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Monday, May 6, 2013

Review The Primary School Education System

My daughter showed me her Science test paper yesterday with some fear and trepidation. It showed 9 out of 20. This time, I told myself I wasn't going to react like before. Her last test had been well done but not this time. Disturbed, I decided to find out.

As it was less than two weeks to her mid-year semestral examinations, my heart sank when I first heard the bad news after she appeared from the school gate. "How come its so low?" I asked tactfully, trying my best to keep my composure.

According to her, this test paper had been pegged to the standards of the top class in her level, not counting the gifted class. There are a total of about twelve classes in her level and her form teacher had revealed that the majority in her class had failed the paper. To make matters worse, the test was counted in as part of her overall Science exam grade.

Obviously, this paper is intended to stretch the cream of the crop! This is unfair as those in the average mainstream classes are marginalized in a school which adopts an elitist approach to learning and is overly eager to produce more PSLE top scorers. To me, the average child's early school journey could be affected if they are faced with such challenging papers that test their knowledge beyond the textbooks. While it is good to expose students to a wide range of questions, there is a limit as to how much can be tested because ten-year-old kids are generally not that widely read provided they are exceptionally bright or genetically intellectual. We can impart knowledge to our children through conversations, encourage them to read more but we can't force every child to read books pertaining to general knowledge because children at this age prefer to read stories that tickle their imagination rather than finding out about the hows and the whys of Nature and Science. Some children do enjoy reading the Encyclopedia but I think this is an exception and not the norm. Ultimately, it really boils down to one's personal interests and inclinations. Unless the child attends good enrichment classes, he/she may still lose out in this rat race.

I believe I am not alone in this struggle. I feel sorry for my child because she has lost her childhood. Most of her time during the weekends are spent doing homework, revising for a test or trying to complete a worksheet set by her tuition classes. It is endless these days and I feel exasperated in a system that emphasises academic achievement beyond everything else! To swim against the tide is foolish because she may be left out in the end. In short, I strongly feel that her school only directs their attention on the academically top classes. I should've heeded the advice of someone who cautioned me about this years ago. If I could turn back the clock, I doubt she would be studying in this school today.

I've not sent her for any Science tuition yet but I have no choice after this test because I really don't wish to risk her scoring below my expectation in the year-end examination. Its not that she doesn't know the subject well enough. I've gone through my own enrichment books and past year examination papers with her. She is fairly exposed to different types of questions but this recent test is just beyond her; I didn't even understand the answer to one question on Heat! I did find a careless error though which cost her 2 marks but even if she had checked carefully, scoring 11 out of 20 for a topical test is still considered a very difficult paper at this level.

Through the years, the Primary School Education Syllabus has raised its bar significantly. I wonder who is really to blame: parents, the tuition industry, the school in question or the government ministry. While the cost of mainstream education is very low (school fees cost peanuts!), some parents are willing to spend beyond a thousand dollars every month to fund their children's tuition classes just so that they can score 'As' in school. No wonder one parent remarked to me that there's no such thing as a level playing field here.

Put simply, you can now buy intelligence with wealth. And those without the means have to depend on God or their genes to produce an intelligent baby so that their child can produce 'As' without any tuition classes. But the obssession with good grades has driven many less-than-wealthy parents to scrimp on other necessities so that their children can also attend good tuition classes. I am shaking my head now.

I feel that there is no urgency to inject so much rigor into the primary school system. Some friends have told me that the PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination) is the most stressful national examination of all. Before the age of twelve, thousands of children go through their childhood years chasing after a primary school certificate when what ultimately counts is how far they've travelled in their education ladder. So what if a child has a high score of above 250 for his/her PSLE result but can't even get a CGPA (Cumulative Grade Point Average) of at least 3.5 upon graduation? What is a prospective employer really interested in?

To me, the child's learning journey is a long one and it is very crucial particularly during their early years. Children should not develop a phobia of tests because it affects their self-confidence. For this, parents and teachers are at fault! I suggest that the primary school system be tweaked and schools must ensure that every test be set fairly. A fair test is one that consists of mixed ability questions rather than leaning the standard of the paper towards catering for the best. Every paper must be vetted by the HOD or subject/level head especially one that is counted in as part of the examination scores. In short, there must be due consideration for the MASSES.

I did consider writing in to the school to complain about the nature of the test paper but after some thought, I decided against it for the sake of my daughter. Besides, I know I am not the only parent who feels this way. Believe me, there are many anxious parents who will not hesitate to write or call over the slightest discrepancy. I was one of them before but I've changed my approach to one of silence. Honestly, its very hard to beat the system. 'Live with the choices you make' is a constant reminder when I find myself fretting about the situation.

I am counting the years before she sits for her PSLE. Two more to go. I can't wait to say 'Good Riddance' when the primary race is over.

If you are a parent and your child is entering Primary 1 next year, please think twice before you consider one of the top schools. It is going to be a pressure-cooker, particularly from Primary 3 onwards, if your child isn't the cream of the crop. Do bear in mind that every child's learning pace is different so don't expect him/her to be super smart like so-and-so's child.

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