My Take On PSLE

I look with keen interest on the announcements of the PSLE results and the flurry of activities and posts in its aftermath.  It is not easy to disregard the PSLE score. If you know a parent whose child has just received his PSLE results, you know that most likely he is some state of emotional turmoil.

So what is the purpose and meaning of PSLE and all the heartburn it causes?

Consider this question from a Primary 4 exam :
Explain why the shadow appear in front of the person?
photo 2 (50)-001
I went around asking 5 working adults and they all gave me the above answer.
The answer the teacher is looking for is, because the sun is behind her and she is blocking the path of the light.

Here’s another question: Why did the water level rise?
photo 1 (49)-002
If your answer is, the ball has volume, then wrong.
The answer that the teacher is looking for is, because the ball occupies space.
So is there anything that occupies space but does not has a volume?!

Suggest a reason for the water in the glass tube to move in the direction indicated
photo-003
If your answer is, the plant takes in the water. Wrong.
The answer the teacher is looking for is, the roots of the plant sucked up the water.  
Ok, then why not the cuticles on the roots of the plant.
Oh, it has not been taught in school yet.

The students were given an open ended question but expect a specific answer that was given in the textbook.

Meeting with school’s Science HOD was enlightening. In her words, they were preparing the child for PSLE. They were training the child to give the type of answer the PSLE examiners want.

In other words, train the child to regurgitate from the text books, to deliver the model answer.

The school system does not reward initiative to learn outside the school curriculum. It discourages logical or analytical thinking. For subjects like Chinese, some teachers actively encourage memorising idioms and model essays, and offer strategies to adapt these essays to the exam question. In other words, our kids are being trained to be exam smart.

So what is the purpose of putting our children through school? I thought it was to learn?

PSLE is about standardised testing for the average mortal on the average road, like what this mom blogger wrote. Its purpose is to reward those who have good memory and are willing to put in enormous amount of sheer hard work required to ace the exam. After all, providing the model answer to an open ended question takes some hard work.

Is there a better way? Probably not. Does it mean much if your child didn’t do well for PSLE? Probably not either, if I go by the explanation that the Science HOD has offered. It probably means that your child sucked at memorising and regurgitating the textbooks.  Does it mean that your kid is really smart if he aced the PSLE? Could be.But chances are that he is exam smart and knows the PSLE system like the back of his hand.

And that is my point. PSLE results are meaningless when taken out of context. Primary school and PSLE is not about learning neither is it about thinking. The form has changed but the substance has not. It is about rote learning. It was like that 30 years ago, and it continues to be the same.

If your child is a late bloomer or not willing to put in as much hard work, he is probably ok anyway. You just have to accept that he will not be competing for that nice government scholarship or he may not go to university the “usual” way, if at all. Because in a system that is going to continue testing him on his ability to reproduce the model answer, good memory and hard work wins.

Your child would probably be better off enjoying his childhood, playing, learning or just day dreaming. You just have to accept that his path will be different, possibly more exciting and fulfilling. After all, what would a university education buy them nowadays? Hope of a better future? Or a working class life doing something that they don’t enjoy and struggling to make ends meet?

 

 

75 comments

  1. pc says:

    “So what is the purpose of putting our children through school? I thought it was to learn?”

    I thought so too.

    And thanks for the message. Before this, I was struggling with the decision to raise my girl to be different or not to be different.

    • John Smith says:

      Sure, go ahead and allow your children to give “creative” answers to science questions! Fight and argue with the teachers who dare to mark them wrong!

      Then when society doesn’t recognise their “talents” at coming up with wonderful/incomplete explanations when they grow up and enter the job market, fight and argue against society too!

      That’s the way to go. Children are never wrong; it’s just that the education system is against them! When they become adults, they are still talented; it’s just that society is against them!

      • Jasmine says:

        If you had read the writer’s post carefully, you would have realised that the point she was making was not that the teacher’s answers were wrong but the point about the PSLE being about standardised testing.

        In fact, she even acknowledges that there might not be a better way to test kids. However, the point is for parents to recognise the test as it is.

        It appears that you might be making conclusions about the writer that have no basis to begin with perhaps as a justification for your own grades?

        • John Smith says:

          I must admit that I am seriously fed up with all the claims or insinuations that “every child is a good child” and that “my child could do well but the system doesn’t suit him/her”.

          The quote, “So what is the purpose of putting our children through school? I thought it was to learn?” is clearly based on the assumption that rote-learning is not useful. Let me point out here that just because one’s child (assumed to be smart and above average, as always) has to rely on rote-learning, it does not mean that everyone else has to do it.

          The examples provided don’t even demonstrate “analytical or logical thinking” at all. They are simply incomplete. And I agree with “hard work wins”. I would rather reward someone who is stupid but works hard than someone who is smart but slacks any day. In the presence of similar outcomes, I value effort over innate ability.

          I do not have any problem with the author suggesting, “enjoying his childhood, playing, learning or just day dreaming” – to each his own. Just don’t come complaining that his/her talents aren’t recognised by society when he/she is looking for a job.

          Every choice has its merits and faults. You make a choice, live with it. Don’t complain and expect society to change to accommodate; not that the author is complaining, but I can foresee this will occur.

          • Blank says:

            I agree with your perspective and I think you make a good argument. Thanks for you take to share a different POV. I am rather fed up of everyone being against the system and expecting it to fit everyone. One size precisely cannot fit all because all are different.

            It’s your child. The system does what it can on a mass level to educate each child. So don’t expect it to accept each individual for their separate personalities and ideas. That’s your job.

    • jon says:

      Qn1, A shadow only appears when the an object is blocking the direction of the light coming from the source. “Standing in front” or having “something behind” does not justify the fact that it’s blocking anything.

      Qn2. Solids have volume. Liquid has volume. Gas also has volume. What is the difference between gas and the other two is that it is more easily compressible than the other two. Hence we can’t just say that it has volume. Adding gas into the beaker does not change the water level.

      Qn3. Plant can take it things from their leaves, can absorb sunlight from their leaves. We cannot just say that something is being taken in, but to be more specific, where it is taken from as well. In this case, the roots of the plant takes in the water. Imagine if this question was changed to a bell jar where the amount of oxygen is measured. When the question asks why there is lower amounts of oxygen in the bell jar, do we simply say “the plant takes in oxygen”, or do we say “the leaves of the plant takes in oxygen”.

      Parents these days are giving nothing but too much protection to their kids. When they grow older into secondary schools and pre-u, or even in the university, students are expected to be accurate and precise. Protecting them from debatable stuff like this at such a young age will restrict them from growing.

      I’ve been through 15 years of education in Singapore and it may become a little taxing and competition is fierce. But there is something that I’ve learnt throughout these 15 years.

      It’s not always about the final results, it’s about what we can learn from our successes and mistakes.

      Cheers

      • thegreatsze says:

        I couldn’t have said this better myself – great comment Jon.

        The answers given were really incomplete and whatever other merits the child has, thoroughness is clearly not one of them.

        Perhaps the OP’s time might be better spent inculcating her child with values such as fortitude and focus, values which are necessary for any person to become a useful, contributing member of society.

      • karecity says:

        Thank you for this comment. I agree fully.
        These answers are incomplete and I don’t see why we should not teach the accurate and precise answer to children and further enforce their understanding.

      • Anonymous says:

        I personally think that there is nothing wrong with the answers. As you said in qns 1, just simply standing in front or behind something does not justify the fact that it is blocking anything. Adopting a similar concept, the action of blocking something or someone does not automatically result in the formation of a shadow. To thoroughly answer the question, points such as “sun is a light-emitting source”, “light travel in a straight line”, “sun is at an inclination”, “thereby the person is blocking the light path”, “the person is opaque”, “light is thus unable to reach an area on the ground in front of him”, “a shadow is formed.”. However, do note that only 1 mark is allocated for this question, which does not make sense if the teacher or anyone is expecting a thorough answer. Hence, in my opinion, any of the above points raised by the candidate, so long as it shows an understanding of the concept, should be awarded the marks.

  2. Nigel Ng says:

    I disagree with the analysis of the questions.
    Q1: Just because the sun is behind an object doesn’t mean it will produce a shadow. A shadow is produced when light is blocked hence “sun is behind her” is not the correct scientific answer.

    Q2: The reason why the water rose up is because the ball took up the space and displaced the water. And I agree with you volume plays a part here but why the water rose up was because of displacement by the space taken up. Hence again, the answer given provided by the student is incomplete.

    Q3 the cuticles of a plant is a dead layer of cells. It doesn’t not take in significant amount of water. Large amount of water in taken in through the xylem vessels through transpiration.

    I think the point to make here is about scientific accuracy. Unfortunately this and the difference wasn’t communicated clearly to stakeholders. Choosing instead to say that this is the answer that the examiners want is just simplistic an answer to give.

    • Nad says:

      I disagree with the analysis of Q2.

      A few here postulated that possessing volume does not imply space occupation, even though it itself is a measurement of space occupied.

      It only naturally follows that the model answer, that the ball occupies space, should not imply that displacement of the water will occur.

      If scientific accuracy was indeed pursued, displacement should have been mentioned in the model answer.

      To argue that the model answer in Q2 is complete when it does not address the cause directly, subject to the limits of the syllabus, as exhibited in Q1 and Q3, is being inconsistent.

      • Chase says:

        Saying the object has volume merely described what it has but “taking up space” establishes a relationship between the water and the ball.

        • Nad says:

          The ball will take up space even if the water was not present. I remain unconvinced that displacement is not the best answer, and the model answer still fails to address this point.

    • EA says:

      Q1: The ground forms a plane that is lit by direct sunlight. As the girl (which is an opaque object which does not allow light to pass through) comes into the path of the sunlight, the sunlight (which comes directly from the sun) will be blocked by the girl and be absorbed or reflected away from the ground. Therefore, the a projected area of the girl from the sun onto the ground will form an area that lacks sunlight. This area is characterised as shadow.

      [Shadow is characterised by a contrast area caused by a significant lack of sunlight compared to its immediate surroundings, usually due to the presence of an obstacle in the direct path of the light; it’s a phenomenon caused by a property of light which only allows it to travel in a straight path in a homogeneous medium.]

      Q2: When the ball is placed into the water and sinks below the surface, the water level will be displaced an amount equal to the volume of the ball, assuming that the ball does not absorb water, and does not dissolve in water or deform under the water pressure. Archimedes principle. For the ball to sink, the ball must have a density greater than water.

      Q3: The transpiration occurring in the leaves of the plants draws water from its xylem vessels, which form an intricate network in the plant interior and extends all the way to the tip of the root. When water is being drawn up towards the leaves, it lowers the water potential in the roots and allows water from the beaker to diffuse into the roots by osmosis. as such, the volume of water in the beaker gradually decreases. As the top of the beaker is tightly sealed, any reduction in water volume will form an empty space (partial vacuum) which will be quickly filled by water as the atmospheric pressure creates a pressure differential which pushes water into the straw. In other words, if the plant is placed in a vacuum with gravity, the water in the horizontal portion of the straw will not likely move as much. The only way the water is the horizontal portion will be drawn into the beaker is by effects of viscosity or surface tension.

      That being said, I think that marks should be the only way to measure one’s learning progress. It should be a continuous assessment. In science, it’s important to be scientifically accurate. Terminologies are important, and I think it’s good to start educating them about this at a young age. Here, I am talking about cases like the difference between mass and weight. In order to answer with greater specificity, it’s also important for the questions to be set in a more specific manner.

    • John Smith says:

      It is pretty evident that the author believes that she is capable of delivering judgement on the standard of questions and model answers provided.

      Now, this capability – that’s a huge assumption. I wonder if it can be justified other than “I have two kids”, which is a non sequitur at best.

  3. Nigel Ng says:

    That being said, I agree about the excessive and unnecessary administration of standardising tests etc on young children.

  4. Gillian says:

    I was going to write my comments about my analysis of the questions in response to yours but Nigel has very aptly said everything.

  5. Alex says:

    Those are pretty straight forward answers, but I’m afraid they are not scientific enough to be treated as accurate and correct answers.

    I agree with the marking scheme because it teaches young kids how to form accurate answers and communicate their learning and knowledge adequately.

    • Derek says:

      I disagree. Looking at the format of all questions, they are presented short and simple, hinting that the answers should also be short and simple. If you expect scientifically accurate answers, then you better put in the effort and give scientifically detailed questions.

      • Alex says:

        Kids should not be given the notion of having to be asked very specifically the answer that they are supposed to give. The reason for the set-up is to allow kids to understand the question in a simplified manner.

        They are supposed to be nurtured to be questioned like young adults, it is important that they learn that at a young age. The price to pay isn’t that heavy either, the loss of marks on any given test will not outweigh the fact that they can learn to give justifiably accepted answers in the future.

        For example, “because the sun is behind her” is an observational answer which lacks depth in the understanding behind the given question, there is no way of knowing whether he truly understand the subject.

        That being said, there should be a disclaimer on test papers requesting all young kids to answer through their scientific knowledge based on the topics that they have studied for.

      • Erica Chua says:

        While I have to agree that creativity is not something that is really encouraged in science and math curriculum, you have to know the pragmatic objective of primary science:A foundation for children where they learn the right “format” /”keywords ” to convey scientific concepts taught to them clearly and hence the need to “memorise “, which helps greatly in later years when we go on to learn physics/chemistry /biology for O Levels and A Levels. A system that awards hard work and productivity (resulting in academic excellence) is definitely not a bad thing! (Though I have to admit that I didn’t really worked hard outside of sch – – no tuition, one assessment per subject, paying attention in lessons, doing all my homework and being an avid reader of novels and Chinese synopsis in u weekly helped me score. ) I don’t see how exam strategies like memorising idioms and model essays is bad (you can borrow the gist and adapt it to your vocabulary and question, which gives you good content marks and have more time to polish the language used). This test ur creativity and command of the language to stand out frm the masses that probably memorise same idioms, expressions and model essays (Borrowing story ideas and mixing it on the spot is a skill too)
        The idea that it is okay for your kid to not do well is not okay at all? What shld be done is to teach your child values like to persevere, to be resilient and work harder to get a good result, instead of giving up. The school is a microcosm of the larger more complex society. Dismissing the system is simply not the case (why is it that your child is lacking such that he cannot strive to do well when so many others could? I’m not saying to aim for the best but to teach your child to be unafraid of failure and persevere. Do you want your child to give up and blame the environment for everything )

  6. Dagny says:

    The answers were obviously inadequate, and do not deserve the full marks.

    It’s a science exam, and the answers should be reflect scientific principles.

    Just take your first picture as an example – “the sun is behind her” definitely makes sense and is correct, but it does not reflect the scientific principle that the girl has has blocked the path of light.

    Partially complete answer = half the marks.

    Nothing to whine about here… It’s not about regurgitating the “model answer”, it’s about giving the correct answer.

    • John Smith says:

      Excuses. When I was 12, my classmate had already scored full marks for both Physics and Chemistry Advanced Placement and was self-studying quantum physics. This is the definition of “smart” and “talent”, not some “my child could do it, but the exam system is against him”.

      Stay-at-home mums are very susceptible to the fallacy that their children are smart, because they don’t get to interact with the peers of their children. The terms “exam smart” and “late bloomer” are just excuses in order to justify one’s own child’s ability when in fact it isn’t as good as what the mum thinks.

      • Nad says:

        We have kids finding flaws in Firefox’s source code, becoming chess grandmasters etc at the age of 12. Because geniuses exist, everyone must sit for examinations tailored at their level, even though we already know that it is unrealistic since those kids are obviously on the other end of the Gaussian distribution. Otherwise you’re just making “excuses”.

        This argument is flawed. Your point is otherwise valid, but calling the statement “we’re talking about 12 year olds” an “excuse” is extremely overzealous.

        By the way, there is definitely some skill I sitting for examinations, like observing the mark allocation and guessing the number of marking points. It’s nearly like a game in itself. Whether mastery of this skill is the most significant factor in examination scores remains disputed.

        • John Smith says:

          You misunderstand my point. My point is not to call for society to cater solely to geniuses.

          My point is to remind the author that while she may view her children as “smart” and “talented”, this may not be so in the eyes of society. The author is not arrogant in believing so, but merely ignorant of the existence of true geniuses.

          In other words, leave the As to the smart (not necessarily genius) kids. For the average kids, a pass is enough. It’s parental expectations which are unrealistic. If everyone gets an A, how is there any differentiation from “the other end of the Gaussian distribution” as you mention it?

          • Jim says:

            john smith – don’t see anywhere in the article where the author said that her children are ‘smart’ and ‘talented’. I think that is baseless accusation.

          • Nad says:

            I still face troubles in understanding how calling PSLE results meaningless without context is equivalent to being overprotective and claiming that her child is “smart” and “talented”. An explanation and quotes from relevant lines from the original post will be most helpful.

            Other points remain unaddressed – the examinations are certainly not a reliable indicator of intelligence in subject fields, given the many possible avenues of score distortion by external factors. I thought this was a point of the article, aside from poorly-veiled whining about the rigour required of scientific answers even from twelve-year-olds, which I disagree with.

          • Nad says:

            In case the wording in my response was ambiguous – I disagree with the author’s whining, and not of the rigour required from scientific answers.

          • John Smith says:

            Well, the author expected the kid to get all the answers right, isn’t it?

            The kid probably isn’t the author’s, but she is projecting her own children, thinking, “What if my child sat for the paper? He would get it wrong too!”

            And isn’t expecting a child to get everything correct a view that he/she is “smart” and “talented”?

  7. Charissa Goh says:

    Firstly I do agree that kids who ace the system , know how to beat the system and are not necessarily “smart” . Secondly, granted ,our education system is far from perfect, true thinking has been put aside for memorising and regurgitating for PSLE, however how far will that get you in terms of tertiary and uni education… ?
    As you stated ,as parents of children who don’t excel in the system “You just have to accept that his path will be different, possibly more exciting and fulfilling.” And I feel slightly peeved because its like you are trying to say that a life pursuing a uni degree isn’t exciting and fulfilling … which I totally disagree on.
    Also your comment ” what would a university education buy them nowadays? Hope of a better future? Or a working class life doing something that they don’t enjoy and struggling to make ends meet?” makes me feel rather uncomfortable as I feel it is a gross, unfair and skewed generalisation of people.

  8. John Smith says:

    I get the impression that the author is trying to justify her children’s academic scores with this post.

    If the author believes that her children should enjoy, play, learn or daydream, so be it. But there’s a fundamental disconnect between what the author believes society should be and what society actually requires.

    Society requires people who can do work and produce stuff, not daydream in a new-age paracosm! Ultimately we are not only working towards our dreams, but also what society requires of us. This is an immutable, timeless fact, not to be debated, but to be accepted.

  9. Hans says:

    I actually thought that the answers provided by the child is not showing his/her ability to address the questions to its core, as well as to the relevant depth.

    Take the first answer for example, stating that the sun is behind the girl does NOT explain why the shadow is cast IN FRONT OF (AND WHY NOT BEHIND) her. The key point regarding, light can only travel in straight line, and the girl (opaque object) being in the way of the light, therefore cast a dark shadow in the area in front of her, where light did not reach, was simply not mentioned at all. I’m sure these concept are covered in Pri 6, because they exist almost 20 yrs back when I took, and I recently gave tuition to my PRI 6 nieces.
    Same goes to all other examples.

    This is a science test, therefore it requires scientific explanation and core concepts to be mentioned. Science expects unbiase, no pre-judgment of situation. In her answer about the ball having volume, she is prejudging the situation. Because in the experience, the guy obsereved water rises when ball is dropped, from this experiment, it can ONLY be deduced that the ball takes up place, pushing the water level up. Stating the ball has volume is prejudging with information that he/she learnt elsewhere, but not a direct reflection from the experiment. If question says an unknown mattter is dropped in, it could be solid liquid or gas. In this case, there is possibility it could be gas, and we know volume of gas will compress to suit its space, there only conclusive answer is the matter takes up space. If this is a logical thinking test, maybe the answers might be right. But in science, we are asking for facts, not logic.

    However, regardless the level the student is in, the ability for him/her to NOT JUST understand the question, but also know what is the purpose the tester is asking, and what key information the tester is looking for, this will separate the smart/observant students from blindly-hardworking ones.

    When I took my A Levels Chinese, the comprehension segment is always my worst nightmare. After reading a very long passage, we have to answer 4 questions. More often than not, the 4 questions were so similarly phrased that my answers are almost identical, which we know in a test situation, it is not possible. Some of my smarter friends will be able to clearly tell me, what each question is asking for, and what is the difference in them, and how to approach each of them.

    I think instead of arguing the accuracy of the child’s answer, it is probably because the child may not develop the skills to address question to its specifics. This is a life skills, and will be helpful to his/her daily communication.

    I have nothing for or against memorisation. I think it is also a form of acquiring knowledge. Since young, we memorize our ABC, and Multiples timestables, some information just has no 2 ways about it.

  10. Hans says:

    I actually thought that the answers provided by the child is not showing his/her ability to address the questions to its core, as well as to the relevant depth.

    Take the first answer for example, stating that the sun is behind the girl does NOT explain why the shadow is cast IN FRONT OF (AND WHY NOT BEHIND) her. The key point regarding, light can only travel in straight line, and the girl (opaque object) being in the way of the light, therefore cast a dark shadow in the area in front of her, where light did not reach, was simply not mentioned at all. I’m sure these concept are covered in PSLE because they exist almost 20 yrs back when I took, and I recently gave tuition to my PRI 6 nieces.
    Same goes to all other examples.

    This is a science test, therefore it requires scientific explanation and core concepts to be mentioned. Science expects unbiase, no pre-judgment of situation. In her answer about the ball having volume, she is prejudging the situation. Because in the experience, the guy obsereved water rises when ball is dropped, from this experiment, it can ONLY be deduced that the ball takes up place, pushing the water level up. Stating the ball has volume is prejudging with information that he/she learnt elsewhere, but not a direct reflection from the experiment. If question says an unknown mattter is dropped in, it could be solid liquid or gas. In this case, there is possibility it could be gas, and we know volume of gas will compress to suit its space, there only conclusive answer is the matter takes up space. If this is a logical thinking test, maybe the answers might be right. But in science, we are asking for facts, not logic.

    However, regardless the level the student is in, the ability for him/her to NOT JUST understand the question, but also know what is the purpose the tester is asking, and what key information the tester is looking for, this will separate the smart/observant students from blindly-hardworking ones.

    When I took my A Levels Chinese, the comprehension segment is always my worst nightmare. After reading a very long passage, we have to answer 4 questions. More often than not, the 4 questions were so similarly phrased that my answers are almost identical, which we know in a test situation, it is not possible. Some of my smarter friends will be able to clearly tell me, what each question is asking for, and what is the difference in them, and how to approach each of them.

    I think instead of arguing the accuracy of the child’s answer, it is probably because the child may not develop the skills to address question to its specifics. This is a life skills, and will be helpful to his/her daily communication.

    I have nothing for or against memorisation. I think it is also a form of acquiring knowledge. Since young, we memorize our ABC, and Multiples timestables, some information just has no 2 ways about it.

  11. Kai says:

    Parents and teachers can debate about the acceptable answers all they want but yet still miss the more important issues:
    What did the child think about when he/she was responding to the questions?
    What did he/she think and feel about the “right” answers after knowing them?
    What did he/she learn from these questions and answers?
    How often are students encouraged to verbalize their thinking processes and thoughts?

  12. Y.S says:

    The answers given by the child is inadequate and do not deserve the full marks. For Qn 1, saying the sun is behind her does not explain why a shadow is formed at all. The teacher is rather lenient awarding half a mark. In my opinion such an answer do no deserve any credit at all.

    That being said, this is the basic requirement of answering question in a science paper. To explain the scientific facts as best they could at their level. Granted question 2 is on Archimedes principle, i doubt they learnt that already to quote it, but they shld be able to explain its effect in layman’s term. The water level rises because the ball took up space.

    Answering the question and to the point, is often required not just in science but in other papers as well. This method builds on as you interviewed for a scholarship, a job, etc. This is a foundation which cannot be skipped. No matter how good, talented or smart the child is,writing an answer which does not address the question is equivalent to leaving it blank. Build up these answering techniques first. As you go higher up, you would be required to give even more specific answers to a question.

  13. nothing says:

    Change the question to ” Explain why the shadow appear behind the person? – with the child facing the sun instead . So the student going to answer ” becoz the sun is in front of her “?

  14. Anon says:

    I don’t see what’s the big issue, the student’s answers were skimpy and some of them don’t really answer the question. Eg. For the case of the plant question “the plant takes in water” doesn’t really answer the question and it shows a lack of understanding of the question itself. Personally I feel that the teacher was already marking rather lenient.

  15. Michael Jackson says:

    I think there are many valid points that were brought up that the author should consider, especially on the “scientificness” of the answer.

    But I think many are missing the author’s point that purpose of PSLE is for standardised testing for secondary school admissions. PSLE results should be taken into context. Good results don’t mean that your child is a genius and vice versa.

    I didn’t do that well in school. Went to neighbourhood schools. Never went to university. So I am not smart by school standards. But compared to my friends that did well in school and went to university, I am definitely doing better than them from the career point of view. So I think the author has a valid point about not worrying too much.

    John Smith should just take a hike. Everyone else is focusing on the issues, but John Smith is making a personal attack on the author. The author must have really hit a raw nerve with “him”. So buzz off. We don’t need your trolling around here.

    Btw, if John Smith is John Smith, then I am Michael Jackson…:)

    • John Smith says:

      This is not a personal attack. Did I call anyone names or insult their intelligence? Nope.

      There is more to life than career, so I fail to understand your point about “doing better” other than a form of self-validation. What I am highlighting to the author is that if she chooses to bring her children up in one way, it is fine. Just don’t complain after the die has been cast.

      And Chesterton’s fence is a good reference. That is, before suggesting any changes, understand why the system is such in the first place. If you don’t understand why and yet advocate for change, I certainly will shoot you down.

      • Michael Jackson says:

        Much of what you say is about the author not the issues.

        Evidence – The author believes in this, believes in that. She thinks her kids are very smart and the system is bad dah dah dah. Stay at home mums tend to believe dah dah dah.

        The issues here are either the PSLE questions or the PSLE itself, so stick to that.

        Troll, very much like Mamat.

        • John Smith says:

          You obviously don’t know the meaning of “egocentrism”.

          The author is obviously thinking of how her child would fare if he sat for the paper. Hence, her “surprise” at Singapore’s education system.

          I challenge the author to contact me. I’ll introduce her to a few of my friends and let’s see whether her opinion changes. That’s because I understand that she is ignorant and not arrogant – an arrogant person will never change

  16. Mamat says:

    The writer and her 5 adult friends should come together and open up a school/ tuition centre. They can teach the students (esp. the writer’s child) logical and analytical thinking. They can take the O Levels and she can write a new blog post to blame the system again. Hoorah!!

  17. Michael Jackson says:

    One more point, these test questions validate my low intelligence level. I would have answered some similarly to the kid, especially the one about the sun. Hahaha

  18. jon says:

    Qn1, A shadow only appears when the an object is blocking the direction of the light coming from the source. “Standing in front” or having “something behind” does not justify the fact that it’s blocking anything.

    Qn2. Solids have volume. Liquid has volume. Gas also has volume. What is the difference between gas and the other two is that it is more easily compressible than the other two. Hence we can’t just say that it has volume. Adding gas into the beaker does not change the water level.

    Qn3. Plant can take it things from their leaves, can absorb sunlight from their leaves. We cannot just say that something is being taken in, but to be more specific, where it is taken from as well. In this case, the roots of the plant takes in the water. Imagine if this question was changed to a bell jar where the amount of oxygen is measured. When the question asks why there is lower amounts of oxygen in the bell jar, do we simply say “the plant takes in oxygen”, or do we say “the leaves of the plant takes in oxygen”.

    Parents these days are giving nothing but too much protection to their kids. When they grow older into secondary schools and pre-u, or even in the university, students are expected to be accurate and precise. Protecting them from debatable stuff like this at such a young age will restrict them from growing.

    I’ve been through 15 years of education in Singapore and it may become a little taxing and competition is fierce. But there is something that I’ve learnt throughout these 15 years.

    It’s not always about the final results, it’s about what we can learn from our successes and mistakes.

    Cheers

    • LOL says:

      Oh man… “Adding gas into the beaker does not change the water level.”

      This does not have anything to do with gas being compressible, it just means that gas has a lower density than water. It also does not mean that when you add air into the water, the air added is compressed to have no volume.

      Somehow I believe that the answer to the second question is correct. We can easily construct a new scenario where adding air/gas into the beaker would cause the water level to rise, but I’m not sure if it is covered at primary school level…

  19. abi says:

    i think question 34 part (a) answer was done wrong, the student is suppose to draw an arrow but instead he drew a few arrows lol

  20. Blank says:

    I think the questions are taken out so randomly and out of context for analysis.
    These questions are thematic and are meant for students to apply what they have learnt. It is easy for us to critique because we do not have the fresh knowledge of what was taught in the class.
    While you may interpret this reiteration of information as mere “regurgitating”, I’m sorry but this is how teachers are to check students’ for their understanding. This is precisely what learning is about.
    While I agree that some improvements could be done, for example, the teacher could give more formative feedback to agree with the child’s partial understanding of volume in q2, I do not think that this is a credible example to highlight the con of standardized testing and “the system”.

  21. mark says:

    If this were an artistic examination, the answers given by the child would be just fine. But science has only 1 correct answer, or 1 key phrase or word that must be invoked in the writing of the answer. If it’s gravity causing an object to fall to earth, the child must know the term gravity and write/say it out. He is not allowed to say something like: a glue force, a uniting force, attractive force, a rubber force, a dropping force. All these terms are perfectly wrong in a scientific explanation of a ball dropping to earth, but perfectly fine if the child were writing an english essay expressing his or her perceptions and emotions about the experiences of the world and events around him/her. Science examiners are looking for key scientific phrases and words, and your sentence can be totally ungrammatical, but if they spot the phrase or word that they want, all the marks are given. I emphasize to my jc physics students that it is best to give answers in point/bullet form, saves times and goes straight to the scientific point.

    • John Smith says:

      “Eppur si muove” – Galileo Galilei

      Science does not necessarily have one correct answer and answers flow in accordance with the zeitgeist, which can be interpreted wrongly, as shown by Galilei.

      Technically, at the quantum level, gravity is postulated to be mediated by the graviton, a hypothetical boson. Since bosons are the mediators of attractive forces, there can be multiple explanations. If the child could use the term “attractive force” and justify it, it would be phenomenal.

      However, what is quintessential in science is the scientific method – the logical train of thought moving from hypotheses, experimentation and inferences to produce a justifiable conclusion. The student has clearly failed in this aspect – proper justification.

  22. mark says:

    For question 1, the scientific phrase or word for me would be opaque. And then that ‘ light cannot go through opaqueness’. These 2 points will garner the full mark, even if left in bullet/point form, and/or ungrammatical with wrong spelling! Precisely because the science examiners only test your ability to invoke science concepts specific to the question—-science words and phrases.

  23. Michael Jackson says:

    If I am asked why the shadow appears in front of me, I would reply because the sun is behind me. I think in the real world, that is the answer that most people would provide, and what most bosses expect to hear. As a boss, that is what I expect people to tell me.

    If I am asked how did the shadow form in front of me, then I would go into more detail about the light and opaque objects blocking the light etc. In the real world, I ask why did it happen to get the root cause. Then I ask how did it happen to understand how to prevent it in the future.

    Not very scientific or sophisticated, but that is the real world. Perhaps that is why I am no engineer, and perhaps that is also why I always pull whatever hair I have left with engineers telling me how when I ask them why.

  24. Anything Goes says:

    I never believed in regurgitating answers. The fundamentals of learning is to grasp key concepts that allows you to build upon your knowledge so that you can apply it better. An english student who memorises an entire essay would do very well if the same topic appears but when situation changes their pillars collapse and a mess is the result. On the other hand a student who writes an essay based on logical thinking builds his pillar from the ground with greater stability. I myself was a late bloomer but I never ever once told myself i’m dumb. When you grasp the concept of what you are learning, you’ve already mastered the essence of it. Study hard, but always study smart.

  25. Seal says:

    Critical thinking is the key to success. I don’t think that some of the commentors here are really grasping the true intent of the post, by saying that ‘regurgitation of information is the point of education’. If it was, and these kids continue asking for model answers and well-written textbooks even later in life, they’re going to fail very badly for the more open-ended topics.

    Sure, for scientific subjects like Maths and Science there’s no room for creativity but what about English, Literature and History? I felt that it was a little unwise for the author to pick Science as an example for this post here because it makes so many other people argue over scientific rigor, thus disproving her own point. Instead, let’s consider English. I’m not too sure about the primary school syllabus now since it’s been well, years ago since I was in the system, but the last I remembered questions were steadily getting more ‘literature-like’ and open-ended in answering technique. In other words, your child can’t succeed by spitting out model answers anymore because those model answers do not answer the nuanced questions. The worst part is that your child will probably not understand why their answer is wrong because their teacher will tell them, ‘Oh, you didn’t memorize the correct answer.’ which will perpetuate the vicious cycle.

    Let’s say that the child continues on to a secondary school anyway. They still have to take English, and their mix of Science and Arts subjects. An unplesant surprise awaits them. English in secondary school is, if anything, becoming even more nuanced and demanding of critical thought in its examination. I would know, I took the O-Levels just last year. Your child, again, cannot get by with simple regurgitation of information which they may not even have because of the nature of English being so broad. You’re not going to tell me that you’re going to attempt to download Wikipedia into your child’s brain, are you? The only hope they have against an unfamiliar topic they have no choice but to tackle is critical thought and good old bullshittery to make it seem like they know what’s going on even when they don’t. Definitely not something teachers nowadays prepares students for, because you know, all 12 year olds read the Straits Times dutifully every day and have a whole library of books at home.

    The uncomfortable truth is that the world is evolving to demand that employees and everyone else actually tackle issues at hand instead of throwing out obtuse answers which aren’t specific nor are they dealing with the issue. Our children today need to learn that model answers are not everything – they need to think for themselves how to answer a question, and get their marks from there. There’s no model answer for life, as they say.

    • Nad says:

      Do the subjects of History and Social Studies at the ‘O’ Levels still involve memorizing points and marking rubrics (L1-L3 and so forth) for essays and source-based questions?

      • John Smith says:

        They don’t require memorising. They require understanding.

        However, there is a loophole in the system: The systems allows them to “fake” their scores if they memorise instead of understanding.

        If a child opts for the memorising method, it shows how poor they are, that they have to use this loophole. It does not show how bad the education system is in that everyone has to memorise.

        That’s the difference.

  26. Yvonne says:

    While well-intended, I find that the examples which you produce to prove your point are lacking. An important skill in future essay writing is having a complete chain of logic; the hardest skill which I had to learn in JC was that just because things seem intuitive, it is not good practice to leave the reader to ‘fill in the blanks’. I find that the teacher has marked fairly in these cases – mostly 1/2 marks, meaning that the answer was right, but the chain of logic was incomplete.

    Example 1: The sun being behind an object is not an absolute condition which will create shadows in front of said object. Sunlight shining from behind a transparent panel of glass will not produce a shadow. It is Betty’s corporeality that blocks the sunlight, hence producing the shadow.

    Example 2: Objects with volume hold MANY properties. Occupying space is only one of their properties. The reality is that Volume = A + B + C + D + Occupies Space, with A, B, C and D being other properties. Just because Occupies Space is a necessary condition of Volume doesn’t mean that you can skimp on drawing the link.

    Example 3: Similar to the other two, specificity is an important skill.

    Why do you think that so many business CEOs emphasis the need for good communication? Communication errors occur when two individuals (or more) leave things unsaid, assuming that every person is on the same page as them. Most of the time, people are led naturally to different conclusions, based on their individuality and life experiences. Imagine the following hypothetical sentence uttered by a CEO:

    “Let us model our new youth product X after anime since anime is very appealing to youths”

    The graphics designer thinks that anime is appealing to youths because it contains cute images, and thus designs product X with a cute slant.

    The engineer thinks that anime is appealing to youths since it contains a lot of cool gadgetry, and so adds a lot of knick knacks to Product X

    Just with these two people working from two different angles, you arrive at a totally incoherent product.

    In your post, you have split the answers into dichotomies – right and wrong. You framed your article in a way which pitted ‘model answers’ and ‘alternative answers’. This is a flawed way of looking at the situation, I feel. The reality is that your child’s answers are miniature model answers – they get the big picture but they are not practised enough to sketch out the smaller details. They are incomplete – which means that they are not entirely right, and not entirely wrong. You stated that “The students were given an open ended question but expect a specific answer that was given in the textbook” – not quite. The exam expects a complete answer that is well-substantiated.

    Teaching your child to provide good, fleshed out examples is an important part of learning. This is the precursor which will allow your child to understand the difference between a single paragraph versus a 5,000 word long essay which both essentially talk about the exact same thing when he/she gets to university. Or if university is a dirty word here, teaching your child to care about not just the answer, but the process, will help with communication and critical thinking in the corporate world, in relationships…everything. As adults, it is easy to forget that the act of providing details, drawing links is a learnt SKILL. Instead of telling your child that they weren’t lucky enough to guess at the model answers, it might be better to teach them that their answers would be strengthened if they had a greater degree of accuracy.

    Cheers,
    Yvonne (Uni Student)

    • Nad says:

      If I may ask, where do we draw the lines with regards to the response in Q2? Just because displacement is a necessary phenomena from an object taking up space does not mean we can skimp on drawing the link.

      Your signature is also highly amusing.

    • John Smith says:

      You must understand that not everyone is as smart as you.

      You must understand that these people still have a right (and insist) to comment, even though you may see it obviously wrong.

      You must understand that it is always very difficult to let people know that they don’t know.

      Hence, you must understand that your words are probably not getting anywhere, well-intentioned and correct though they may be.

      This is the sad truth of life; and is exactly why we don’t see doctors, scientists and engineers speaking up in forums as often as they should.

  27. ALDRICH JENNINGS says:

    I seriously don’t know what you people are complaining about. As ridiculous as the strictness of the education is, it is one that works, it’s irrefutable. I did my BA in Economics in Stanford, and studied Law at Oxford, and everywhere I go, Singaporeans are the top scorers of the class. I’m American by the way. If you think that this system inculcates the act of blind “regurgitation” and adherence to the text, I would stipulate to that, but it also does much more. The responses were of common sense, anybody would have been able to give those answers, and I believe that the correct answers are in fact more comprehensible. Children are made to memorize sample responses on textbooks, this means that in addition to their common sense, they are emphatically made to learn another way of answering a question which is much more concise, and I see nothing wrong with that. I will not be one to comment on the education system in Singapore, nor on that of Britain’s, but what I can vouch for, is that even though this article espouses the idea that Singaporeans manufactures test-taking robots that are only capable of answering exam questions the way a textbook does, Singaporeans are still topping every class at Stanford, and many other top universities in the United States. The American system is a very “open-ended” one, even to an extent where textbook answers are not acceptable in most cases. By your logic, Singaporeans should be stumbling over these exams, but they’re not, disregarding the fact that your analysis of the questions are complete poppycock (mind my language). I think I saw one of the comments that explains why the answers provided by the students were nonsense, so I would not dwell further into that. You speak of rote learning like it’s a bad thing, because clearly you have not stepped outside of glorious Singapore for a taste of education systems all around the world. Be mindful that without this assertive form of learning the contextually accurate responses, students are not guided to learn accurately and efficiently. Are you saying that we should slow-walk every child to epiphanies? How long would that take? The education system in the US is the perfect example of allowing every student to discover his/her abilities, or at least to discover how to take an exam properly, and look at what it has become. You take for granted that Singapore has crafted such an ideal approach to deal with the education of the young, and you also pointed out that it has been such for 30 years. What you fail to realize is that it has been working for 30 years. Singapore has less than 6 million people, yet every class I take, be it in Stanford or Oxford, there are more international students from Singapore than from anywhere else, why is that? I have come to recognize that Singapore is the place to be, and I have moved to this country to give my family a better life. My eldest was in Hwa Chong Institution, and now he’s in NUS doing his PhD, my second was in Hwa Chong Institution as well, and now he’s in Oxford studying law, my youngest graduated from Raffles Institution and she’s currently a freshmen at Berkeley. Rote learning is the ideal form of learning because it forces children to keep on track, whether they understand it or not. This gives students with or without innate academic prowess to compete on a level equal to that of his/her peers. Life is all about exams, I know first hand, because I’ve gone to school, I’ve been a lowly analyst and a partner behind a desk, everything is about assessments and exams. I’m not gonna assume that my life is the same for everybody, but as far as the kids of Singapore is concerned, the education system ensures that everyone has a single solution to doing well in life, and it does not discriminate by telling children that other children are better because they’re born smarter. Singapore has created a place wherein the reason a child performs better than another because he works harder, he reads more, he memorizes more. Isn’t that what the key of doing well in life, working hard, using the tools provided, and then reaping the rewards. Rote learning is only bad if you want it to be. Parents who raises their children by reiterating the fact that they’re not learning anything because they’re purely regurgitating information causes a child to think that is what’s happening. Rote learning ensures that a child not only learns what he is supposed to, but it ensures that a child learns what he is supposed to on time, and that’s important. Rote learning will only work for students who have been enlightened on how to absorb key information from the stuff he/she memorizes. So if it isn’t working out for people here who complain that rote learning doesn’t work, you either have not been a good student in the first place, in that case please do not butt in your child’s education because you’re only going to create another you, or that you are not making sure that your child approaches it in a right way, and that is to embrace it, memorize it, but learn during the process. I’m proud to finally be able to call myself a Singaporean, even though I look “angmoh”, and even though I know people in Singapore are indifferently racist, I love this country, and as born and bred Singaporeans, please be proud of what your country is, and what it has. What are the odds of all three of your children getting into good schools? I did it because I embraced the Singaporean style, and ultimately it works. So you either take it, or leave it, I think the US will work for you.

    • Nad says:

      The world is not only made up of the Singapore/Asian education systems and the United State’s. I suggest a quick research on other countries which have produced competitive education systems without a sole concentration on rote learning.

      This is highly ironic given your insult that “… because clearly you have not stepped outside of glorious Singapore for a taste of education systems all around the world.”

      Lastly, if you would want more to read your comment, please improve its legibility by exercising paragraphing.

      • ALDRICH JENNINGS says:

        None as competitive as that of Singapore. Other countries may have “good quality” education, but in no way do they compare to that of Singapore. I went to a private institution for my entire pre-college education because the public education in the US emphasizes too much on the method of “learning” that the author of this article prefers. As a result, students move at an incredibly slow pace as compared to in Singapore. My sons and daughter learnt trigonometry in Sec One, while students in the US don’t learn it until they’re in high school. I don’t need conduct any research on the education systems of other countries, because I have experienced them first hand, and I’m definitely qualified to be making this comparison.

        During my time at Stanford, I went on “study abroad” programs at ETH Zurich and the University of Tokyo, when I was in Oxford, I also spent some time in Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris. I’ve participated in English language and mathematics tutoring sessions in all of these countries and I can confidently say that their standards are way behind. My eldest has also spent two years in Germany when I worked there. By far, in terms of a western education, Germany does it the best, but there is a high emphasis on rote learning there as well. Being a Caucasion, you don’t get much credit commending systems like that, but as cruel as it is, rote learning just works.

        I am extremely lucky that my parents made me realize that I have to force myself to memorize materials, because we don’t have an eternity to learn. If I had attended public schools, I wouldn’t have gotten into Stanford, and certainly not Oxford. The results of a public school education in Singapore exceeds that of their private schools, and I have only seen this happen in Singapore.

        I don’t know if you’ve read my comment Nad, but I’m a 50 year old man, and as far as education goes, I’m a self-taught expert. My children have all made it to the top tier universities because I moved to Singapore, and I wonder if that would’ve happened if I stayed in the US. If you’re a parent, you should know that the odds of having all of your children (assuming you have more than two) succeed is practically zero, and I’ll state upright that my second son is more of a musician than a student, but rote learning got him into Hwa Chong, rote learning got him into Oxford. I have no complains, and if you still wanna argue that rote learning isn’t the way to go, I’ll say this, we don’t have a lot of time on earth, before we know it, our children are at the age where they have to start working, and without a solid CV, there’s no way you can be hired in a high-paying firm. Complain all you want, the world is materialistic, and it’s not gonna change anytime soon. I spent more than 20 years fighting to get into a good university, spent more than 20 years working for Goldman Sachs and McKinsey, and well well, I’m already 50. Don’t fight the system that’s working. Who says you can’t learn through rote learning? Well, only if you reject it.

        • John Smith says:

          This is exactly the reason why we don’t see the intelligentsia speaking up.

          Because they get ridiculed by the narrow perspectives of others. They get drawn into an argument about how other education systems are better than Singapore’s, despite them having studied overseas and not the one who is challenging them.

          And if you do dare to raise this point that, “I have studied overseas, you haven’t, therefore I know better”, be prepared to be castigated as an “arrogant elitist”. It appears that now “a quick research” (via Google, no doubt) triumphs actual experience.

          If this (the shooting down of people who actually know) is where our society is heading to, we can expect the intelligentsia to stop communicating with the layman, which probably isn’t good for anyone.

          • ALDRICH JENNINGS says:

            Thank you for that, and I do certainly believe that inferiority complexes run so deeply in the DNAs of Singaporeans (I can say that because I’m Singaporean now) to such an extent that comments made by people, no matter how much more experienced, are complete rubbish. People who have never studied or lived outside of Singapore exist in a cocoon that everything foreign, especially that of the US and UK are better, because people here admire westerners so much. There is little about the Westerners that you should admire because speaking as a Caucasian, we are lazy, we party a lot, we drink a lot, we don’t work long hours, we’re not productive when we work, we talk a lot, and we feel that creativity trumps everything else when it comes down to education. Freedom comes with a price, and I know this first-hand, because with freedom comes so much laziness that people in Singapore would not be able to imagine because discipline has been hard-wired into our minds. I can very well conclude that Singaporeans in top universities in the US and UK perform so much better than their schoolmates, it’s embarrassing.

            People in the comments section here firmly espouses the concept that rote learning stifles students’ abilities to think critically, I think that without rote learning, critical thinking would just be hallucinating. You have to get your concepts right before you can start to think critically, and the only way is to absorb the textbook knowledge. I’m done here

      • John Smith says:

        I haven’t met or heard any other nationality who scores as high as Singaporeans do on average in Ivy League universities, Oxbridge and Imperial.

        Have you?

  28. Chitokai says:

    Lucky the Teacher didn’t ask: Mr Chan put a ball at 10 degrees C into a beaker of Hot Water at 80 degrees C, what would be the temperature of the water?

  29. Jeff says:

    IMO, the main objectives of PSLE science are to give students the chance to think critically and answer using keywords.

    If you answer badly with layman answers, then you might as well not be a scientist.

    Layman answers should be worth 50% of mark if it’s technically correct.

  30. Dee says:

    Everyone could have been wrong about the ball…
    It floated… & there was no observable (by naked eye) change in the water level…

  31. Anonymous says:

    This way of answering allows student to give SPECIFIC and detailed answers which are required in the future when the students start working… are you dumb? I got all the modal answers correct..

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