PSLE maths question on $1 coins weighs heavy on parents' minds

A PSLE maths question asking pupils to estimate the weight of eight $1 Singapore coins has sparked debate.
A PSLE maths question asking pupils to estimate the weight of eight $1 Singapore coins has sparked debate. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE (MY PAPER) - How heavy are eight $1 Singapore coins? Six grams, 60g, 600g or 6kg?

That question in the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) mathematics paper on Friday (Oct 2) has upset a number of people, including parents.

At least one person suggested the question is not related to maths and that it must have baffled many pupils sitting the exam, Chinese evening daily Shin Min Daily News reported on Tuesday.

The person, surnamed Lee, posted on the Ministry of Education's Facebook page seeking clarification.

"Are we having (an) IQ exam or maths exam?" wrote the Facebook user, who also believed there could be more than one answer since the candidates were not told the weight of each coin.

To tackle the talking points raised in a new video series called Why It Matters, ST digital news editor Ernest Luis speaks with education reporter Amelia Teng who has been covering the stories on this issue.

According to a mother whose letter was published by Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao, the exam question has generated a lot of discussion among parents.

"Our children found it difficult to answer," wrote Yin Xiuping, who said many pupils simply resorted to perception and estimation.

Some picked 600g because they had noticed how the pockets of their pants had sagged each time they placed coins in them, said Ms Yin.

Some based their answer on the belief that the weight of eight $1 coins is close to that of a 500ml mineral water bottle, she added.

But private tutors told Shin Min that such questions are not uncommon in primary school exams.

"The question is in line with the maths syllabus. For example, pupils are taught to estimate the weights of objects such as a watermelon," said Ann Tan.

Some teachers have even brought their pupils to supermarkets where they can check out some common items first-hand, added Ms Tan.

According to another tutor, who wanted to be known only as Ms Sng, many pupils still cannot answer such questions although they have appeared before in the PSLE.

"Some parents want their children to only attend classes, take tuition and do their homework... They are not even allowed to make purchases on their own. But maths is all around us and children should learn from their surroundings," said Ms Sng.

Ms Yin wrote: "The conclusion among parents from this question is that their children should be made to do more housework so they could acquire basic knowledge on life."

And the answer to the question? Based on a photo showing eight $1 coins on a weighing machine, which Shin Min got from a reader, the coins weigh 61g.

Netizens responding to Lee's original Facebook post appeared to be divided over the merits of the question.

User Cat Wu wrote that these type of questions have been the norm, while Sue Ng suggested it was to test "common sense".

The question was also featured by The New Paper, which found out - according to information from the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB)- that such multiple choice questions constitute a small percentage of the total marks in a paper, being worth either one or two marks.

A check of SEAB's syllabus also showed that one of the objectives for primary school curriculum is for pupils to be able to "develop ability to perform estimation".

The paper concluded that the question was asking pupils to show their ability to estimate.