This blog is managed by Song Hock Chye, author of Improve Your Thinking Skills in Maths (P1-P3 series), which is published and distributed by EPH.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Letter from a parent to the ST

Exam offers troubling peek into school attitude

I SIGH with resignation as I write this letter. For the past few days, my daughter has been distracted and subdued. The school examinations have just ended and her usual celebratory mood is clearly absent.

I found out that half her classmates in this top, all-girls' school had flunked mathematics. Another class managed four passes. I have not seen the paper. Nor do I know if my daughter has passed. All I know is this: She studied very hard, prepared herself well, especially for maths; she was determined and motivated to excel.

For any parent, that's all that matters: a self-motivated child who is willing, diligent and conscientious.

Regardless of her marks, I am disheartened that the school set an overly challenging paper which bore such atrocious results, that the matter was raised as an issue during the parent support group meeting.

Please spare me the usual 'it was challenging but we expect the girls to manage it well', or 'this is to make the girls buck up for PSLE'. These garden-variety remarks reflect a school's way of shifting blame onto the pupils and to pressure parents to get additional tutorial help for their children.

Surely if the paper was challenging, the maths teachers should have prepared their pupils better. Such poor results must also put the ability of the maths teachers in doubt.

This paper affected my daughter's desire to study hard, her creativity and her self-confidence.

As an active parent who works as a school facilitator to support the parenting programmes of the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, I believe in reaching out to as many families as possible. But, I find myself asking now: 'Why bother?'

This is not about a frantic parent who is hurt because her daughter has suffered a setback. It was, after all, only a maths paper.

This is about the attitude of a school, school leadership and teachers. It is about an education system, which, in a bid to fuel an extreme race to excel in academic achievement, douses the spark and enthusiasm of learning.

I appeal to the Ministry of Education to compare the disparity between the simplicity of published primary maths textbooks and worksheets with the difficulty of exam papers set by schools, if my daughter's school is any yardstick. The disparity is unrealistic, places an unfair burden on pupils and parents, and may end up making a mockery of the education system.

Jessica Chong (Ms)

1 comment:

keentolearn said...

Dear Mr Song

From an ex educator’s point of view, how do you classify whether or not a test paper is considered as difficult and challenging?

The writer lamented that about half her daughter’s classmates in this top, all-girls' school had flunked mathematics. Another class managed four passes. But, she did not mention whether these students are from the best classes or not or are they from the weaker lot. Even if a parent had seen the paper, is one qualified to judge whether or not a paper is considered over challenging?

A point worth noting is that there is disparity between the simplicity of published primary maths textbooks and worksheets with the difficulty of exam papers set by schools. Many parents will realise this if they had read their children’s Maths and Science books. Students who study diligently using these textbooks only may not secure good marks.

There are some commercial establishments advertising Problems solving using Heuristics and shorter methods to answer Maths questions, but these courses are expensive for many. But are these problems solving methodologies taught in schools? The concern here is whether the schools are preparing the children adequately to meet the standards of the examinations.