When I was a child taking the Primary School Leaving Examinations PSLE, I had actually looked forward to it. It was a milestone I saw my aunts going through and couldn’t wait for the day to come. My parents suffered no stress, and neither did I. There was no tuition and I don’t even know how I did, but it couldn’t have been good as my mother’s alma mata SCGS rejected my appeal to transfer over to that school and so I stayed on at Nanyang.
Having seen three boys through PSLE, the last one last year, I am happy to share my experience here.
My two older boys, now 20 and 19, never had any tuition when they were in primary schools, unless you count me as the tutor. I enrolled them to weekly Sunday Chinese enrichment classes at pre-school so that they have someone to look after while Mike and I visited the gym at SAFRA Tampines for two hours. Relatives advised me to send them for tuitions and enrichment classes but I didn’t see the need.
At primary school, they were not allowed TV and spent 2 hours daily at the park playing soccer, and another 2 hours on Sunday playing for RC’s little league, right up to the days of PSLE. I felt the pressure only when my eldest son Andreas was in primary six. I would tutor him in Chinese and Maths for two hours nightly, having just barely learned how to draw Maths models myself. Unknown to us, English was his poorest subject and pulled down his aggregate at PSLE.
He went on to Clementi Town Secondary School, where the dedicated VP and teachers there ‘value added’ to his growth. He had tuition for Maths and Physics at Sec 4 and studied the rest himself. He went on to SP and now has a place at SIT for Mechanical Engineering.
While I was busy with his brother’s PSLE, I told my #2 Ivan to study on his own in P5 and he assured me that he would be independent. When I looked through his Chinese spelling book, I was horrified that he failed all the spelling and his teacher did not even bother that I didn’t sign his book. To see two kids through PSLE within two years was indeed very stressful for this mother, but no stress at all for the children. I was told boys are late bloomers and the system penalises them. To them, PSLE was just another exam, no different from the SA1 or 2 they took. The two boys had hoped to go to Chinese High School (now HCI) just because most boys in their classes had wanted to go there, but they were equally okay with any other schools as well. To the school’s credit, there was no piling on test papers for them, unlike the neighbourhood kids who had attended Nan Hua. The park was empty of kids during the PSLE period and only my boys were out playing.
#2 Ivan did surprisingly well and went to ACS(I) where we had hoped that he could take the IB route. The first school letter I received when school started on day one was a three page letter asking money for school fees, CCA, donations, etc. It was an eye-opener for this mother new to independent school. When he failed two subjects at the end of the year, we had to pay $250 for him to attend a remedial camp and a further $25 for each subject for him to take re-exams. (Even re-exams at NUS were free in my days!) Days before his re-exams, I was horrified that his Chemistry concept was still poor and had to tutor him myself before sending him for his exams. Luckily he managed to pass both subjects. I had no choice but to engage tutors when he went to sec three for A Maths, Chemistry, Chinese, Physics.
My son in ACS(I) had a smaller class size (about 30). He was in the top 10% at PSLE but did badly every year at ACS(I) and although he qualified for JC, it was more to the tutor’s credit than the school’s teachers. I wonder if it’s true that the teachers expected the boys there to have private tuitions and thus I did not see the passion and commitment.
Andreas went to a neighbourhood school with a bigger class size (Average 36). The teachers’ commitment to his progress was apparent, with his Chinese teacher giving extra coaching during the weekend before oral, and there were night sessions leading up to the O’levels. He too qualified for JC but we felt a polytechnic route was more suitable for him.
So, really, not all schools are the same. What is perceived to be a good school is not necessarily a better one for your child. It was an expensive lesson for us with Ivan.
When #3 Aaron came along 6 years after Ivan, I was adamant to give him a head start to GEP.
He had Chinese tuition to cope with Higher Chinese at P5. When he was still below average at midterm P6, I decided to send him to ISUN although he requested Learning Lab, where 60% of his GEP classmates were attending. It was a good choice on my part. ISUN coaches focussed on his weaker topics instead of drilling him on past test papers. As he had been accepted through DSA to HCI, the pressure was off for me. The fact that he actually enjoyed going to ISUN for Chinese, Maths and Science means I was relatively stress-free except for driving him to the centre every day.
So was the tuitions necessary for Aaron? My walking partner, an ex-school teacher sums this up: Tuition helps a child who is poor in grades, but an enrichment helps the child to maximise his potential.
To all the parents asking for the removal of PSLE to reduce their own parental’s stress (not the kids), let me say this: from henceforth until the O’ and A’ levels, you as the parents will be stressed every time an exam is near, especially when you find you can’t help your teen academically, or worse, your teen finds you a nag and you watch helplessly by. So you might as well get used to the pressure of PSLE for a start.