PSLE is like Life


So Clié graduated from primary school and is going to secondary one next year. PSLE was stressful no doubt, but we are all super happy as she met the target she set out to reach and during the process, her attitude and hard work is commendable. If you read my previous post I’ll give a C+ to our School’s Grading system you will know what I mean.

I just read Rachel’s post on My Take On PSLE and it motivated me to share my take as well on this big exam that all our twelve year olds have to go thru.

PSLE or exams to me is somewhat a reflection of life. Think about it… PSLE is not seen to be fair to many of us just like life does not seem fair to many of us as well.

Good Grades ≠ Good Job ≠ Good Pay ≠ Good Life. Good Grades certainly helps but it’s not a sure win ticket.


Good Grades is definitely useful for schools to pick out the best exam smart students who apply for their school. It’s kinda like a demand and supply thing as students with good grades proves statistically that they are able to score in exams so why not choose “the best” when you can. It’s just like us going to the supermarket and picking out the best 5 tomatoes from the lot.

Schools as a System

Schools were meant to be for education and a place for Institutionalised learning. It definitely still is, but the pressures to perform by teachers and schools and the expectations parents have on their kids and schools have made everything more exam focused.

PSLE and Exams in general is a system and systems are meant to facilitate a certain objective. Earlier this year I saw a documentary Waiting for ‘Superman’ and it opened my eyes to a new perspective of what the education system is for.

Education System Animation from Waiting for Superman
Education System Animation from Waiting for Superman

There are many type of jobs in our society that needs to be done and jobs need different types of people. Some pay better, some pay lesser. Some require more thinking, some require less thinking. Some are more demanding, some are less demanding. Some have more responsibilities, some have less.

So I sat my kids down in the middle of this year and spent 2 hours plus sharing with them that school is also a system and how it tries to match people to jobs. When they go out to work next time, there will be :

  • The Boss – There is usually one person. The CEO, The Founder, The person that will be fully responsible for the entire organisation. They think long-term and strategically, they tell people what to do.
  • The Managers – There are quite a lot of them and their key role is to manage. Their Boss tells them what needs to be achieved. They think mid-term and tell others to do things and check on them.
  • The Workers – Workers do what they are told and there are lots of them. They don’t really have to think much just follow the work instructions.

So I drew a diagram not to proportion, to vaguely let them see some kind of connection between grades and positions in an organisation, then asked them which band they want to be in. They clearly wanted to be more then just a worker.

More can be debated and discussed with them, but I think just getting them to have a different perspective of exams right now is sufficient.

Judging Non Exam Smarts Students

There are 2 kinds of kids I see:

  1. Exam Smart Students (generally good grades) – Can remember / knows what answers to give to earn them the marks they want. Basically knowing how to work with the system.
  2. Non Exam Smart Students (generally not big on grades) – Can’t relate to syllabus well / Don’t understand why they need to learn things they are not interested in / fearful that their innovative answers will be wrong and they will look silly / In some cases they switch off or reject the system.

To judge a student by their PSLE grades is like judging a book by its cover too soon and judging a twelve year old kid at PSLE can have a few detrimental effects.

  • They feel that their thinking is strange
  • They feel that others are better then them
  • They feel that they are a failure
  • They accept that they are not as good
  • They stop putting in effort
  • They stop thinking

I fear that my kids think lesser of themselves if they don’t do well at PSLE, hence as parents we always reassure them that their attitude is more important then their grades.

But for many years, parents have shared their views about PSLE and have even asked the authorities to scrap PSLE altogether especially as it forces their kids who go to Normal Technical to have their education path fixed as they will have to go to Technical Institutions after their N levels.

Writing on his Facebook page yesterday, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat reiterated that the changes to PSLE scoring will “take some years to implement and will not affect the immediate batches of students”. Adding that PSLE scoring is tied to the secondary school admission process, it will take the MOE “a few years” to prepare for the changes.

PSLE scores to be scrapped, students to be given grades. Today (19 Aug 2013)

I’m not sure what changes MOE will make, but I hope it will give our kids a fair chance in proving their worth and not wasting too much of their youth in any educational path detour before being able to meet their basic aspiration of graduating from university.

The Gahmen need to do more?

Without a doubt the Gahmen should do what it takes to create the best possible environment for our kids to learn together with developing great character and the kind of values that we as a society want. I agree with that whole heartedly, but I also understand that overhauling a nation wide education system or even implementing changes will take time and to be honest I have seen some stuff happening during my kids primary school experience.

  • Programme for Active Learning (PAL) -Both Cleo and Clié enjoyed it. PAL tries to strengthen the emphasis on non-academic programmes and is conducted within curriculum time. PAL modules provide our students with broad exposure in two areas — Sports and Outdoor Education, and Performing and Visual Arts. It aims to facilitate the well-rounded development of students in the five learning domains (cognitive, moral, social, aesthetics and physical) and help students to develop social emotional competencies. See MOE’s video here.
  • STrategies for English Language Learning And Reading (STELLAR) – Aims to strengthen both language and reading skills as well as promote a positive attitude towards reading in the foundational years. View to find out more. My kids are still not readers leh… I think its not as simple to get kids to read.
  • Teach Less, Learn More (TLLM) – Encouraging students to learn more actively and independently by nurture a curiosity that goes beyond the formal curriculum. Syllabuses are trimmed without diluting students’ preparedness for higher education. That is what the communication to parents is, but I somehow feel at times the homework is still quite a lot. Can’t comment about what happens in school as we as parents don’t really know.
  • Every School A Good School – I agree with this move to shift the mindset of elite-school-ism and to reshuffle the school students and teachers and perception so that its a lot more balanced and that parents don’t all go crazy to start off their kids life of education with competitively trying to get into elite schools and getting that edge thru countless enrichment programs.
  • Direct School Admission (DSA) – Provide students an opportunity to demonstrate a more diverse range of achievements and talents in seeking admission to a secondary school. Read more on MOE’s site.

At least this is what I have experienced being a parent and somewhat know thru communications from teachers. There could be more, they could have not really implemented it, I don’t know, but I know the Gahmen is trying.

What I think we Parents should do

The Gahmen is putting in effort and like it or not, some changes will take years, some will take decades and I’m not going to rely fully on the Gahmen or wait. Blame the teachers and the system all you want, but when your kids grow up and become someone you are not proud of in the future, I think as parents we will then realise we can only blame ourselves.

I think as parents we should do our part too and actively play a role to instil the truly more important things we want for our kids. There are too many things I can say to this, but let me just say 3 that is at the top of the list in my head.

1. Curiosity

The world is an amazing place and there is only so much the school can expose all the kids to. As parents we should show them how large, interesting and diverse the world is. The more they see, the more they ask, the more they know, the more they can make informed decisions and be better problem solvers. Only by knowing more things do they know more about themselves and also what their likes and dislikes are.

I’ve heard too many stories of uni graduates not knowing what to do after they have completed university. I’ve also heard too many stories of people after working for a few years not knowing what they like to do with their lives.

So exposing kids to as many things as possible I feel is the role of a parent.

2. Partner with Teachers

Parents can only spend that much time with their kids daily. It is not possible to know intimately what our kids are strong / weak / interest / disinterest are in school when compared to what their school teachers know.

My eldest daughter’s P6 form teacher is awesome. She puts in extra effort to reach out to parents to understand the situation at home and asks parents to collaborate with her to identify my daughter’s weak points and to adopt strategies that works well with the kind of learner she is.

This collaboration between parents and teachers is amazing and so effective. I’m not saying that parents should hound teachers and expect lots of time from them as they do have quite a number of students in their care and they have their own families too.

3. Love

Someone once told me that a successful person is measured by the number of people that turns up at their funeral and I think there is some wisdom in that.

We should provide our kids with a happy environment, teach our kids how to be happy, teach our kids how to make others happy. Teach them empathy by showing them empathy. Teach them to care by showing them we care. Teach them how to have a big heart by showing them love that they can understand.

Hug them, kiss them, play together with them, laugh with them, do silly things with them, be interested in what they are interested in, be their best friend and they will tell you honestly their struggles when the time comes and that to me is the kind of parenting our kids of today need.


Singapore is still a wonderful place to live in and Singaporeans still have a good branding overseas currently and that is a result of many years of partnership between Singaporeans.

Many people have many things to say, many complains to make but that just perpetuates a negative atmosphere. The system is not perfect and never will be. However I’m comforted by knowing many people are trying, many people are giving suggestions, many people are doing their part, so lets come together so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation.

I’ll give a C+ to our School’s Grading system

My eldest daughter have always had difficulties with her studies. She tries very hard and it gets frustrating at times, but somehow “her grades don’t commensurate with her efforts” according to a recent report we got from her school after her Primary 6 form teacher intervened. She is dyslexic.

I started reading up on what being dyslexic really means…

Dyslexia is a type of specific learning difficulty… that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling…

Now it all make sense. Her difficulty in comprehension of questions in her exam papers, her speed in reading, her accuracy in spelling, her grades.

Grades. The universal marker of education. The way to see if the child is good academically at their age. The way to cull applicants into a popular school if there are limited places. A necessary measurement in life in our time and age, in our society, in our capitalistic meritocratic society.

In the same report her verbal cognitive capabilities ranked in the 79% percentile and this meant a lot to me. It clearly showed that there is still a measurement in there that truly showed me the daughter that I know.

I do interview a lot of potential hires at work and there are definitely things I’m looking for. Passion, Integrity, Communication Skills, Thinking on the feet, etc. When meeting new friends, I also automatically look out for things like Sincerity, Empathy, Humour, Coolness and especially Chivalry in guys, etc. There is a huge disparity in what I’m looking out for in a person professionally and socially when compared with what schools are looking for in a student.

These are two different things I agree. I’m not saying that the education system is totally broken, as Singapore teens ranked No. 1 in problem solving in a recently international benchmarking organised by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), kudos to MOE. But at the same time, I’m also not saying that it’s perfect as well as many kids like mine are still not flourishing in the current institutionalised education system which is really giving their self-esteem and self-worth a daily beating.

The Ministry of Education of Singapore have spelt out the Desired Outcomes of Education across primary, secondary and post secondary education and I quote…

He has a good sense of self-awareness, a sound moral compass, and the necessary skills and knowledge to take on challenges of the future. He is responsible to his family, community and nation. He appreciates the beauty of the world around him, possesses a healthy mind and body, and has a zest for life.

The Key Stage Outcomes of Education according to MOE…

At the end of Primary school, pupils should:

  • be able to distinguish right from wrong
  • know their strengths and areas for growth
  • be able to cooperate, share and care for others
  • have a lively curiosity about things
  • be able to think for and express themselves confidently
  • take pride in their work
  • have healthy habits and an awareness of the arts
  • know and love Singapore

At the end of Secondary school, students should:

  • have moral integrity
  • believe in their abilities and be able to adapt to change
  • be able to work in teams and show empathy for others
  • be creative and have an inquiring mind
  • be able to appreciate diverse views and communicate effectively
  • take responsibility for their own learning
  • enjoy physical activities and appreciate the arts
  • believe in Singapore and understand what matters to Singapore

At the end of Post-Secondary education, students should:

  • have moral courage to stand up for what is right
  • be resilient in the face of adversity
  • be able to collaborate across cultures and be socially responsible
  • be innovative and enterprising
  • be able to think critically and communicate persuasively
  • be purposeful in pursuit of excellence
  • pursue a healthy lifestyle and have an appreciation for aesthetics
  • be proud to be Singaporeans and understand Singapore in relation to the world

These look like great outcomes to desire for our kids, but looking at what they go thru at school daily and how they are graded have made me disillusioned.

How is it possible for Schools to seriously look at and start to emphasise on the desired outcomes listed by MOE? Cooperation, Sharing, Caring, Curiosity, Expression, Confidence, Pride, Awareness of the Arts, loving Singapore like mentioned above? Schools are seriously looking at syllabus as those are the main matrices being look at when deciding if a child is doing well in School.

There are also other factors, things like Discernment, Empathy, Kindness, Digital Communication, Resilience all much needed in our current time and age to be Happy and Successful.

I don’t know the answer, but let me make some suggestions.

1. Grade and include desired outcomes in overall assessment

Make those desired outcomes gradable and make them attribute to the final score. 20% English, 20% Math, 20% Science, 20% Mother Tongue, 20% Cooperation + Sharing + Caring + Curiosity + Expression + Confidence + Pride + Awareness of the Arts + loving Singapore.

I mean that is what MOE is setting out to do right? So let’s do it.

2. Emphasis on Happiness

Success used to be defined as having more money, having a bigger house, having a nice car, having a great lifestyle and that all came down to having more money which is an outcome of having a good education. This is what most parents say and some are still saying.

Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.
~ Albert Schweitzer

The new generation don’t necessary want to buy stuff, they do want to be cool, have new experiences and generally just want to be happy. Don’t we all. So why not let’s do it.

Check out this documentary Children Full of Life and you will know what I mean.

Master an Apprentice

Rather then just going to school, how about some real work life experience as well? Attached a kid to a job from young. Look at Logan LaPlante who shared at Ted about how he is sometimes working at a ski shop and how much good that is doing to him.

I’ll teach my kids photography, filming, how to edit videos, but would be great if I can send them to work somewhere.


I don’t study pedagogy, I’m not a school teacher, I don’t totally know the challenges the schools face. I do however have 3 daughters and I love them loads and want them to be happy.


I would love parents to stop bashing the education system as its made out of many passionate teachers. The institutionalises education system is so massive that it will take years to change and not to mention getting parents to change their mindsets as well and stop “investing” in expensive tuition, but fun stuff for their kids to be better and happy people.

Our education system deserves a C+ in my books, but hey there is definitely room for improvement and I think we just need to work hard at it.

If you have more ideas, lets all list them out. Let’s give our kids the best we can give them.

Not All Babies are Cute


I believe all parents have many fears and some fears are so real that some don’t event want to be parents. The fear I had when I found out my wife was expecting was “what if i don’t like how my baby looked”. Let’s be honest, not all babies are cute, some looked downright irritating. I’ve been to enough baby full month and 1st birthday parties and I can’t honestly say every baby I saw was cute.

Call me superficial, but this is a real fear for me and it stayed at the back of my mind all the time, more so than rational issues like “can I afford a kid?”, “am I ready to be a father?”, etc. I find rational issues can be sorted out, but I can’t change how my baby look.

How many of us have spent time on games that allowed us to customize our own character? How much time have we spent on that? Will you just take any character randomly? Most likely not right? But this is real life we are talking about, we will be stuck with the way our baby look all the way, no customisation and nothing can change that.
This fear stayed with me all the way till my wife’s delivery. The moment came, time to face my fear, time to face our baby.

When I set eyes on my daughter for the very first time, I smiled. I liked what I see, just because she is my daughter, I won’t impartially say she is cute, but from the honesty of my heart, she is beautiful beyond words and just like that, my fears are gone.

After a few weeks of being a new parent, I kept asking myself was I just lucky to have such a beautiful baby? What about my next child? Then It dawned upon me. My child is beautiful to me because my child is a product of my wife and I. My child looks familiar as she have the genetics from both my wife and I. My eyes, my wife’s grace, my nose, my wife’s lips. No matter how our baby looks, she is going to look familiar, she is going to look like the product of our love. Its amazing, this whole genetics thing is amazing.

So I went on to have 2 more girls and I never had that fear again, instead I was excited to see how our baby looked. They looked familiar, very familiar.