PSLE changes from 2021 and what they mean for you

PSLE, from 2021, will never be the same again. Here are some of the key changes and implications of each.

stress from test scores

1. Byebye T-score, Hello Achievement Levels.

T-scores which benchmarks each student against the performance of their peers will make way for a broader 8-band system called Achievement Levels. The ALs uses students’ actual scores (not adjusted score based on bellcurve as in the case of T-scores). The new bands will look like this: AL1 (90-100), AL2 (85-89), AL3 (80-84), AL4 (75-79), AL5 (65-74), AL6 (45-64), AL7 (20-44), AL8 (less than 20).

The best PSLE score is 4, and the worst, 32. The current streaming system will remain intact and students scoring 20 points and below will qualify for the Express stream.

Pros:

– This move helps to reduce the fine differentiation of scores among students, and cut down unnecessary competition, giving kids more space to focus on their own mastery and understanding of subjects.

Cons:

– Instead of chasing the elusive mark for a grander T-score, students now need to make sure that they do well in every subject in order to avoid having the total score pulled down by one weak subject. This, to me, will breed fear among parents whose child may be weaker in one or two subjects.

2. Your Order of Choice Matters.

In the existing system, the T-score aggregate is the first deciding factor for posting. The order in which you list your preferred 6 choices of schools is not considered. So if there are 2 students with the same T-score vying for the same spot, it falls on tie-breakers like citizenship and computerised balloting to decide who gets into the school.

In the new system, your order of choice matters. While the AL score will remain the first criterion, the order in which you list the school will come into play. So someone else with the same PSLE score who placed the school higher on his list of choices will get his preferred choice. The next tie-breaking factor is computerised balloting, which is also in the existing system. You may find it reassuring to know it is anticipated that balloting will only affect a small percentage of students.

Pros:

– The new system forces us to weigh our choices carefully. To be honest, I was surprised to know that the present system doesn’t take choice order into consideration as I think back in the 90s, this wasn’t the case. Anyway from 2021, kids and parents will have to select their first choice carefully, based on the actual PSLE score attained, the secondary school’s cut-off points, and other factors such as whether the school’s interest areas matches those of your child’s.

In order to facilitate parents and students’ decision-making, MOE has said that it will provide indicative cut-off points and information on each school’s focus and niche programmes.

Cons:

– None that I can think of right now

But seriously, what are the implications of these changes?

1. Stressful days are here to stay.

I think the changes are in the right direction and were made with the intention of getting everyone to stop chasing the elusive mark, focus on actual learning and understanding, and finding the school that offers the right fit and programmes for our kids.

That said, I don’t think the stress is going to let up anytime soon as it’s still about aiming for the top band (or the best band according to your child’s ability), and fitting our kids into the best possible schools out there.

2. Focus on building weak subjects.

As I mentioned above, children will have to shift their focus from aiming for full marks on their best subjects to strengthening their weaker ones. For most kids these days, the weakest link could be Chinese. (I also have similar concerns for my kids, and our philosophy is to avoid tuition classes for as long as we can help it. For now, we’re pulling up our socks and trying to speak Mandarin more at home. But I can’t deny that the thought of having a Chinese-less grading system is a pretty tempting one.)

3. Looking beyond grades.

On the surface, it looks like nothing much has changed. Different point system, but still the same stress. But I think (hope?) that the Ministry is actually laying the groundwork for further changes. For one, getting parents to assess their child holistically and to consider their strengths and interests in different areas will help to broaden the current narrow thinking that only certain schools are “good” and worth pursuing. It also helps us to go beyond grades, to view our child as a unique individual with special talents, and focus on building them up as self-motivated and passionate lifelong learners.

But here’s the missing link…A growth mindset.

In order for real change to occur, parents, kids, and schools need to adopt a growth mindset. A growth mindset that says:

“I can get better at this if I keep trying.”

“I am not defined by my failures. They are stepping stones to success.”

“It doesn’t matter that I didn’t get into my first choice of school. There are still skills and interests I can develop here.”

Versus a fixed mindset that says “I am a total failure because I failed this paper.” Or “I’ll never be good at this.”

Mindsets do not change overnight. (I know because I’ve been working on my own for the past few years.) I think in the long run, less emphasis needs to be placed on the PSLE exam altogether, as it DOES NOT define or limit a 12 year old child). Not trying to make light of a major exam here, but really…it’s just one exam in a lifetime of many many more exams, tests and challenges.

Emphasising a growth mindset will enable parents and children to see that it is a  journey and it doesn’t matter so much where you begin, but where you end, and the process of learning and growth that you take to get there.

It will also help our kids develop resilience and grit. Isn’t that much more valuable than a single test score, especially in this information and tech era where mistakes/failure are prerequisites for innovation?

What we do and say as parents can empower a child to grow and thrive and develop a growth mindset.

– Do we allow them to make mistakes?

– Do we emphasise the lessons and experience that can be found in them?

– Do we help them view challenges with a positive spirit?

– Do we acknowledge their effort?

– Do we speak the language and understand the power of YET?

In the same vein, the Singapore school system isn’t perfect, but one that is still evolving and growing with the times. The choices that we make today will have an impact on future generations, so choose, applaud and criticise wisely.

These are just my initial thoughts about the new PSLE system. What are your thoughts/feelings about it?

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The start of a new journey into primary school

Dear Vera,

You’re going to primary school. The other day at P1 orientation, you looked excited and hopeful as you found a spot in your class, and took in the new surroundings and new faces.

It’ll be a big day, for sure, come January next year. I know you’ll be excited, because this is the attitude you hold towards life. Full of promise, fun and hope; full of learning new things and making new friends.

Full of growing up.

I’m so grateful for you, my dear daughter. You’ve been a wonderful help at home, caring for and helping out your younger brothers when they find themselves stuck. Sometimes you take on the mummy role, which is both funny and exasperating to watch. Funny because you’re actually pretty good at bossing them around. Exasperating because you try to exert an authority which you don’t truly own.

I feel I learn so much gentleness from you; the way you console your brothers when they’re in tears sometimes puts me to shame.

I can’t count the ways that you bring joy and grace into our home – grace, that is the meaning of your name. But I know it, because I’ve received these gifts from you often.

It’s amazing to watch you grow. Such a privilege to be the one to guide you and teach you God’s ways. We recently had the opportunity to serve together for the community, and it gave me just a small glimpse into the future. You will have a big heart for people, and help those around you who are in need – perhaps even through creative ways.

Sometimes when things get stressful at home, I tend to get overwhelmed and sometimes lose my cool. During those times, you just try to listen and nod your head, and do your best to help. That often helps me feel better, and I’m grateful.

Yet, I know you’re just a child – still growing, still learning, continually being moulded by His unseen hands. I have to constantly remind myself not to place too-high expectations on you, not to expect you to be the perfect goody big sister. You are a wonderful one no doubt, but your name is Vera (not big sister) – a little girl who loves to learn and try new things, who loves to take on challenges with a hopeful grin, who loves a bit of drama and crazy-good-fun in her life.

Even though you cross a new milestone into primary school, you’ll still have a long way before you, and I hope you’ll run this race slow and steady, like the tortoise rather than the hare. I pray that God will strengthen your faith and character as the days go by, and that you’ll learn to walk in wisdom and grace all through your learning years (which never stops by the way).

Very often when formal schooling starts, we start to focus on performance, results and external achievements. But I pray that I’ll keep my eyes on what matters – that I’ll focus on your inside, your character, your faith in God.

I pray for His favour to be upon you in the area of friendships too, and that you’ll continue to be a blessing even as you are blessed.

I’ll miss you, my little girl, but I look forward to hearing stories from you when you come home from school each day.

Love,
Mummy

Keppel Centre for Art Education, Where Art and Play Combines

Come end November, there’ll be loads of art and play activities for children at the Keppel Centre for Art Education at the National Gallery.

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The Centre is located on the ground level of the Gallery’s City Hall wing and occupies a total floor area of 910 square metres. It comprises four distinct art spaces and the theme for 2015 and 2016 is Homes: Present and Future.

Art Corridor

Voyage – an interactive intallation at the Art Corridor of the Centre encourages hands-on and tactile play, and children can observe the way different colours combine and react with another. To be honest, the kids just couldn’t keep their hands off the small colourful acrylic circles that they have to negotiate along the various grooves and routes of this 3D maze.

In conjunction with the theme of ‘Home’, this installation, done by artist Twardzik Ching Chor Leng, was inspired by the ‘blue map’ of Singapore – a map of water channels running across the island.

Keppel Centre for Art Education

Art Playscape

Next stop, enter the Art Playscape on all fours, through a tunnel.

Keppel Centre for Art Education

Featuring a magical forest of sorts inspired by the flora, fauna and motifs of Southeast Asian art, young kids can run loose here, exploring a split level tree house and labyrinth panels.

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There are also activity sheets for children to get to know about the various mythical characters in the forest.

If you find the style of the drawings familiar, it’s because it’s done by Sandra Lee, creator of The Enchanted Forest and The Enchanted Garden City installation spaces at the Singapore Art Museum.

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Project Gallery

Created by Tan Wee Lit, Faculty Head of SOTA, the Project Gallery features a flying house/bus and row boat with arms sticking out suspended in mid-air, making a statement on how the concept of ‘home’ has evolved as a result of social and environmental changes.

Art Centre

The Gallery is filled with paper and cardboard activities that are pretty manageable and friendly for young children. Which isn’t much of a surprise, as the entire gallery space had been planned out by art educators working in partnership with each chosen artist.

JJ was pretty engrossed colouring here and got a little upset when we had to move on to the next activity. So parents, do note to allow your children the freedom to dwell a bit longer at their favourite activity or in each different room.

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Children’s Museum

In this rather cool space, young visitors get to catch a glimpse of a real artist’s studio and his creative process – based on Milenko Prvacki’s own experience.

Kids will get the opportunity to:

  • handle and utilise objects, art tools and materials from the artist’s studio to appreciate the art-making process and techniques
  • discover the symbols and metaphors in the artworks through writing and sharing of narratives and stories
  • develop vocabulary and interpretive skills through role play

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There’s a special display within the Children’s Museum too. A re-imaging of Singapore’s cityscape made entirely with clay and plasticine by 13-year-old Xandyr Quek. Pretty amazing huh!

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Vera and JJ had a great time touring the Centre, and before we left, they made me promise to bring them back!

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The Keppel Centre for Art Education is the first of its kind in the region to provide young visitors the opportunity to access original artwork, handle art tools, select artworks, write labels and conduct exhibition tours for their peers through experiential learning and role-play.

The Centre opens on 24 November, and families can look forward to workshops, tours and family weekends! To be updated on the Centre’s family programmes, subscribe to their mailing list at programmes@nationalgallery.sg.

What we lose when we compare

A boy was sitting at the back of the car and telling his mother that he scored a 98 for his math paper.

His mother asked two questions. Where did you lose the 2 marks?

Then, how many marks did so-and-so get?

It was initially a celebratory moment, for the boy at least. But the parent, rather unfortunately chose to focus on the lost marks.

The world is moving at a break-neck speed, and parents all around the world are rushing their children to the next level of academic or social excellence.

As I read reports about how children are requiring mental health beds and how teen suicide rates are rising globally, I worry. I worry about my own kids, and how stress from their school, their peers, and even sometimes from us parents ourselves, will affect them later in life.

Performance stress comes from all fronts, but the worst of them all exudes from within.

The feeling that I’ll never be good enough…

As parents, we often wonder if we’re doing enough for our children, if they have enough to occupy their time and curious hands, if we’ve purchased the latest gadgets and technology for them to be able to keep up.

But our children’s grades are not a measure of our performance as parents.

And life isn’t one big race.

Since when did the human generation move forward by simply pitting ourselves head on with another one of our kind?

What happened to those good old values such as collaboration, helping the weaker ones among us, and leveling the field so that even those from less privileged backgrounds can rise to the occasion?

What really happens when we’re busy comparing ourselves (and our kids’ achievements) with others?

  • We miss out on the opportunity to be grateful for what we have.
  • We miss out on the opportunity to celebrate how much we’ve grown (relative to a year or two ago).
  • We also miss out on the opportunity to truly connect with, and make new friends.

If we the supposedly wiser ones, are unable to clearly differentiate between the things that matter and the things that don’t, how do we expect the young ones to do the same in their later years?

Here are some tips on how not to get caught up in the comparison game.

  1. Know what’s essential, stop focusing on what’s not. Character is more essential than grades; attitude is more important than ability. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that we allow our children to slack in their work, or not give two hoots about tests and assignments. Of course we still encourage them to give their best in every endeavour.
  2. Look at your child as an individual, appreciate her strengths and be honest about her weaknesses. Focus your energies on growing her in her strengths, build confidence from there, and then help her along in the areas of weakness.
  3. Recognise that academics are just one part of her personhood. Academic excellence doesn’t automatically make one successful. (Many of the most successful people I know did not ace their studies in school / did not even attend university.) Focus on building her character, self-esteem, emotional intelligence, and help her cultivate a passion about something – these are important factors to achieving success in life as well. This will help you raise well-rounded and secure children.
  4. Don’t parent from a position of fear. Don’t focus on your fears or your own failures. Rather learn to be secure with yourself and where your child is at. Focus on growth and learning; these will serve you and the generations after you, for life.
  5. Communicate that your love is not dependent on her achievements. Your love is unconditional. Knowing this will help remove the fear of failure from your child’s life.
  6. Build the soft skills too – like building friendships, teaching empathy and encouraging creativity in daily life. In this article on creativity, the author wrote that “Engaging in the creative process is a great confidence builder, because you discover that failure is part of the process.” That says it all, doesn’t it? Creativity is truly a gift that never stops giving.

When we compare, we lose the moments that are worth celebrating.We lose the opportunity to affirm our child for who he is and a chance to grow a grateful heart.

When we compare, we hinder our ability to rejoice with a friend’s success and to build stronger relationships; we forget to be teachable and humble.

When we compare, we create an atmosphere of insecurity, a culture of comparison. Our children grow up thinking, I’m not lovable, or I’ll never be good enough…

I don’t think that’s what we truly want for our kids.

What do you do to remind yourself not to compare?

Choosing a primary school – let your values lead the way

choosing the right primary school

[Updated on 22 Jun 2017]

We’re entering July soon, which is the time for primary school registration.

Fellow writers have been broaching the subject – from how to choose a school to recognizing that God is in control.

I’ve been wanting to share about how we settled on the school for Vera.

My husband’s alma mater no longer exists, and mine is on the other end of the island, so both options are out.

Over the past year, we shortlisted options A, B, and C. Our choices were based on distance and reputation, so they are all relatively near and relatively good. A is a pretty traditional school, very focused on academics and stressful overall, based on feedback from parents who send their kids there. (I must say that A was initially the leading choice for us, and my husband has been serving as a grassroots leader so that is equivalent to doing PV and should help us to secure a place there in phase 2B.)

B is the new kid of the block, with spanking new facilities and also a reputable principal who’d been moved over from one of the premium schools. It is also the nearest one to us.

C is a Christian girls’ school with a reputation for having a well-rounded focus, and that seems to strike a good balance between academic work and other interests such as the arts and sports.

After some prayer and consideration, we decided to go for C.

Our church affiliation would allow us to get into C via phase 2B. (For more information on phases and registration dates, go to MOE’s website.)

You might be wondering, then what will happen when it’s JJ’s or Joshie’s turn in a couple of years’ time? Well, we were keen on co-ed schools at first, but when we drilled down to the core, I realised that I did not want to allow our decision to hinge upon just the gender mix of our troop. So the short answer is we’ll cross the bridge when we get there. We may end up with Option B for the boys in future, or consider moving to another location that is nearer the Christian boys’ school that our church has affiliation with. (Currently, the latter option is out as it’s a tad too far away.)

While we shortlisted the schools based on distance and reputation (okay, I should add affiliation in the mix too), we made the final decision based on 2 key factors: my child’s temperament, and our family values.

On temperament:

Vera has a bit of an artist’s streak in her; she’s creative and dreamy, she loves to learn new things and ask questions about everything she observes, she likes to take her time to colour, draw, paint, come up with stories, and perform them. While all these does not necessarily mean she won’t be able to thrive in a more traditional academic-focused environment, I feel she’ll really thrive in a place that offers some space to dream and create, and to cultivate other interests such as art or dance or drama.

On values:

Why are values so important? Well, because every family is unique and has its own set of values, largely determined by the upbringing of both parents and their faith or belief system.

Some families value hard work and traditional academic performance.

Some families value creativity and could be more drawn towards a less structured education environment for their children.

Others value freedom (and perhaps a striking example of this would be families who choose to homeschool.)

Ours is a bit of a mix because my husband leans towards the traditional academic route while I much prefer options that offer more creativity, free time, and some breathing space for the child to explore her interests.

I have considered homeschooling, but that option is not the first one for us right now, as I’ve searched my heart and can honestly now say that my ideal life as a mum is to be able to do some writing or work from home, and to cultivate a space of my own.

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So that is how we arrived at our decision. I can’t say for sure that it’s the best choice, because only time will tell, but I am fairly sure that Vera will enjoy her learning and development there. And by God’s grace, we will navigate the primary school years smoothly with our first-born.

How did you decide on a primary school? What factors were important to you?

Other primary school-related articles:

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