean that the child somehow didn't manage to transfer his ability onto that particular exam paper. Not the same thing at all.

Well, there's not much we can do about the pressure from schools and the system but it does help to remain level-headed and provide a supportive environment at the homefront. So how do we keep our kids and ourselves sane and grounded during these next few weeks? I have a suggestion but it's too long to include in this post, so you'll have to wait till Wednesday - Part 2 coming up!


Anonymous said...

Guess I am one of the rare species here. My girl is sitting for her PSLE this year too but it is not my top concern. It is true that she has tons of worksheets to be done which she did at her own pace ,diligently. She will check with me if she's not sure how to answer certain questions. That's about it. I'm not giving her extra work as I believe she's already tired out by the homework and the daily supplementary classes which ends at about three to 4 pm. She still has time to play with her hamsters after school . Every evening, she will play badminton with Daddy for 30 minutes. Oh yes, she makes sure she levels up at the REstaurant city and feeds her pet on FACEBOOK.

She has done relatively well in the Prelims and was happy with her performance at the orals.Guess, her happy-go-lucky character plays a part in the attitudes she has towards exams. Also, we have never set extremely high expectations on her. She has been accepted by one of the IP schools and we are thankful for that. We have always told her that she has to give her best and there's no need to become the best.

My life does not revolve my children's academcis despite the fact that I'm not working. It's more than that - helping out in church, counselling friends, planning for missions trips etc
In my family, we live for things that really matter - and my kids know that :)

breve1970 said...

Mon, a very poignant and reassuring post yet again. Yes, I heard the orals were quite difficult... one of the topics included a scene in the void deck or something. I don't even know what's a void deck called in Chinese. :(.

Honestly, its parents like you who will make the world a better place for our children i.e that is to live for things that matter rather than academic achievements.

Lesley-Anne, all the best for exams! You can do it!:)

Lilian said...

Besides the school, I think peer influence matters a lot too, so even if parents don't stress the kids, if everyone in that school is working equally hard and striving for top results, it's only natural that the child gets influenced too.

I think Brian's school has a healthy approach to the upcoming exams. There are revision papers but nothing too excessive. Generally a pretty relaxed atmosphere. Prelims were pitched appropriately, and while I hope this won't make Brian overconfident, at least his confidence hasn't been dented by unnecessarily difficult papers.

The boys in school don't seem super competitive nor very hardworking either -- One can take that as a good or bad thing I guess!

Anonymous said...

It seems that many schools are going all the way out to prepare their P6 students. Extra supplementary classes and intensive drilling by doing top school's exam papers. On the contrary, my child's school is taking it very easy this year. Only some supplementary classes before Prelim which have since stopped. There are practice papers to be done, but comparatively, not many. And I am refering to a top school who produced the top PSLE student last year and 4 out of the top 15 students in the nation in the past 2 years.

breve1970 said...

Lilian : Or maybe girls are more competitive, you reckon? But somehow, the boys will excel when they are older especially in the areas of Math and Science.

All the best to Brian for his exams too!

Anonymous said...

I believe the exam culture has made us work hard for too long and forget how to work smart. To me, work hard when learning, work smart when revising. If I have to work hard during revision, I would be stressed too. Hope teachers are not forgetting that and stress the kids too much.

Just a comment on the Chinese Oral "void deck". The underlying problem is kids tend to think in English for Chinese speech, my child alike. That is the first fundamental mistake. There are no direct translation in some cases. In this case, I do not know the equivalent of void deck in Chinese but I would use my understanding of void deck to talk about it and draw relevance based on the picture. eg. 政府组屋楼下设立了一个休闲空间给左邻右舍的邻居聚在一起闲聊. So if want to talk only about void deck...政府组屋楼下的空间

The correction is works in progress in my household, so can only identify with the issue, no visible results yet. LOL


monlim said...

Ann: I don't think girls are more competitive than boys. I agree with Lilian that it depends on the school and the peers.

In general, I find that the neighbourhood schools give more work than the "top" schools but that's not necessarily due to virtue on the school's part (JMO, don't sue me!) - many of the kids in top schools have more help at home and can afford high end tuition and so the schools can relax somewhat, vs neighbourhood schools which feel more of the pressure of making their students deliver. As Lilian mentioned, a majority of the kids in Brian's class actually troop to Learning Lab after school for tuition and this is a GEP class! No wonder teachers can relax :P

QX: I think chinese is often a stumbling block for jiak kantang kids (like mine!) As you said, we tend to think in English and try to speak in Mandarin which can be disastrous! PS I have no idea what are the chinese words you wrote LOL

Lilian said...

At primary school level, I think girls are generally more conscientious than boys, and possibly more competitive too. The boys in Brian's class are very Facebook games that is! They play chess together during recess and some scoot off to play soccer. Even Slim's son who is in the top top top school is very relaxed; boys this age are just too attracted to computers.

I don't know for sure if the majority of kids in Brian's class go to LL, I only heard from a mum that many do go there. Her own son doesn't. And you know this school doesn't really do that well at PSLE, I think it just isn't part of the school's internal KPI! :) Which is fine by me! And that is why the teachers take a relatively relaxed attitude, not that the kids are super well-prepared, I believe compared to kids from other GEP centres, they probably are the least drilled! I do know there are at least a couple of super brilliant kids, indulging in their own experiments/interests, all of which have nothing to do with PSLE prep, even in the midst of prelims. I like that. So even though PSLE results from kids in this school may not be outstanding, I think in the long-term, they will still do well, benefitting from the nurturing, fun-filled and relaxed school environment, well, as relaxed as a Singapore school can be!

monlim said...

Lilian: Ah, but you see, you don't have comparisons to girls cos both you and the other mum only has sons... from what I can see from L-A's school, I don't think the GEP classes are as competitive as the mainstream classes, for either gender, they all seem quite level-headed. But at the p3 level, from what I know from the mums whose kids are in the top class, the competition is so rife it's unhealthy. And it's mostly from the boys, from what I hear, comparing 1 mark etc. So, again, it's all anecdotal but I think environment probably plays a bigger part than gender.

I like that Brian's school takes a backseat approach though, like you say, definitely more healthy in the long run.

Anonymous said...

LOL..Mon, could be my Chinese is so bad that it is not comprehensible. I also part-time speak Mandarin type. RLOL..

As for top schools having less drilling, I agree with Mon that majority are already being worked on by their enrichment centres, minority are the bo-chap with big brains that can work magic during exam. The reason why teachers can relax more in top schools is more of the enrichment factor reason. So parents with kids in the top primary school(with most PSLE top scorers), do not be misled by the surface work of 'do less achieve more' works in that school. Many of their kids are in TKK, sorry, I mean, TLL. :P

My gutfeel also tells me that the mainstream competition is more deadly than the GEP's and Mon, you confirmed that it is so in your school. Smart people do not compete the same way.. at least not point by point...and miss the point! LOL


monlim said...

QX: At least you speak mandarin part time, I speak it no-time! I'm so glad I don't have to take Chinese exams anymore, sure fail :P

Umm.. what is TKK and TLL?? sorry, a bit slow on the take...

breve1970 said...

QX: I understand your explanation on "void deck" and its very well written especially since you mentioned that you speak mandarin part time:). I think you have explained it very appropriately. Wish my Chinese is half as good as yours.

Mon: Yep, most of the kids in Hannah's school troop to The Learning Lab (TLL) after school too. Especially the kids from the top 2 mainstream classes. I had a casual chat with one GEP P5 student a couple of months ago and I asked her if her schedule was packed with enrichment classes and guess what? She said "no". She just does her homework diligently with some occasional work given by her mum. That's all. Was I impressed!
Her mum really sounds like you and Lilian and some of the other rational GEP mums who read your blog:)!

monlim said...

TLL = The Learning Lab!! *smacks forehead*

Ann, I would include you as one of the rational mums - I've said it before, you really are one of the sweetest people I've ever met. Your kids are lucky to have you as a mum!

Anonymous said...

Sorry my Hokkien equally wonder throw you off your usually-sharp self, supposed to be Tan Gu Gu (wait long long, always long wait place), TGG..but to simply things.. Tan Long Long also can...I Singaporean wat.. LOL

Ann: Don't be misled by my quality of Chinese, just like my Hokkien. LOL


monlim said...

LMAO!!! Qx, you're priceless lah!

Lilian said...

LOL about Tan Long Long, cos indeed I think there's a waitlist at TLL!

And 100% agree with Mon about Ann, truly one of the sweetest person I've ever had the pleasure to meet. Your girls are so blessed!

breve1970 said...

Mon & Lilian: Thanks for your compliments. Am getting so swell headed that I can't get out of the house. LOL:)! But I tend to be more "kan cheong" with Hayley especially with her dyslexic issues so I try to work with her more at home. Sigh.

QX: I think you are just being very humble. I enjoy reading your replies to Mon's and Lilian's blogs too. Your comments are very thought-provoking and rational.

elan said...

Actually I think I am the "other mum" that Lillian mentioned since I was the one who told her about how after their Chinese (GEP version) tuition class at 4pm, some of the boys in my son's class still walk across to TLL for Science until 6pm or whatever. We are talking about boys who already are the top scorers in that subject. If it were my son who is always getting 97% (in GEP!) for Math or Science I would have saved my money, his stress and let him skip Math and Science tuition and be happy with 92% :-).
From what my son tells me, the school itself discourages enrichment classes and is always reminding them that they will have enough work and extra classes in school.
Maybe I am being too laid back because my son (and the whole GEP class) have already been accepted at our school of choice but ultimately there is so much more to life than what we score at the PSLE - Can any of you remember what you scored? More importantly, has any employer ever asked you during a job interview what you scored in the PSLE?
I still remember the stress my mum put me through during my PSLE and I don't want my sons to remember that about me when they are 40!
I believe in a good balance between fun and family bonding and enough attention to good study and learning habits and serving God. Exams (esp the PSLE) are just a milestone we have to pass but they don't determine how good a doctor, teacher, engineer, writer or whatever you are in the end.

monlim said...

Elan: I too cannot understand why GEP kids need to go for tuition when they're scoring 97%! Surely there's a limit to being kiasu. Thank heavens for well-adjusted mums like you, at least our kids have a chance at having a meaningful childhood :)

Alcovelet said...

Great post, Mon. I might have been one of those "not good enough" kids, oh dear. My sister was the mega star, so us plebians, step aside.

But now, years later, I look back and realize I'm not so bad leh. I never flunked any subject except art (ouch). In fact, I certainly had a great career and learnt so much on the job, I really can't ask for more.

There's more to life than 1 or 2 marks when you're young. Maybe I was too harsh on myself, but it's taken me a long time to realize that no single event defines a person, good or bad. Hmm. Methinks I need to introspect on this some more ...

Meanwhile, looking forward to the next installment!

Alcovelet said...

Anyway, about the kids, tuition and all - sorry lah, my kid still young. I'm hanging around to imbibe the laid back air here :)) so I'll be super chilled and tuition free by PSLE, whenever possible!

monlim said...

Ad: Great to see you here again! I can't imagine your sis being the mega star with you being so bright. I think you're doing absolutely great with your little one - sure, there'll be potholes in the road but you're sensible enough to be able to navigate around them. By the time he hits p6, maybe you'll be cruising by then!!

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