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The Kids World 2017 Primary School Survival Guide (Part 2)

Thursday, 20.10.2016

Part II: SIX Preppers for Every Parent

Kids World’s quintessential guide to primary school education continues (and concludes) in this segment. Part two offers an overview into these formative academic years, and parts the curtains for a closer look at what your child is likely to experience, encounter and expect. 

Don’t forget to read part one for our advice on the groundwork that’s recommended to make settling in as smooth as possible!

#1: What’s in store academically

Parents, heave a sigh of relief as your kid enters P1: In case you didn’t know, all primary schools have not conducted any mid- or year-end examinations for their new cohorts since 2013! This move is in line with the MOE’s aim to “help young students orientate in a formal school system”, and by 2019, the removal of formal examinations may also be extended to primary two students.

To allay any parent’s fears that non-existent P1 exams is detrimental to a child’s academic development, I can attest that it isn’t. What’s more, your child will enjoy his first year of official education sans studying stress—and any kid who enjoys going to school is obviously going to stick to the routine, regime, regiment, whatever you call it. That enthusiasm can only bode well for the future.

Remember director Jack Neo’s 2002 I Not Stupid? Among its themes, the film explored the inferiority complex felt by students in the EM3 stream. Fortunately, the EM3 stream, which made academically-weaker pupils feel singled out and even condemned, is now a thing of the past.

(Interesting backgrounder: While the EM1 and EM2 streams were removed in 2004, the MOE only abolished EM3 four years later, to a system that remains in place until today, subject-based banding.) Students are now assessed in the P4 exams, and based on their results, subjects are offered either at the standard or foundation level. 

Here’s my own account for my son, who sat for three standard subjects, but opted for foundation Mother Tongue (Chinese) in P5 and at the PSLE. Despite that, he still scored sufficiently well to enter the Express stream in secondary school. As such, I’d advise parents to not immediately dismiss a foundation-level subject as a shortcoming.

In fact, tackling a subject at the recommended level of competence frees your child to prioritise and focus on his other standard subjects instead of consuming a large amount of time on just that particular weak subject. If he is already having difficulties at the standard level, he will reap more benefits from the foundation level which is better suited to his learning pace; insisting otherwise will inevitably be counter-productive as this is likely to drag down his other grades).

Update: My son went on to study Mother Tongue “B” syllabus in secondary school, which I believe helped in his overall attitude towards that subject as there was naturally less stress, frustration and resentment involved.

#2: Revamped PSLE (will it apply to my child?)

The answer is yes, as the re-tweaked scoring system will take effect from the year 2021, and seven-year-olds entering P1 next year will be sitting for the PSLE come 2022. Since MOE announced the news back in July, curious and concerned parents alike will no doubt be busy getting, uh, schooled on these changes.

Here’s what you need to know. Essentially, the current transformed score, or T-Score, which uses a formula to measure a student’s performance against his peers, will be replaced by Achievement Levels (AL) with eight bands that indicate the student’s level of achievement in each subject. The student’s PSLE Score will be the total combination of band scores for the four core subjects (English, Mother Tongue, Mathematics and Science). With AL1 being the best possible score for a subject and AL8 the lowest, the polar scores of 4 and 32 will represent the highest and weakest PSLE score (ALx4=4, ALx8=32).

Parents may wonder, what’s the core difference here? Under the current system, there are around 200 different T-scores, which effectively grades a student’s performance in comparison with other pupils. Whereas with the AL system, there are only 29 possible PSLE Scores in between the range of AL4-AL32, which the MOE hopes will reflect a more accurate assessment of a student’s individual performance instead. 

So far, parents are still tentative about wholeheartedly embracing the revamped scoring system. This won’t affect either of my kids (my son took his PSLE in 2012 and my daughter’s is in 2018), but as an observer, I have my concerns, notably about the scores’ drastic disparity as the AL band bottoms out. A commendable AL2 requires a pupil to score between 85-89 marks—but then, things start to go pear-shaped, especially at AL6 (45-64 marks!).

Consider this: a student who actually fails a subject with a raw mark of 45 will still achieve the same band as another student who passes, but with 64 marks. Alas, won’t the “upper tier” AL6 student feel penalised and discouraged? No doubt, no system is absolutely perfect, but whether or not more fine tuning is done, only time will tell. In the meantime, it appears that students remain bound to each and every mark that matters more strongly than ever before.

#3: Here’s to health checks!

Finally, we move on from the heady, intellectual matters (mind) and on to the body. If there’s anything I can imagine busy, working parents appreciating the most during their child(ren)’s primary school years, it’s probably the free health screenings conducted by the School Health Services (SHS). Besides the yearly growth and development assessments (ie. Height and weight percentiles), your child will have his eyesight tested annually for myopia too.

Singapore has one of the highest rates of childhood myopia in the world: it affects one in four seven-year-olds, a third of nine-year-olds (alas, my daughter belongs in this category as I discovered about a year ago) and half (!) of 12-year-olds, so any parent can imagine the necessity of such regular eye checks. The SHS is active on follow-up too: I delayed getting spectacles for my kid, and I was alerted a few months later with a reminder (apparently, the attending optician must fax the duly filled-in form with specific details back to the SHS for their records).

Primary one students will also have a hearing screening (conducted in P1 only) and their very first medical check-up by a doctor (the next and final one is in P5). Under the National Childhood Immunisation Programme, the SHS also arranges for P5 students to receive their second booster shots for diphtheria, pertussis & tetanus and the poliovirus.

I suppose I have the School Dental Service to thank for the fact that I’ve never personally brought my children to a dentist once in their entire lives! Hurray, because once your child enters P1, dental works such as scaling, fillings, as well as primary teeth extractions, are several types of treatment that are provided free (incredibly, my son kept his two fillings a secret from me until after he left primary school!). Cases that require more complex or extensive treatment are referred to the School Dental Centre under the Health Promotion Board. Otherwise, most of the oral checks are handled by dental therapists (not dentists per se) at the school’s dental clinic or mobile dental clinic, and are usually scheduled during school hours.

#4: CCA calling 

Donkey years ago, co-curricular activities, or CCAs, were known as extra-curricular activities (ECAs) and they weren’t reinforced much in primary school. From what I recall, the more gung-ho all-rounders were those who signed up for an ECA back then (unfortunately I was among the lax ones, though I really liked the badges issued by the Science Centre for Science Club members… they’d surely be vintage collectibles now). 

Decades later, while the MOE hasn’t made CCAs compulsory at the primary school level yet, I’ve casually quizzed other parents on the issue and it appears that almost every school have made it mandatory under their own rules; the norm so far being that once they enter P3, students have to be in a CCA of their choice.

Well, my kids are six years apart, and the same rule still applies to each of them, and they attend different schools. The CCAs offered in primary schools are similar to those in secondary school, covering clubs/societies, drama and dance, sports and uniformed groups (Red Cross, Scouts and Brownies). Depending on the school, some will devote a morning every week to CCA time during lesson hours, while others will conduct their activities after classes on a specified day once a week.

I’m in favour of parents allowing their kids free rein when opting for their preferred CCA. However, some parents may feel that taking on another CCA might be too taxing, especially if your child is already occupied extensively in an external enrichment/training activity (for example, in music or a certain sport, several times a week) that may even coincide with CCA held after-school hours.

Typically, schools will handle exemptions on a case-by-case basis, with parents providing the necessary as proof of existing engagement (note that tuition classes don’t count). Still, you should discuss future arrangements with your child (a nine-year-old in P3 may want to diversify his interests after all). 

Don’t be too harsh on your child either if he “drops out” of his original choice in favour of another CCA (while school rules vary, most schools may permit students to switch CCAs up to P5 but only once, and on a case-by-case basis). After all, better for him to participate in an activity he truly enjoys, rather than being there just to fulfil attendance. So while I rued my son ditching his Scouts uniform after two years, his mojo was reignited in the Chess Club (and if he could happily emerge unscathed, there was no reason why I should bog him down either with my own regrets).

#5: The “physical” in education 

Following MOE’s revamp to the existing physical education (PE) syllabus in 2016, primary school students’ exposure to exercise and fitness will no longer revolve around passing the yearly NAPFA (National Physical Fitness Award). Surprise! That annual test is now conducted every alternate year (officially commencing at P4, then P6), while the fun factor of PE lessons has been raised to include more enjoyable activities.

Expect your kid to take on educational gymnastics, athletics, dance and swimming throughout his primary school years. Regarding swimming, the level may differ among schools; my son took the plunge in P2 and my daughter, in P3. (Don’t worry, parents: the school usually makes transport arrangements to and from the public pool nearest the school. Swimming lessons, however, are typically held after classes on a regular school day and last for at least one semester; you do need to purchase gear such as a bathing suit, cap and swim goggles.)

Time devoted to PE lessons has been raised too, from 2-2.5 hours a week, in order to accommodate these varied activities. 


Photo courtesy of Cheryl Sim

As for Sports Days, I’ve learned (again, through chats with fellow parents) that schools increasingly hold this annual event at the nearest sports stadium within the district (unless your child’s school has its own track). Upper primary students generally are expected to attend, whether as participants or spectators. Generally, P1 and P2 students aren’t required to be at this external venue, so they either 1) aren’t involved altogether; 2) have their own dedicated Sports Day which is held in the school instead. Whatever the case, encourage your child to take part at least once during his six years! 

In fact, certain schools push participation by getting students to participate in novelty team races outside the competition itinerary. This, I feel, is excellent gesture that promotes good sportsmanship, as every young participant receives a medal or trophy with the school crest on it (even if their team comes in last). My kids have received such token prizes (either constructed out of light metal or in plastic coated with metallic paint), and trust me, these are definite keepsakes that will surely become treasured childhood mementoes in the years to come. 

#6: A ton of fun 

Lest we forget, parents can also anticipate your kiddo heading off for his first overnighter camp at least once throughout these six years! This call to independence is usually reserved for upper primary students, and even an occasionally over-protective parent like myself admits that this is undoubtedly one of the most beneficial experiences of primary school life for your child.

Most primary schools take advantage of MOE’s Outdoor Adventure Learning Centres (there are three) to conduct their camps, and years later, my son still looks back fondly on his first-ever trip—in particular, his vivid recollection of the exhilarating Flying Fox activity.

Overseas immersion trips may also be offered to selected students, but take note that parents do have to bear some of the costs that are not covered by Edusave*. Schools also organise frequent excursions, or “learning journeys” for students as soon as P1, and these are typically educational to heritage sites or places of interest. 

It’s been a longstanding tradition of the National Day Parade (NDP) committee too, that every student in P5 will get the opportunity to be a spectator at an NDP full-dress rehearsal (under the National Education Show moniker). My daughter is all excited already at this prospect next year; she attended her first-ever Chingay preview this year, but unlike the NDP pre-show, this invitation is not extended to all primary and secondary schools (due to limited seating capacity I guess).

My advice to parents—give your child your permission and blessings to make the most of these mini adventures at every available opportunity! (Acknowledge and sign off on every consent form!)

We’re close to the end of the guide, and if we’ve omitted or overlooked anything that you feel should be included, we’d be glad to hear from you! We’ve tried our best to make the compiled content not only as comprehensive as possible, but relevant and applicable to every primary school student too, regardless of whether your child is attending a government, government-aided, or independent school.

As always, shower your child with parental love and give the apple of your eye all your fullest support, encouragement and guidance throughout these six glorious years of primary school.

Whether he’s just about to enter or whatever level he’s at now, do your part to make it a memorable and fulfilling journey for him every step of the way! As Benjamin Franklin said, “an investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” And, as I like to think, the best security too. Onward, little learners!


* All Singaporean children are given an Edusave account at the age of seven with an annual contribution of $200 during their primary school years. This amount is provided by the Government, and parents do not need to contribute other than to sign off on acknowledgement forms when withdrawals are required (for example, when schools engage external operators to conduct MOE-approved activities); any top-ups are on a one-off basis and are announced at the annual Budget if approved  for that year.


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