A Facebook post by Serene Eng-Yeo written to Minister Ong Ye Kung last weekend caught everyone’s attention as it claimed that PSLE Maths paper this year was “so harrowing and so devastating that our 11 and 12 year olds came out of it defeated, crushed and utterly demoralised”.

The concerned mother also attached the post with question samples and went on to ask why exam papers are set so tough that it could affect students’ mental health.

One of the images Serene Eng-Yeo uploaded with her Facebook post
via Facebook
One of the images Serene Eng-Yeo uploaded with her Facebook post
via Facebook

According to Straits Times, there are other parents who shared the same sentiments. One believed that students were learning “so many concepts” over the years but not many ended up being in the exams.

via Asiaone

This isn’t the first time parents have spoken up about such an issue. In 2015, there was the ‘How heavy are eight $1 Singapore coins?’ PSLE question and the infamous ‘When is Cheryl’s birthday’ Primary 5 question. In 2017, the weird unscramble-the-letters Primary 1 question from Maris Stella High School (Primary) went viral and confused everyone.

It even goes back to 2008 when a mother claimed that half her daughter’s class from a “top, all-girl’s school” had failed Maths while another class only had four passes. And these are just a few examples that surfaced online over the years, sparking debate across the nation about our education system.

We also can’t ignore how the Institute of Mental Health received about 2,400 new cases involving students with various stress-related, anxiety and depressive disorders every year from 2012 to 2017. Though there’s no record of whether the disorders are school-related, pressures faced by this age group can come from the school environment.

However, not everyone felt the same, though with very different reasons. Like those interviewed by Straits Times, they thought that the PSLE questions were “manageable”. One said that the trickier questions could help to “differentiate the best students from the good ones”. This thinking is echoed by some people over the years when this topic is brought up.

It seems that there will always be two camps; one supports the current exams standard, and one who doesn’t. Which one do you belong to?

It’s interesting to note that such debates also bring up the following questions:

  1. Are parents who complain being too soft on their kids?
  2. And for those who don’t, are they too hard then?
  3. Should the education system be looked into anyway to ensure exam questions are set for the appropriate level?
  4. Are we as a society not doing enough to develop a culture where failures are not the be-all-end-all?

Whether we agree that the PSLE Maths paper was too hard or not, I think it’s worth reflecting on the above questions. Especially since this topic keeps coming up every year or so, perhaps an open dialogue between parents and schools about it or a transparent look at how exam papers are set could be beneficial.