Monday, October 1, 2012

Piecing together the PSLE puzzle

There has been a lot of debate over the PSLE lately and people were wondering if this sacred cow would finally be slaughtered, until PM came out and put an end to that speculation. He said that instead, MOE will look at ways to reduce the pressure on this one single exam.

I've long been meaning to write a piece on the PSLE and this is as good a time as any.

The dastardly bell curve

To me, the main reason why PSLE is so stressful is the bell curve. There's a lot of misconception and confusion as to how the PSLE t-score is calculated so I'll try to simplify it here.

Each subject - English, Chinese, Maths and Science - is weighted equally at 100.  Your t-score, however, is calculated on a bell curve.  What this means is that your t-score for each subject is based on your relative score to the cohort and if you are right smack in the middle (exactly average), you will get a t-score of 50 points for that subject.

For example, if for that year's Science paper, the cohort's average was 75/100 and you score exactly 75/100, you will earn 50 points.  If you perform better than or worse than 75/100, you will score more than or less than 50 points respectively.  How much more or less depends on the standard deviation which reflects the spread of marks across the cohort.

If you want a more detailed explanation on how t-score is calculated, here's quite a good one.

What this means is that if your child is Joe Average and he scores 50 points for every subject, he will get a total t-score of 200.  Which doesn't sound like much to most parents, I know.  They don't realise that by scoring more than 200, their child is already above average. That's why I feel that PSLE is harder than many parents think. We hear of the 260 scorers so often that we don't realise these are by far a small minority and we start imposing unrealistic expectations on our own kids.

Using t-score is a fairer form of assessment than using raw scores because it takes into account variables like difficulty of the papers. However, adopting the bell curve gives rise to very undesirable traits.  It's as ruthless as Jack Welch's business approach to GE - rank every employee and every year, get rid of the ones at the bottom. It's based on the principle that in any sample population, there will always be someone under performing.

I disagree with it in the business context and I find it detrimental in the school context. Ranking fosters competition and discourages collaboration because it becomes a race where it's about outrunning your rivals rather than performing to the best of your ability.  I'd rather score an A and have my schoolmates score Bs than score an A* along with everyone else. This is what we want to teach 12-year-olds? That I'm a champ if I pass and my neighbour fails? Talk about screwing teamwork and cameraderie.

We are encouraging kiasuism by creating scarcity, explained very well here by an economist blogger.

Even putting aside the ugly competitiveness, the bell curve has severe limitations. Anecdotally, we know that kids are getting "smarter" in the sense that parents are getting more involved and investing more resources into their kids' education. Kids are studying harder, always looking to beat the exam system. By this logic, as a general population, our kids should actually be learning more in this generation than the last. I'm pretty confident the average student today will outperform the average student 20 years ago.

The bell curve does not reflect this as it merely imposes the same distribution on every population. In other words, I suspect that cohorts have been improving as a whole over time but we will never know for sure as the bell curve cannot measure between cohorts.

Why is this important? Simply because the PSLE t-score then is NOT indicative of real ability, only relative ability. Yet the cut-off point for the Express Stream, has remained at 188 for a long time now (I don't have the information for when this score was introduced). This is an arbitrary figure at best - a child who scores below 188 today may be more suited for the Express Stream than one who scored below 188 ten years ago. If our education system is as effective as we like to claim, should we not make room for the possibility that more kids are learning at an acceptable level?

In an environment where kids tend to internalise the t-score as a measure of his or her ability, the bell curve generates a lot of anxiety and can fuel low self-esteem.  All this from a mechanism which, when you break it down, exists primarily to issue you with a queue number to choose your secondary school.

Call for more transparency

The PSLE maths papers were on Friday and Andre came home looking a little deflated, saying the Paper 2 was quite tough. When I say a paper is tough, I mean it is of a similar level of difficulty to those of certain branded schools known for their difficult papers. I want to qualify this because I personally get miffed when I hear that some kids come out of a challenging exam declaring that it was "so easy". It demoralises other kids who may have struggled (or maybe that's their intent) and increases the anxiety of parents. Defining something as hard or easy based on whether you personally can do it is extremely narcissistic. Somebody should tell these folks that standards do not begin and end with them.   

This brings me to my other point that if MOE wants to make the PSLE less stressful, they should start making it more transparent. I find that much of the PSLE is shrouded in mystery, like it's some major national secret. The uncertainty contributes exponentially to the stress because parents don't know what to expect.

Maths has always been one of those subjects where parents fear a suddenly difficult paper. I believe this is the reason why the maths standards have accelerated so much over the years. In an effort to beat the PSLE, schools have been introducing more and more non-standard questions, some of which are simply beyond the conceptual level of many 12-year-olds.

The acceleration is not without cause. In 2009 (Lesley-Anne's PSLE year), the maths paper was unexpectedly difficult, leading to much hue and cry. I suspect it's because 2009 was the first year of the new maths exam format - 2 papers and calculators allowed for Paper 2 and MOE didn't calibrate the difficulty appropriately. 

If MOE had admitted this, I would have accepted it as teething problems. Instead, MOE chose to dish out the standard response to protesting parents, along the lines of "the standard of the paper was equivalent to that of other years'. Parents are just being kancheong because they don't see the whole picture." (Paraphrasing, of course). In other words, we're myopic. And over-reacting.

Usually following such complaints, when the results are released, mainstream media would inevitably report that the complaining parent's kid got A* in maths afterall, making the parent look foolish. I used to think the same way - wah so kiasu. Still A* what, why so kancheong.

It was only after Lesley-Anne's PSLE that it dawned on me what a sham it was. Here's why: in all the practice papers that Lesley-Anne did for maths that year, she NEVER scored more than 90 (which is the stated absolute mark for an A*). In fact, for some of the top school papers, she scored in the range of 70s.

She came home from the PSLE maths exam crying because she said it was MORE difficult than the top school papers. In fact, she left three 4-mark questions blank. You do the math. Even discounting the other mistakes she would most certainly have made, there was no way she could have scored more than 90.  Yet, here's the bombshell - she scored an A*.

Impossible? Hers was not the only case. I know many of her schoolmates experienced the same situation. I think when faced with this, parents are so delighted by the A* they prefer not to question the inconsistency.

There's only one probable explanation for this - that besides moderating the t-score, MOE also moderates the grades. It was like a light bulb went off in my head and set my thinking on a whole new trajectory.  In other words, the cut off score for an A* can vary each year, depending on how well the cohort performs. It's just a matter of deciding what percentage of kids get an A*.

By moderating grades, MOE is effectively hiding your true score and covering their bases. They have always claimed that papers are of an equal standard each year by saying that the number of A/A* achieved remains constant.  But if you control the number of A/A* to begin with, well, then the argument is circular and invalid.

There is no way of proving that I'm right and as far as I'm aware, MOE's official statement is that an A* is 91 and above. But I know that as a whole, parents are not dumb. If many kids across the island reportedly come out of an exam crying, saying an exam was difficult, it is unlikely to be a coincidence and shouldn't be dismissed so patronisingly. If MOE wants to insist that they are right, then I say, prove it by releasing the raw scores for the 2008, 2009 and 2010 maths papers. I would love to know what percentage of kids actually scored less than 50/100 and more than 90/100 as well as the cohort average for the maths exam in 2009. Versus 2008 and 2010.

Do you know that you cannot find a complete PSLE paper anywhere? When you buy the book of past PSLE papers, the questions are strangely broken up by topics, not by year. In fact when you do the questions, you don't know what year each question was from. Again, what's the big secret? What's the harm in letting kids practise the full papers by year? The only reason I can think of is so that people can't gauge and dispute the difficulty of each year's paper.

The uncertainty means there's confusion all around. After the 2009 PSLE maths fiasco, parents went into panic mode. Then the 2010 and 2011 math papers were supposedly easy.  Parents and teachers didn't know what to expect. Do you just learn what you need to? Or prepare for a really tough paper?  As it turns out, this year's was more difficult. I don't think it's anything like 2009's but still, the inconsistency is unsettling.

Educate with continuity in mind

The PSLE is supposed to be a gauge of standards, to prepare you for secondary school. However, I find a huge disconnect between what is taught in primary and secondary school.  For example, in maths, primary school stresses the model method and systematically dissuades the use of algebra. The day you leave primary school, you don't touch models. Ever. Instead, secondary school maths uses, guess what? Algebra.

In primary school composition, you write boring, mundane stories, mostly about accidents, while peppered with lots of fancy, multi-syllabic words. In secondary school, accidents magically become non-existent and you suddenly have to write about things like the ills of computer games.

Many kids who are weak in English and had their t-scores pulled up primarily because of good marks in Chinese, find themselves lost in secondary school because Chinese is only one subject, whereas you need a strong grasp of English to do well in many subjects, especially the humanities.  But of course we all know what happened when MOE tried to reduce the weightage for Chinese at PSLE a couple of years ago.

It's no wonder that many kids who score well for PSLE end up struggling in secondary school. I find it frustrating that we spend so much time preparing our kids for the PSLE which is in essence, merely a placement test. And as it turns out, it's not even a very good placement test.

Now that the authorities have said PSLE is here to stay, I think MOE needs to take a long, hard look at correcting its flaws. By tomorrow, my kids would be done with this trial (hooray!) but for the sake of other kids who have yet to face this challenge, I sincerely hope there is change for the better.


40 comments:

Rita said...

Lovely post :-)

This, too, is my third PSLE child with my first one in 2009. I have found that the level of maths is going higher and higher and all the maths teachers I spoke to agreed with that observation but all maintain that the schools have no choice but to keep the standard high (?!?!).

I agree that PSLE is shrouded in too much mystery. I dislike the fact that unlike O level papers , PSLE papers are not available in its entirety. What we get is snippets of it ! Come on, I mean, what's the big deal about showing us the whole picture ?

Lastly, when we first prepared for PSLE in 2009, I stupidly assumed that PSLE maths cannot be as difficult as some of the branded school prelims maths papers. 3 PSLE laters, I stand corrected. I have abandoned that foolish belief ;-) I no longer expect PSLE maths to be any easier than the school prelims. So sad, right ?

I fully support your call for more PSLE transparency. Unlike you, I have 2 more kids to sit for PSLE ;-)

monlim said...

Rita: In 2009 when my good friend Lilian and I were preparing our kids for PSLE maths, every time we came across a difficult sum, we would assure ourselves, "PSLE won't be so hard lah." Boy, were we wrong!

I salute you - mum of 5 kids! Going through the PSLE 5 times must be an incredible challenge :D

Rita said...

Monica, exactly. Last time when I come across a ridiculously difficult sum, I would do the same as you telling my son "Sure won't appear in PSLE one lah".

Now, that I know this is a stpid assumption, I have a few maths school teachers who will help me solve the fiendishly difficult problems. I could solve all the problems normally but there will be one or two once in a blue moon, that I could solve only in algebra method.

So, what I do is take a photo of the question and my algebra solution and whatsapp the maths teacher asking for a model version of the answer. Haha !

I have always maintained that PSLE is a lot harder work than secondary school work and I can't wait for it to be over tomorrow ;-)

Anonymous said...

Monica, please continue to be our voice cuz frankly Im
so sick of this system Im shutting down. Blardy MOE.

monlim said...

Rita: I find that as the maths problems get more convoluted, models are being used less and less for PSLE. Many questions can only be solved using algebra or a disguised version of algebra.

At least our kids have mums like us to help them. Imagine what it must be like for lower income kids who don't have educated parents and can't afford tuition. There is no way of learning all the methods you need to know just from attending school.

I too, believe secondary school is not as crazy intense. Can't wait!

Rita said...

Actually, you are right. The kids must know algebra and simultaneous equations if they want to solve all the paper 2 problems. Models alone are no longer enough. The bar gets pushed higher each year.

A lot of graduate parents are subbing out the work to tuition centres and tutors. That's why the boom time for the tuition industry. I don't blame these parents though because it does take enormous amount of time to go through maths with the kids. And that's not even including science and the languages in the mix.

The other thing is about the PSLE grades. I always assumed that even the grades are moderated. Like maybe they also fit the grades on a bell curve, not only the scores. You know what I mean ? How else can you explain your LA getting A* despite leaving 3 four mark questions blank. And we're assuming that she didn't make other careless mistakes. Either our maths is very bad or MOE's is ;-) How come a paper that can score a maximum of 88% gets A* if it has not been moderated ?

I too think it's time for MOE to come clean on this PSLE fiasco.

Brenda said...

Thanks for your thoughts about the PSLE. I agree totally with what you've written.

My sense is that the PSLE has quietly evolved from a literacy exam when it first began to become this monstrous menance of a placement exam. It no longer test ability to go on to Secondary school learning, but it became an anxiety-inducing disruption to real learning because the focus on learning then becomes a focus on which Secondary school the child has to go to in order to "have future success".

And it's a really foolish mindset because 80% of the cohort will still go from their neighbourhood primary school to a neighbourhood secondary school, and somehow many of them in their neighbourhood secondary school will end up in the future in some tertiary education... but certainly most, if not all of them would have undergone that unnecessary stress of the PSLE. :/

And the flaws pertaining to the PSLE are many - the rich can easily avoid it by having their kids live a period overseas. Missing the PSLE isn't the end of the world if they have transcripts from their overseas school to apply for placement exams in the Secondary schools of their choice.

And of course, those who can afford hiring a tuition army for their kids would tend to do better - after all, they would be given closer attention to tackle the nuances of answering those pesky vague Science questions, taught the more colourful idiomatic phrases for the language papers, or even given the model Math model answers whenever needed. Therefore, how then can the PSLE be said to promote mobility between classes?

And the recent discussions about spreading out the "good" teachers to counter the effect of PSLE... really? Does it mean that "good" schools don't have teachers who outsource their teaching to tutors?

Have they considered how much more impact it would be to spread out the academically-inclined students to create multi-ability classes for better collaborative learning?

monlim said...

Brenda: Absolutely. PSLE should be an exam to ensure kids have attained the necessary standards to move on to secondary schl. Instead, it is now a ticket to the schl of your choice.

I feel the greatest harm done to the system was the building up of a few schools as the ultimate elite schools. So instead of having the top 20% of students spread out in different schools, now you have the top 2% here, the next 5% there, etc. In fact, now if you score really well, it is automatically assumed that you would choose the top school, no matter whether the environment is suitable or whether it's really far from where you live.

This very narrow segregation is so unhealthy and as you say, doesn't allow for collaborative learning.

tanyongkuan said...

Dear Monica, I am a father of 4, with my #3 going though his PSLE now. inclusive of my own PSLE 30+ years ago, my friends call me a professional PSLE private candidate. Just wanted to know that us men read your posts too. :)

Thank you for your writings and blog entries. They are great reading. I especially agree with you on your point about the problem stemming from the setting up of the ultimate elite schools.

1 more day to go and 1 more child to go after that! :)

AT

Sue said...

Three 4 mark questions blank and she still came out with an A star?
That IS pretty sick what they put the kids through, set the standard so impossibly high, only to have to moderate in the end if not they wouldn't have many (any?) A star candidates?
hi Monica, I'm a homeschool mom and my eldest is a PSLE candidate this year. We are not part of this system. How well my kid fares has no bearing on his future as we do not intend to put him in a sec school.
Us homeschoolers can offer a unique perspective on the whole debate about the need for tuition and stress level of PSLE and all that because we are really on our own. I can say that as an "outsider" without the coaching of school or tuition teachers who are trained in priming kids for the exam, (and we didn't send him for tuition either) the PSLE is a real hard nut to crack. We really have no sense that we have really grasped anything concrete (especially for Maths because they keep throwing so many curve balls.)
Well, my son did copious amounts of school exam papers but not very helpful coz they are not standardised so we have no means to gauge our standard.
So school paper standards differ, PSLE is not marked on absolute grade..... Piecing the PSLE puzzle indeed!

monlim said...

AT: Professional PSLE private candidate indeed! Your comment made me laugh out loud, haha. Thanks for reading, nice to know it's not only the mums who come here :)

Sue: I thought homeschooled kids don't have to take PSLE if they don't intend to go to secondary school. I can just imagine how stressful it is, I've heard of homeschooled kids who end up with all kinds of physical ailments during PSLE year. Jia you, will be over by tomorrow!

Rita said...

Monica , I think for homeschoolers they will still need to pass PSLE even if they don't intend to put their kids in our secondary school system. If they don't pass the PSLE, then they are deemed not to have completed the compulsory primary school education and they have to sit for it again.

I have a few homeschooling friends. I must say I admire them because I can't imagine doing it :-)

monlim said...

Rita: Thanks for the clarification. I too, could never do it!

Anonymous said...

"A home-schooled child has to meet the same PSLE benchmark as children attending the San Yu Adventist School, and sit the National Education Quiz before PSLE.

The PSLE benchmark for San Yu Adventist School is pegged at the 33rd percentile aggregate score of pupils who take the 4 subjects at Standard level in national schools in that same year. For the 2009 PSLE, the benchmark for San Yu Adventist School corresponded to a PSLE aggregate score of 192."

If get below 192 - considered fail ?

Anonymous said...

Just to clarify about homeschoolers. Firstly, PSLE is compulsory for homeschoolers regardless of their intention to homeschool at the secondary level or not. Secondly, their "pass" mark is not the same as the rest of the population. Last year, it was 194. Any homeschooling child who scored 193 or below at last year's PSLE exam are at the exams again this year. I know of a homeschooler who had AABC and had to repeat. Quite ridiculous in my opinon because aren't those grades "pass" grades?

Anonymous said...

The odds are unfairly stacked against homeschoolers. If they want to go to a secondary school after P6, they have to meet a much higher COP than a mainstreamer. Say, School X has a COP of 220. I've heard of a homeschooler having to get much higher than that to get into School X.

DareToAct said...

Great post.
The bell curve (relativity) is the root of most, if not all, suffering. PSLE is just a start. My salary versus the average, my house, my car ..... That's how you create a rat race and the rats will find it difficult to leave the race. The rat needs to know where it stands ....

Anita said...

Thanks for the very this posting!! You gave words to some of the pain & frustrations I've been feeling the past year in prepping my No 1 for PSLE this year. No 2 is on next year so it's a real marathon.

My key frustration is that the kind of questions being set requires a high level of cognitive thinking, high level of inferential thinking that a large majority of kids would struggle with. The level of language prowess needed to do the comprehension is incredible!! Even I a English Language Major could not score more than 16 out of 20 for P6 comprehension.

Science & Maths are require a very high level of English competency & inferential thinking too. After this past year of helping my son, I've learnt that I've been too late in prepping him. One year is not enough. The kind of thinking sophistication required of our kids demands that we prep them from Kindergarten. One parent shared with me that the English competency required means your child needs to be reading Readers Digest & National Geographic (not junior but the adult version) by P2-3 and adult literature by P5.

I suspect our teachers are really not adequately trained to prep our kids. Many of them still use the drill methods when the testing standards are no longer about drilling.

monlim said...

Anita: I think the level of prep also depends how we expect our kids to perform. Andre certainly doesn't read the adult National Geographic or adult literature and I don't expect him to.

I guess for me, I'm letting him develop at this own pace - what I don't want is for the PSLE to dictate how others perceive him and how he perceives himself.

Anonymous said...

personally get miffed when I hear that some kids come out of a challenging exam declaring that it was "so easy". It demoralises other kids who may have struggled (or maybe that's their intent)

But if they really found it easy, shouldn't they say so? Because when I was in school, we used to all come out and say "it's so hard, sure die one" for all the subjects, just to psych ourselves into studying harder for the next exam.

Then when the exam results came out, and some of us did extremely well, like best in the class, and the others really didn't do well, there was all sorts of hurt feelings. Some friendships never recovered after that.

So maybe it's just better to be honest?

monlim said...

Anon: I think there's a big difference between saying "I could do the paper" or "I found it easy" vs "The paper was so easy." True, some kids don't think about what they say, I guess I'm referring more to those who say it with a malicious intent - either to make someone else feel bad or show that they are superior. I find that there is quite a lot of mean-spiritedness among kids these days (and their parents). Maybe it's just a product of the competitive environment.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your comments "what I don't want is for the PSLE to dictate how others perceive him and how he perceives himself."
In my opinion, my son has his own forte and strengths in his character which I deem as more important than scoring 4 straight A*. He has shined and grew up happy in a single parent household, has aspirations of what he wants to do in the future and enjoys school. However, our current education system does not give enough merit to such qualities.

Shuo said...

Hello Monica,

Just would like you to know that I find your post very thought provoking and would be sending the link to my sister-in-law as she has a son who will be sitting for PSLE soon. Thank you.

I came across this book at http://petunialee.blogspot.com/p/book.html and if by chance you come across it and read it, could you please be so kind as to let me know whether it could be applied for other educational system (not Singapore system) as I am not living in Singapore? Thank you in advance.

monlim said...

Shuo: I've not read the book, sorry! Perhaps the author will be able to shed more light?

Shuo said...

Thanks Monica for your reply. Yes, I have asked the author but thought of getting your esteemed opinion if you have read it. :)

monlim said...

Shuo: Sorry I couldn't be of any help!

Chocolate Reindeer said...

this is so enlightening! you write very well, and I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on the Singapore education system. I have 2 little ones of my own, one in nursery and one in primary 1, so this is very insightful indeed.

monlim said...

CR: thanks!

Anonymous said...

Monica - another well written piece!

Aren't you glad to rid off this PSLE creature forever?!

I dislike it when they say we parents are kancheong, without understanding what exactly is going on in this education system. We keep asking for quality teaching (to reduce need for tuition), textbooks and assessments well aligned to PSLE syllabus, smaller class sizes and joining of CCAs for fun rather than for competitions etc. But to our disappointment, changes, if any, are not fast and forthcoming.

Anyway, congratulations for no more PSLE! Really happy for you.

SL



monlim said...

SL: Thanks for your kind wishes! Yes, very glad to see the back of PSLE. My memory is bad - do you still have one more yet to face this hurdle? If so, all the very best to you!

Anonymous said...

One more to go! Thanks for the wishes and hope to say bye bye to PSLE asap.

SL

loveourchildrennow said...

Good one, Monica. I have my first PSLE this year, another next year. I shall put on my purely analytical, slightly cynical hat here.

I must say that the system does serve the Government well, in pushing up standards year after year after year, isn't it? (E.g. you said that the average student today will outperform the average student 20 years ago. In fact, perhaps he would outperform someone just 5 years ago).

I agree with you, that this, and the lack of transparency really serves to add stress to the whole exam, but surely, that again, acts to the government's advantage.

We are all playing by the rules, because we feel that we have no choice, because to do otherwise (i.e. not be competitive, not push them hard, and inadvertently contribute to the every rising standard), is to shortchange our own children. So there is little reason why the government would change anything, is there?

So, I am not sure whether MOE really wants to make the PSLE less stressful. I cannot think of any incentive for them to do so, or any disincentive not to do so.

I like your point about the lack of continuity between primary school and secondary school learning. I suspect that, from what I have heard from friends, and I am looking forward to studying that strange situation when my children get there.

Now for my own personal perspective. I have kind of given up on the PSLE for my children. As their mother, I know that they are intelligent and capable, and I try to get them to work hard. But they are boys, and that takes A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT OF ENERGY on my part. So while I would love for my firstborn to get into RI and NUS High and the likes (he is bright), I find the effort of getting him from about 230/240 to 250/260 so much, and so costly as a family, that I gave that up. For my second born, I have lesser ambitions for him because he is not naturally good in Maths, and the maths standards are so fiendishly high that it would take us all too much tears and blood, money and time, to get him to do well. So again, for him, I just hope that he at least gets into Express.

So no, I don't bother to help my children learn to solve every maths problem. I believe that in every PSLE, MOE will think of new ways of asking questions, which no one can answer unless they are naturally gifted in maths. We can't beat it by brute force. We can drill, for strong foundations, and I think that's what is most important. As someone commented, the level of abstract thinking is too high for some children. Though I disagree with her, that we need to start early. because I think that the children may not have the mental maturity to understand in the early stage.

So I want to train and educate my children. I just am opting out of the PSLE race. (Am i right to say, you are doing similarly?) I just hope that the secondary and tertiary level education are more sensible and relevant, and that they will catch up when they mature emotionally and mentally.

monlim said...

LOCN: I wish more parents thought like you! I agree, it's so much effort just to get our kids to the next level and the costs to family life, self esteem etc are just not worth it.

I'm not sure if you've read my earlier post but it's there that I stipulated the reasons why it's in the government's interest to continue to promote this sort of competitiveness in education. http://www.hedgehogcomms.blogspot.sg/2012/06/education-stress-whose-fault.html

Petunia Lee said...

Thank you for writing this Monica!!

giggsy said...

Hi Monica,

I just read your blog post about the PSLE via a link in kiasuparents.com and I just wanted to drop a line to say thank you. I really enjoyed your post and find it one of the most cogent explanations of the T-score calculations.

And I fully agree with your comments on all the MOE-generated secrecy and mystery surrounding the PSLE. Your take on the management of the number of A*s reflects my sentiments on the matter. My son also took the PSLE in 2009 and had a somewhat similar experience in the Math paper as your daughter and I had the same questions that you raised. Those I know in the teaching profession subsequently informed me that the MOE does indeed moderate the grades.

I have always found the MOE to be one of the least transparent of all the ministries and yet one of the most fervent when it comes to experimenting non-stop with the education of this country's children. There has not been a single generation of children in this country since the 60s that has not been their guinea pigs.

Again, thank you for a great read!

Cheers!
Giggsy

monlim said...

Giggsy: Thanks for the compliment! You are absolutely right about the children of this country being treated like guinea pigs. Every couple of years, there will be some new experiment and the results of which are always ambivalent. Hard to help our kids when you feel like the target is always moving (and seemingly playing hide and seek with you!)

Anonymous said...

Nice view. I'm a Primary 6 student, so I quite understand what it feels like. When my class was doing a question in this year's PSLE Guidebook, my teacher stopped explaining a question as we all looked confused. He even sighed and said 'The PSLE that year was very... Siao'. It was a Maths question. I didnn't know about the bellcurve though. I'm quite worried about that. Some students in my year are very smart, scoring (usually) full marks for Maths. They started learning Secondary school Maths already. (I admit to self-studying from my sister's Secondary 1 Science textbook) This year it was very tough, the teacherss presure us sooooo much until one of my really stressed-out friends almost attempted suicide. She messaged me 'better to die first than fail later'. I'm not going to name my school, becausse not matter how strict they are we still have fun events to reward us for trying hard. Your post really changed my view, and I stumbled upon this while revising.

-Some Random P6 Kid with Kiasu Parents
(I really am 12!)

monlim said...

Anon: Thanks for writing. It's really a crazy system and I hope you and your friends understand PSLE is not as important as you might believe, in the long run. Definitely nothing worth considering suicide for.

Do take heart that it will be over soon and secondary school IS infinitely better. All the best to you!

See Min Lim said...

To be honest, I'm a P6 pupil and I'm currently taking the PSLE... I have never had tuition as it seemed useless from what i know(my classmates who do have tuition mostly score lower than me) and for math, i rarely ask my mum for help, and when i do, its usually because my brain refuses to work anymore... So, i have to tell you that if your teachers are good and the pupil can understand well, it's no problem having no tuition... Also, its likely that a pupil who has tuition will be confused by their tuition teacher, or they are taught to use a symbol in a mathematical statement which is considered incorrect, I have came across many such students even though I'm in one of the best classes of our school(it's a neighbourhood school so...)

Anonymous said...

The psle complete papers were released last year and they helped me prepare for my psle better i also find that pri sch is much easier than sec sch

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