Parents complain about 'tough' PSLE maths paper amid Covid-19 stress

Parents complained of their children bursting into tears after what they said was a very tough PSLE mathematics paper yesterday, with several pupils needing emotional support from school counsellors.

They questioned why there was a need to subject pupils to such high levels of stress amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mrs Tan, 44, who declined to give her full name, said she received a tearful call from her daughter after Paper 1 about its unexpected difficulty.

Mrs Tan said: "I cried too. She had prepared so much."

The regional head of marketing added that she was thankful for a school counsellor who calmed her daughter down, after the 12-year-old ended the call with her mother in the general office.

The exam preparations this year have been stressful, said Mrs Tan, especially since the whole family had to be quarantined in August.

"Leading up to PSLE, I was watching the news every day, praying that my child doesn't get Covid-19," she said.

Mrs Tan was among many parents who noted that the new Primary School Leaving Examination Achievement Levels (ALs) scoring system has ramped up the pressure for pupils sitting difficult exams.

Former director in the engineering underwriting industry Hong Lian Ai, who is in her 40s, said that unlike in the past, this group of pupils will not have their grades benchmarked against the rest of their cohort.

"Whatever Achievement Levels they get is what they get.

"There is no longer a bell curve, and the exam was much harder than the 2020 paper."

This year's batch of pupils will be the first subjected to the new scoring system, which no longer grades pupils based on their performance relative to their cohort in the form of a T score.

Instead, they are given grade bands between AL 1 and AL 8 based on their absolute scores, with 1 being the best.

The ALs for their subjects are then added up to give them their PSLE score.

Madam Gina Teo, 40, who works in sales, said the pandemic has been a struggle of constant adjustment and adapting to two years of home-based learning.

Yesterday, her daughter returned home to say the paper was the toughest that she had ever encountered, and she had given up on entering her dream school.

Madam Teo said: "All my friends were left speechless after hearing how hard the paper was from their children and that many were unable to complete their papers.

"We knew that the PSLE mathematics paper would be hard, but they should have set the difficulty at the same level as last year's paper."

Counsellor Priyahnisha N told The Straits Times that this year's PSLE might be extra challenging for children due to the frequent changes such as heightened Covid-19 measures, school closures and fluctuations between physical lessons and home-based learning.

She said: "As expected, not many children are keen or responsive to online learning, and this might pose a challenge to retention and revision... It may be more difficult and pressurising for children to perform well."

She added that it is important for parents to acknowledge the stress and anxiety that children are experiencing and that having open conversations around performance and meeting expectations is important.

She said: "Being reassuring and affirmative of the child's efforts provides the validation and comfort that he or she needs."

Ms Bernadette Clara Yeo and Ms Lim Pin Xiu, who are the co-founders of Bramble, a start-up which focuses on aiding parent-child communication, agreed that it is important to address issues children are facing.

They gave three tips to parents dealing with their children's stress during PSLE: to affirm and not to dismiss their children's feelings, to focus on their progress rather than their results, and to show unconditional love and support for them.

Ms Lim added: "(The children) might be feeling discouraged, demoralised, angry or shocked, but it is very important to acknowledge how your children feel and show them that their feelings are normal and valid."

She added that it is important for parents to give their children time and space to process their emotions rather than rushing them to be productive for the next exam.

She said: "Your actions, more than your words, will remind them that there is more to life than exams.

"Take a mini-break together over the weekend. Go out for a walk or treat them to their favourite ice cream."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 02, 2021, with the headline 'Parents complain about 'tough' PSLE maths paper amid Covid-19 stress'. Subscribe