Stress levels unlikely to fall - and may even rise

Mr Low with his wife, Ms Elaine Chow, and two of their children, David and Emma.
Mr Low with his wife, Ms Elaine Chow, and two of their children, David and Emma.PHOTO: COURTESY OF AARON LOW

The Education Ministry made a few significant changes to the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) yesterday.

My daughter will be in the last batch taking the PSLE under the current system. My two younger sons will be under the new regime, from 2021, so they will be directly affected.

Here's my take on the bad and the good of the changes in store.

First, stress levels are not likely to fall with these changes. In fact, they might get even worse.

Currently, if a school has a cut-off at 255, it means that your child will not be able to get in if he gets 254. It is an unfair system: It's just one point but it's the one point that makes all the difference.

Moving to a wider band means that once students make a certain cut, they are grouped as roughly to be of the same ability. This is a fairer system.

But it also means that stress levels will remain high.

To get into the top band, your child will need to score nine out of 10, or a near perfect score. The margin for error is razor thin and parents will continue to hot-house their children in PSLE "preparation camps".


Second, there is greater emphasis on becoming a more well-rounded student. This is, of course, to be encouraged.

But for "banana" kids like mine who can barely put two Chinese sentences together at home, the struggle to get through Chinese has become that much harder. It's not enough to "get by" with a decent grade; the onus now is to get a good score for Chinese or risk undoing the hard work put into other subjects.

A child may score A1s for two subjects and A2 for his third, but if he gets A5 for Chinese, his final score will be nine, which alters the picture dramatically.

So what's a parent of three like me to do about these changes?

Nothing, actually. My wife and I have decided to steer clear of the rat race to the top. Our daughter was eligible to go to the top girls' school here, but we chose a Catholic school because we feel it's important for her to get religious values in her education as well.

We have also decided that we will not have tuition. Of course, this may all change when she is in Primary 6. I can't guarantee that I will not morph into a crazy, kiasu parent if she starts doing badly in her exams.

But the principle remains: I want my children to be happy and to let them lead when it comes to their education.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2016, with the headline 'Stress levels unlikely to fall - and may even rise'. Print Edition | Subscribe