Being in the education business, we have the privileged of experiencing many students and parents sharing about the stressful moments of our local students particularly during their preparation for the PSLE. Before I proceed further with this article, I like to add that I am a supporter of the Singapore primary school curriculum structure and I am thankful that the Ministry has done a good job to ensure the structure is well designed to help develop our children’s cognitive skills at a young age. This however does not imply that I am agreeable to the way it is being delivered at ground level. Of course, this will take a separate discussion.
PSLE is a milestone national examination. Everyone wishes to do well and while our children are working hard at delivering the best results, parents can support in many ways to ensure the journey is a pleasant one. I like to take this opportunity to thank the teenagers whom had shared with me their nightmarish experiences when they had to face the “dreadful PSLE” some years back. We hope “The top 10 Pre-PSLE Nightmares to Avoid” will open doors to help make the learning journey of our children a more pleasant one.
#1 Complete ALL Past-Year School Examination Papers before PSLE
A petrified look of a child is one who faces this BIG stack of past-year examination papers that mum lugs back every annual Nov/Dec school break!
Yes, past-year school examination papers can make a child but it can break one too if not appropriately put to use. These papers are a good source of material to aid in your child’s revision as they do provide some level of benchmark to assess one’s standard. When a child does well, his morale is boosted. However, when a child does not do as well, it may mislead him to think that he is not good enough. To achieve the former outcome, ensure the child is relatively prepared in the understanding of the subject before embarking on these papers. Take time to explain to the child the purpose of working on these papers and that it is by no means a yardstick to his performance for the PSLE or the only gauge for his competency. Finally, be realistic in the number of such papers your child can complete, as it really is a matter of quality versus quantity.
Quick tip – store the papers out of sight of the child as ignorance is bliss and in this instant, it minimises unnecessary stress/burden on the child.
#2 Work on the toughest assessment book to beef up competency
onSponge +hinkingMath series of workbooks is well-supported by parents but children shy away because the questions are deemed relatively tougher (it’s a myth by the way). We are thankful that many made it a point to purchase the books even though we have them only available via the school bookshops or our website. On many occasions, I have also heard parents engaging only tutors who use our series of workbooks. While we are happy that our books are adopted by many, we are also mindful that effective usage must be supported by appropriate teaching and guidance to the child failing which the struggle would turn into unnecessary stress for the child and possibly developing into fear over the subject! Simply dumping a challenging workbook to a child and expect him to work through effortlessly is unrealistic. To score for an examination is a combination of many factors and working on challenging assessments is certainly not top of the list. Do not fall into the trap of jumping into the bandwagon of pushing challenging assessment books to your child until you know what your child actually needs and are able to offer the guidance to help him achieve the learning objectives of the material (as oppose to drilling) in the long run.
#3 MORE assessment books
Piles of assessment books are a common sight on the work desk of most school-going children. Usually, when a child completes a workbook, he realises that he will be quickly pushed with another new 250-pages of workbook. And the adults wonder why the child often drags to complete his assessment books.
In my opinion, the objective of working on an assessment book is to improve on areas of weaknesses and increase exposure to a variety of question types. More is not always beneficial. Be selective in the types of supplementary materials you provide your child with. Many materials in the market are regurgitates if you study them carefully. Blind drilling is a waste of your child’s time that could be used more productively. Before you buy the next assessment book, note your child’s area of weaknesses and spend your time to select material that can fulfil his needs specifically. If you are bless with a child that is already relatively well paced, relax and let him deploy his time on sports, arts or simply play.
#4 Lesson Sprinting
Many children do not get home from school till about 4pm to 5pm especially at Primary 6 as most schools conduct regular supplementary classes for their students and some as frequent as daily. Unfortunately, their day does not end after school dismissal since they are often rushed to their tuition classes. It is usual that some children do not actually get to do their homework till 9pm or later (they sleep past mid night) and many are simply too tired to focus but are obligated to go through the motion to fulfil the day’s routine. We have parents that shared that their cars have turned into a mobile locale for the child with a portable writing desk, lunch boxes and pillows. A mum even jokingly added that she just needed to complete the amenities with a rice cooker! This hectic schedule does not stop over the weekend for that is a precious time slot for more ferrying around Singapore island for the best tuition programme and other activities. Find time and have a chat with these children and you will find many feeling drained with the rushing about. When you realise that you see lesser of the joy and spontaneity in your child amidst the rush, it is time to take stock of the situation.
#5 Not performing at PSLE = No good secondary schools
Perhaps instilling fear is one of the options to incite your child to work harder. But I believe fear is never a good option for it brings forth other issues that will impact the development of a child. Usually people perform worse when in fear. I will ill in my performance when faced with an immediate superior who inflicts fear of the possibility of losing my job especially when I know my ENTIRE family needs my financial support! Giving one a sense of hope through encouragement is always a better approach. Instead, boost the morale of your child by painting to him the attractions of the desired school and spurring him to work towards the goal of becoming a member of that school. If possible, make a visit to the school of his choice to help motivate him. The truth is, we do have one of the best public school system in the world as most are well-equipped with world-class facilities and the government is constantly investing in making the schooling experience of our children a pleasant one (well apart from the immense homework and supplementary classes especially in P6).
#6 Why can’t you do better than him?
“Well maybe I have your genes,” silently this probably resounded in your child’s little mind each time you had this on his face. Ok, that’s really below the belt but you get the point. And in today’s context, you do not know how much more this other child who does better has to do or is given to get to where he is. I have a friend who sent her son, at lower primary, to be trained weekly to enhance his cognitive skills – unheard of during my time. I guess it is some kind of programme that trains the brain to function at its optimal capacity? You might want to google on that if you are keen but the point is today, not only is every child different, every child is nurtured differently and that nurturing comes with investment in time and money. The next time when you compare your child to another, think about yourself.
#7 Disappointing the hopeful
Most children may appear nonchalant when they do not perform to the expectations of their loved ones. Many attempt to work at their studies out of a sense of responsibility and obligation to their parents. The idea of studying because it is enjoyable and valuable is generally quite an alien concept to our children. As the stress of performing for the PSLE builds up, the burden becomes heavier especially when a child sees how much efforts the parents have to put in to help him attain the desired outcome – the ferrying around, the expenses in tuition classes, the time spent coaching and the occasional pep talks. The nightmares built further when friends and relatives constantly remind them of the big examination and how the child will definitely perform well especially for those whose parents’ achievements in life have somehow set the yardsticks for the juniors! Maybe saying less is best under such circumstances because our children already know what’s expected out of them. Take time to discover other talents and interests in your child and show how you value these on top of his academic performance so he feels secure of your love for him as a whole as oppose to just his likely performance for the PSLE.
#8 No entertainment and leisure time
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” – a cliché yet often forgotten by parents under the PSLE attack. Entertainment and leisure are part of everyone’s life especially given our urban lifestyle. That’s no different for a child. Give your child the time to chill as this will help to recharge to run the next mile and more. Physical activities like running, cycling, swimming or simply a walk in the park will have your child feeling energized and refreshed. Physical exercise not only help your child to become more agile and fit, it will enhance your child’s mental ability in terms of better concentration, increase speed of processing, and the ability to perform cognitive tasks. So the next time your child ask for a break from the books, let him do some physical exercises as a strong body leads to a strong mind for better performance academically.
#9 DSA galore
The Direct School Admission (DSA) is a route parents explore for children who are gifted in a specific sports, arts or simply with high academic competency. A worthy route for those who possess either of the three attributes. As with all good initiatives, there will be those who take it to the extreme and the DSA exercise can turn into a chore for a child who has to be groomed to perform. Yes, this will include taking extra lessons on interviewing skills to gain an edge during the DSA interview, having enrichment sessions to top for the general ability test (GAT) and of course pushing the child to excel in a sports or arts to excel at national level to increase the chance of acceptance. In addition, there are parents who would register the child for DSA exercise in multiple schools hoping to increase the chances of being accepted. All these are mostly done in the year of the PSLE when the child is already tight on time and high on pressure. Yes, the DSA route is attractive and can shave off a good level of pressure during the PSLE once your child receives a placement confirmation. Yet, pushing too hard can tire your child and this can impact the performance otherwise. Be realistic and manage your child’s expectations (and yours) by viewing the outcome as a bonus if one should be shortlisted, after all, the post-PSLE placement is the normal route.
#10 The Bandwagon Syndrome
This final nightmare to avoid is specifically for all the dedicated parents standing strong behind our children to arm them for the PSLE. Parents will be anxious during this period and are particularly tuned in to anything and everything related to this national examination. “Have I done enough for my child?”
“Mrs Lim is sending her child for this and that, maybe I should too?”
“Mrs Lee’s son scored the best in class and has been telling me what I must do to help my child…”
“Oh dear, this is going to be a year of tough papers! Better step up on tuition and more assessments!”
And the list may go on and on till you lose your sleep. There is no end to chasing all the hearsay about the PSLE. Every child is different and not everything is suitable for your child. Know your child, understand his needs and offer your support and love during this season. Your child has been preparing for this examination since Primary 1 and if you have been monitoring his progress to help appropriately with realistic expectation for your child’s performance, everything will turn out fine. The model PSLE parent will know when and how to tune out/tune in to avoid stressing themselves and in turn, stressing out the family.
This article is contributed by Elsa Tan, a mother of two with more than 2 decades of experience in publishing. Elsa writes from her personal experience as a mother, a coach at onSponge and also her textbook publishing experience in one of the most established book-publishing companies in Singapore.