What’s The Big Deal?

Math Puzzle 2019

The last Friday of each September is like D-Day for most Singaporeans turning 12 that year, and their parents.  It is the day they sit for the 2.5hr PSLE Math paper (65 minute break in between).  This question was reportedly featured in this year’s paper!

But… this questions looks more like a puzzle.  What is it doing in an exam paper?

Here’s a possible explanation (Snipped off from Page 31 of MOE’s Math Syllabus*):

At primary level, students …learn to…reason inductively by observing patterns, similarities and differences.

Ah hah, the ability to see patterns! So that’s what the examination board is possibly testing for.

But… in puzzle books, puzzles are laid out in increasing levels of difficulty, and this one should sit at the back of the book, shouldn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. My son bagged his A* in PSLE math some years ago, so I’m not a casualty here.

I love puzzles, so did my little son. In Fun-filled Math Conversations With Your Child, I wrote about how he and I would spend an entire day solving ONE puzzle. There were many of those days because chilling and bonding over puzzles was our thing.  We solved puzzles when we waited to board our plane, or for our food to arrive, or just waiting for the clock to tick until it was bedtime.  We were unhurried.  If the pressure of time was added to our experience, we would not have enjoyed solving the puzzles the way we did.

I agree with what’s written on Page 17 of MOE’s Math Syllabus*:

Students’ attitudes towards mathematics are shaped by their learning experiences.  Making the learning of mathematics fun, meaningful and relevant goes a long way to inculcating positive attitudes towards the subject.  Care and attention should be given to the design of the learning activities to build confidence in and develop appreciation for the subject.  Above all, students’ beliefs can influence their attitudes in learning, especially in student-centred learning where students are encouraged to take on more responsibility for their own learning.

I cannot reconcile what I read here, with an exam question that appears to have, from anecdotal reports, crushed many of the very same 12-year-olds that MOE desires to encourage.  I understand and appreciate that the Ministry Of Education (MOE) is trying to prepare our youths for a bright future (Page 2 of MOE’s Math Syllabus*):

A good understanding of basic mathematics is essential wherever calculations, measurements, graphical interpretations and statistical analysis are necessary. The learning of mathematics also provides an excellent vehicle to train the mind, and to develop the capacity to think logically, abstractly, critically and creatively.  These are important 21st century competencies that we must imbue in our students, so that they can lead a productive life and be life-long learners.

But… are there better ways of achieving this objective without traumatising a significant number of 12 year olds who are gifted in areas other than math?

Not all learning outcomes can be or should be tested in a national exam. Education can go very wrong if we try to measure every skill, especially if it involves the allocation of time and money. 

Is it possible to keep PLSE math exams simple, and stick to testing for basic mathematics that enables its graduates to function confidently in the real world, and not too much more?  Can the nice and fun puzzles created by the examination board (such as the one I featured in this essay) be used as a fun-filled classroom discussion instead?  I’m sure the question will garner more mileage in real learning that way.

I have a piece of advice for parents with children who are heading to PSLE in the near and distant future.  Do not overreact.  Resolve to have fun solving PSLE puzzles together with your children. If you need tips and strategies on how you can engage your children on this subject, get in touch with me for a parent coaching session, either one-to-one or in groups.  It’s my way of helping you save and redirect your money and time towards having fun with your children.

* https://www.moe.gov.sg/docs/default-source/document/education/syllabuses/sciences/files/mathematics_syllabus_primary_1_to_6.pdf

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *