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 instill 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.

3 Replies to “PSLE is like Life”

  1. Thanks for the very insightful sharing. As a parent myself, I went through the very same concerns thrice and I’ve learned that life really does not (and should not) revolve around the PSLE. It does not define our kids’ future, and we must never allow it to define who our kids are and what they are capable of doing for themselves and for others in life. It is to me the first of the many real-life hurdles that our kids have to go through and as parents and teachers we will do whatever it takes to hold them steady, so that they develop the confidence they need to face other challenges. (Just like when our kids walk for the first time in their life, we surround them with outstretched hands to support them in case they fall). To do this, we need to have the courage and confidence ourselves, and to be steady ourselves, if we harp on every failure they make, our kids will learn to associate failures as having let us down. This will make it very difficult for them to stand up again when they fail. Having taught so many kids, I dare say that they are not afraid of failing. They are only afraid of letting their parents down (or in some cases, facing their parents’ wrath if they fail). Let us be the steady hands which our children know they can grab hold of when they fall. If our kids have done well, affirm their efforts. If they have not, be there for them. My daughter did not do as well as she had hoped for for the PSLE, but she was very comforted by the fact that her brother sat down with her for a very long time and hear her sob until she recovered from her sadness. She shared with me how much that gesture had meant to her as a form of emotional support. I think we can do more of this ‘quiet’ support as parents too.

    Let me also share a very inspirational letter written by American President Abraham Lincoln which has always held meaning for me as a teacher and a parent. You might have heard of this yourself too, but I hope it reminds us what education is all about as our children move on to the next chapter of their life.


    “My son starts school today. It is all going to be strange and new to him for a while and I wish you would treat him gently. It is an adventure that might take him across continents, all adventures that probably include wars, tragedy and sorrow. To live this life will require faith, love and courage.

    So dear Teacher, will you please take him by his hand and teach him things he will have to know, teaching him – but gently, if you can.

    He will have to learn, I know, that all men are not just, all men are not true. But teach him also that for every scoundrel there is a hero: that far every selfish politician, there is a dedicated leader…

    Teach him that for every enemy there is a friend. It will take time, I know a long time, but teach, if you can, that a dollar earned is of more value then five of found.

    Teach him, to learn to lose…And also to enjoy winning. Steer him away from envy, if you can, teach him the secret of quiet laughter.

    Teach him, if you can the wonder of books…But also give him quiet time to wonder at the eternal mystery of birds in the sky, bees in the sun, and flowers on the green hillside.

    In a school teach him, it is far more honorable to fail than to cheat…

    Teach him to have faith in his own idea, even if anyone else tell him they are wrong…

    Teach him to be gentle with gentle people and tough with tough.

    Teach him to listen to all men…But teach him also to filter all he hears on a screen of truth, and take only the good one that comes through.

    Teach him, if you can, how to laugh when he is sad. Teach him there is no shame in tear.

    Teach them to sell his brawn and brain to the highest bidder but never to put a price tag on his heart and soul.

    Teach him gently, but do not cuddle him, because only the test of fire makes the fine steel.

    Teach him always to have sublime faith in himself because then he will always have some sublime faith in mankind.

    This is a big order, but see what can you do… He is such a fine little fellow, my son!

    Abraham Lincoln”

  2. Hi Nick, this blog post is really interesting. I am currently working on a webseries about education in Sg and I think your opinions would really add value to our discussion and show. If you are interested in participating in our webseries, do drop me an email. Cheers!

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