Monday 11 October 2021

Instead of Helen & Ivan's coins, I propose more relatable PSLE questions for the new normal

Helen and Ivan have a lot to answer for.

Because of them, children cried, parents complained and everyone memed.

This year’s Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) mathematics paper was reportedly so brutal that you almost expect to win 45.6 billion Korean won (S$52 million) in cash for surviving it.

But instead of the deadly games in Squid Game, 12-year-olds taking the exam apparently had to overcome such merciless questions like this one:

No, it wasn’t the terrible English of “more heavier” that reduced the kids to tears.

Did the Ministry of Education (MOE) hire Phua Chu Kang to set the exam after he finished shooting Covid-19 videos and Shopee ads?

The question went so viral that all sorts of organisations jumped on the trendwagon by creating memes about what Helen and Ivan did or should do with all those coins:

Even MOE weighed in (so to speak), posting on social media:
“We met up with Helen and Ivan this week to solve their weighty money issue. Some found it challenging while others found it familiar from work they had done in class before.

“Like every year, the examination paper has a balanced spread of test items of varying difficulties ranging from easy, moderate to challenging questions. We would like to assure parents that this year’s paper was set to comparable standards (to) past years’ papers...

“Some parents also mentioned that the Helen and Ivan question included the phrase ‘more heavier’, which is grammatically incorrect. We would like to clarify that the question in the PSLE paper did not use this phrase.”

So MOE didn’t hire PCK after all. He must be too busy telling people to get your shot.

Still, the ministry can’t deny that Helen and Ivan walking around with all that loose change isn’t exactly the most relatable of scenarios.

So here are a few proposed questions for next year’s PSLE to reflect the new normal:
  • Last Wednesday, the Ministry of Health reported a total of 3,562 new Covid-19 cases in the community and migrant worker dormitories. If the number also came in second in the 4D draw that day, how much do you bet on the number of new local cases the next day?

  • On Saturday, Singapore announced that those who are fully vaccinated can travel to eight more countries: Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Britain and the US. How soon after did the Singapore Airlines website crash?

  • Of Singapore’s population, 83 per cent have received two doses of Covid-19 vaccines and 85 per cent have received at least one dose. How many who refuse to be vaccinated will eventually take ivermectin because their “church friends” in Telegram chat groups tell them to?

  • Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaks for 25 minutes on the Covid-19 situation using 3,063 words. How many times does he drink from his magic cup?

  • Helen and Ivan are dating. She is vaccinated. He is not and doesn’t want to be. From Wednesday, only those who are vaccinated will be allowed to enter malls and dine in (with a one-week grace period for malls). How long before Helen finds a new boyfriend? Oh, Ivan is also a cheapskate who always seems to have only coins with him.

- Published in The New Paper, 11 October 2021

Dear Mr. Ong

I refer to your cheek-in-tongue article in today's TNP. It is as humorous as ever.

On a more serious note, I wonder why some parents are so upset about the difficult Maths question. Firstly, it is just one question out of so many questions. Secondly, isn't, by having a few difficult questions, a means to differentiate those students who are strong academically from the rest? Thirdly, why are students so weak emotionally nowadays that they will cry over things like this? Is it the end of the world? Fourthly, shouldn't we, including those parents who voiced their displeasure and concern for their children, be helping the children to take challenges in their stride instead of over-protecting them?

Obviously there will be different views about it. I guess this is one way to make further improvement in the education system (or for that matter, any topic or subject).

BTW, as I mentioned to SEAB in the email below, even though they were not the ones who made the grammatical error, it is still their responsibility to ensure that the parents and children will learn to use proper English now. Otherwise, we will definitely have bigger problems in the future.

Another observation. There is a tendency for most, if not all of us, to make more assumptions nowadays. Just like in this case about the grammatically wrong question. Almost everyone, including me, assumed that it was SEAB who made the mistake. In many cases, no one bothers to seek clarification before jumping to a conclusion. Making assumptions is a double-edged sword. It can help in improving efficiency and help to separate those who have better means of reading the intent of an instruction, programme from those who need to be told of every minute detail (which will help in identifying managers and leaders). On the other hand, it can also lead to wrong implementation of programmes and processes which lead to big issues subsequently. Won't it be great if someone has a solution to this?