The recently-concluded math Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE) held on Sep. 27, 2019 were apparently very tough.
It seems to have affected the students so badly that one mother in Singapore took to Facebook to pen an open letter to Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung.
Asked why the math paper was so tough
In her post on Ong's Facebook page, Serene Eng-Yeo asked why the PSLE math paper was so tough.
She claimed the it was so "harrowing and so devastating" that her son and other children "came out of it defeated, crushed and utterly demoralised".
She described her son as an "average kid" at math, and despite her praying that he would at least be able to complete the paper, her son had come out "crushed and defeated".
Her son had apparently been "dumbfounded" by every question in the paper, and Eng-Yeo claims he was not the only student who felt that way.
Eng-Yeo wrote that his school's preliminary papers had been much easier, and her son had came home "smiling" and feeling "empowered and encouraged", which made the contrast between the prelims and actual PSLE paper even more stark.
"What is the point of making the paper so tough? Can MOE explain the rationale behind this?"
Mental "scarring" on children and "phobias"
Eng-Yeo also claimed the PSLE paper could lead to mental "scarring" and other psychological effects.
She said making the paper "challenging" and "doable" was understandable, but that there was no need to set the paper to be so "unreasonably tough".
Citing Singapore's high Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) ranking, she asserted that these results had come at the cost of students' mental health.
"Are our strawberry generation youngsters so fragile, that they have to resort to suicides because one of the key reasons being the inability to cope with the academic pressure?"
She also argued that at this young age, children could easily develop a "phobia" of national exams.
Referencing the recently-reported rise in suicide rates for males aged between 10 and 19, she noted academic stress as one of its contributing factors.
She singled out the Ministry of Education and the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board for setting such tough papers that could affect the mental wellbeing of young children.
"SEAB, MOE... you cannot keep silent. Your stakeholders demand an explanation. Do not rubbish our sentiments and think that we are over exaggerating or over reacting.
You only need to set and mark the papers. But it is the scarring that you have inflicted on your future generation that the parents have to see through and undo."
"We have made PSLE to be a be-all and end-all exam for the 12-year-olds"
Eng-Yeo said that if the students have put in months and years of effort studying, and yet cannot complete a large portion of the paper, that says more about the standard of the paper than the students' preparedness for it.
She concluded her post lamenting the flaws of the education system and how 12-year-olds in Singapore inadvertently see the exams as a "be all and end all" situation.
"Our children will be products of the system that is created. And do not blame them for taking their lives when they cannot see beyond academics because We have made PSLE to be a be all and end all exam for the 12 year olds: and the joke is No one cares what scores they get when you go out to work. No one ever puts the PSLE T score down in one’s resume .
So my question is why make PSLE 2019 such a nightmare."
Eng-Yeo also posted two photos of tough math questions, purportedly from this year's paper, which have been circulating online.
Wide range of reactions
Eng-Yeo's post elicited a wide range of reactions. A large portion agreed with her, saying that the papers these days were indeed too tough.
Some pointed out that such "helicopter parenting" would lead to even more stress for children who fail to meet their parent's expectations.
Others said that the difficulty of such exams was to properly test a candidate's understanding and exposure to the subject matter, and to distinguish the elite from the mediocre.
Therefore, they added, setting easy questions would defeat the purpose of the exam.
You can read Eng-Yeo's original Facebook post here.And here's her text in full.
"Dear Minister Ong,
Our society talks about mental health issues being on the rise and of late a newspaper report raised alarm bells on the increasing rate of teenage suicides in Singapore particularly that of males. In 5th Aug 2019, CNA reports that the number of suicides in Singapore rose 10 percent last year with suicides among boys aged 10 to 19 at a record high!
The headline read: MOE, MSF “very concerned” about spike in youth suicides...
The article further reads,
“Relationship issues, academic stress, peer pressure and uncertainties about their future are possible causes for suicidal thoughts in teens, said experts.”
Are our strawberry generation youngsters so fragile, that they have to resort to suicides because one of the key reasons being the inability to cope with the academic pressure?
Singapore is the reigning champion for PISA in Math and Science year after year- newspapers proudly proclaimed. Our youngsters are upheld as trophies that testify to the success of our education system, but at what cost ?
The 2019 Math PSLE Exam held last Friday was so harrowing and so devastating that our 11 and 12 year olds came out of it defeated, crushed and utterly demoralised.
Come on, It is just an exam- what is the big deal? They are bell curved , it wont be so bad.
That is besides the point . You and I can never understand the shoes of these courageous kids who have spent their entire upper pri education practising and learning for this 1 off high stakes exam. It is unfortunate... everything they work for boils down to these” do or die” 4 days. As Singaporean parents, do we want out? YES! But do we have a choice , NO!
Am I exaggerating ? Absolutely not. The kids have worked so hard. Hours and hours, papers after papers trying and trying . Along with it, tears and pain especially for those who are not inclined towards Mathematics.
Don’t tell me that this all boils down to parents’ high expectations. My kid is a very average kid in Math ... and all I prayed for and all he asked was that he would be able to at least do the paper and feel encouraged.
He came out crushed, defeated , telling me that he is dumbfounded by every question in paper 2. And I know that he is NOt the only p6 kid who felt this way.
What is the point of making the paper so tough? Can MOE explain the rationale behind this ?
You would need to convince your stakeholders that this paper is comparable in terms of standards to past years of PSLE.
Are we to blame the school for setting a paper that is not of comparable standard?
Certainly not. The school was humane . The paper was reasonably set and gave hope and encouragement to the kids.
My son came home smiling after Prelims telling me that for the first time, he felt empowered and encouraged that he could do the paper.
If the school had an inkling that this year’s PSLE would be so crazy tough, they would have matched it in terms of comparability. No doubt about it .
SEAB, MOE... you cannot keep silent. Your stakeholders demand an explanation.Do not rubbish our sentiments and think that we are over exaggerating or over reacting.
You only need to set and mark the papers. But it is the scarring that you have inflicted on your future generation that the parents have to see through and undo.
Make it challenging. Make it doable, I agree. But what I don’t understand is the cruel decision to make it so unreasonably tough that children came out crying, deflated, demoralised and crushed.
Parents have to deal with their disappointment to move on coz there are 2 more papers awaiting ...living in fear that the remaining papers would be as unforgettable.
Sure. GRIT, character building and resilience. But if the paper is set in such a way that even adults find it difficult and challenging to do, then something is very wrong with our system. This is not a new topic and MOE has received much flak concerning the high standards of Math but unfortunately, nothing has changed. Esp not this year. This is unfathomable.
If we want our generations to be life long learners, to love and be brave about failures and to dare to make mistakes and be creative and think out of the box and to possess the 21st century competencies, rethink the way we test and the stakes involved.
If after all the months, days and hours they have put in and they cannot even solve a large part of your paper, I don’t think our students are unprepared , we will need to reflect.
Sure, PSLE doesnt define them. But the ordeal of going through this at such a tender young age of 11 and 12 is uneccessarily cruel.
Don’t talk about mental well being and be concerned about their emotional health when we do not practise what we preach.
Our children will be products of the system that is created. And do not blame them for taking their lives when they cannot see beyond academics because We have made PSLE to be a be all and end all exam for the 12 year olds: and the joke is No one cares what scores they get when you go out to work. No one ever puts the PSLE T score down in one’s resume .
So my question is why make PSLE 2019 such a nightmare.
And before they take the Mother Tongue and Science Papers, they would have to live through the weekend fearing, wondering if the next 2 papers will be as tough or if not tougher than what they have ever done and how they are going to face them.
Good... roughen them up a little...
NO... not when they are at this young age where the phobia for National Exams and the seed for mental unsoundness could inadvertently be planted.
A parent who is fiercely protective of her children’s mental well being."
Top photo from Serene Eng-Yeo / FB