Primary school maths: A vicious circle (from TODAY May 8)

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Primary school maths: A vicious circle (from TODAY May 8)

Postby coast » Tue May 08, 2012 12:06 pm

http://www.todayonline.com/Singapore/ED ... ous-circle

Primary school maths: A vicious circle
Schools, tuition centres, book publishers trying to outdo one another in setting tough questions, say teachers
by Ng Jing Yng
04:45 AM May 08, 2012

SINGAPORE - As a recent letter to this newspaper re-ignited a debate over whether the standards of primary school level mathematics are realistic, some educators pointed to a vicious circle where schools, tuition centres and assessment book publishers try to outdo one another in terms of setting questions that stretch children's abilities.

Among the 11 teachers and former educators Today spoke to, almost half of them felt that tuition is no longer a luxury, but a necessity - they argued that these days, teachers are saddled with multiple responsibilities and do not have enough time to cater to the learning pace of every student in the class.

One of the teachers said: "We deal with a class of 40 and it is difficult to give equal attention to all. Our role is not only teaching and planning lessons."

He added that he would recommend weaker pupils to go for enrichment classes to catch up with their peers.

Nevertheless, all of them reiterated the need for "higher ability" questions in exams to stretch the more academically inclined pupils and differentiate them according to their abilities. The practice is in line with the principle of meritocracy and allows students to learn at a pace they are suited for, they said. Even so, such questions make up only "a handful" of questions in the entire test paper.

In response to Today's queries, a Ministry of Education (MOE) spokesperson reiterated that the level of difficulty of Primary School Leaving Examination mathematics "has not increased over the years".

The spokesperson added that the ministry reviews the subject syllabi regularly based on "widespread consultation with teachers and experts". In fact, the content in the mathematics syllabus was reduced in 2001, she added.

A primary school teacher, who had taught for more than a decade, pointed out that parents would question why schools are not giving questions as difficult as those set by tuition centres and found in assessment books. "It is a vicious circle," the teacher added.

Today reader Ian Tan recently expressed his concern that the primary school system "has become one of irrelevant, unrealistic standards". Citing primary school mathematics, he felt that children have little choice but to turn to tuition "to fill the gaps that teachers sometimes struggle to fill".

He added: "Why are pupils being asked to solve questions of higher level logic at such a young age? Does it make them more creative in problem solving? Does it help them when they are faced with heuristic problems that even adults do not have to deal with in the workplace? No, it only leads to more rote learning of, ironically, heuristic methods."

Mr Tan's letter, which was published on May 2, has since received more than 5,900 "likes" and sparked more than 70 comments online. Other readers also weighed in on the issue.

A primary school teacher with eight years of teaching experience told Today that while pupils might not need the algebra skills when they enter the workforce years later, "the skills of analysis and looking at problems in different perspectives … will help them in future".

The MOE spokesperson said that a primary school education here would "lay the foundation for a child's future learning". She added: "During these formative years, the focus of schools must be to build his confidence and desire to learn, while providing him with a good foundation in literacy and numeracy for him to access secondary education."

The spokesperson revealed a new primary mathematics syllabus will be implemented next year but it involves "only minor changes" to the Primary 1 syllabus. Accordingly, the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board will review the format of the examination paper.

"Care will be taken to ensure that these changes do not increase the level of difficulty of the paper," the spokesperson said.
Last edited by coast on Tue May 08, 2012 12:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Primary school maths: A vicious circle (from TODAY May 8

Postby Pris.tang » Tue May 08, 2012 12:10 pm

What more are they going to change is already so difficult already make it easier they sure about it?

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Re: Primary school maths: A vicious circle (from TODAY May 8

Postby nansk » Tue May 08, 2012 12:31 pm

I came to the forum today specifically to read the discussion on this letter! But there is no discussion so far. :(

I personally don't agree that the school syllabus by itself is "a vicious circle" - whatever that means. My dh and I didn't learn by the model method but, when it came time to teach our child, we bought the books needed studied the method and worked out lots of problems so as to master it. Our child is only in P2, so we don't have experience with teaching the new syllabus at higher levels, but we are confident we can simplify the concepts enough to teach them well.

If at all primary maths has become a "vicious circle", it is due to the kiasuism of Singapore parents. They want to expose their children to the "best" and toughest of problem solving practice regardless of their kids' aptitude and interest in maths.

Quoting from the letter:
A primary school teacher, who had taught for more than a decade, pointed out that parents would question why schools are not giving questions as difficult as those set by tuition centres and found in assessment books.


This indicates that the parents compare what schools cover with what tuition centers and assessment books cover. Of course the tuition centers are going to cover more challenging problems! How else can they justify their existence and high fees? Instead, why not compare what the schools cover with what is needed for the exams? I believe that school teachers do try their best to cover the syllabus completely.

Another problem, imo, is that parents hyperfocus on the challenging word problems in the exam papers. How much percentage of the total marks are these challenging word problems? What percentage of students are expected to be able to answer these problems? In any test, some of the questions *will* be designed for the advanced/accelerated student. If *every* student taking the test is able to answer *every* question, then I would say the test is too easy! The teachers setting the paper certainly do not expect this. So why must every child be forced to practice challenging word problems endlessly?

Aren't the parents guilty of expecting more from their children? (More than *they* ever did in school themselves?) Witness the endless search for more and better maths assessment books on this very forum.

If we recognize our children's ability in maths and provide them with a challenge adequate to their level, then there will not be this kind of stress and strife in our daily lives. Rather than blaming the syllabus, we should look at our own expectations and temper them.

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Re: Primary school maths: A vicious circle (from TODAY May 8

Postby Chenonceau » Tue May 08, 2012 12:36 pm

coast wrote:Among the 11 teachers and former educators Today spoke to, almost half of them felt that tuition is no longer a luxury, but a necessity - they argued that these days, teachers are saddled with multiple responsibilities and do not have enough time to cater to the learning pace of every student in the class.

One of the teachers said: "We deal with a class of 40 and it is difficult to give equal attention to all. Our role is not only teaching and planning lessons."

He added that he would recommend weaker pupils to go for enrichment classes to catch up with their peers.


Finally! A Teacher who speaks the truth about what happens VERY OFTEN and does not attempt to deny that the phenomenon of Teachers asking pupils to go for external enrichment and tuition is REAL.

coast wrote:Nevertheless, all of them reiterated the need for "higher ability" questions in exams to stretch the more academically inclined pupils and differentiate them according to their abilities. The practice is in line with the principle of meritocracy and allows students to learn at a pace they are suited for, they said. Even so, such questions make up only "a handful" of questions in the entire test paper.


In the interests of meritocracy tests can assume that the bright ones naturally know?

coast wrote:In response to Today's queries, a Ministry of Education (MOE) spokesperson reiterated that the level of difficulty of Primary School Leaving Examination mathematics "has not increased over the years".


Is this something like "HDB flats have not decreased in size for the past FIFTEEN years." PSLE Mathematics have not increased in difficulty from 2008? 2000? 1995? 1990? 1985? 1980? 1970?

Since till how far back is this statement true? What is true is that parents have been giving feedback since 2008... nothing has been done to address exam difficulty.

(1) See this thread in 2008 started by none other than tianzhu, KSP Math Expert In residence who has served this community faithfully for 5 years at least now... he can't do anything about how poorly the schools teach to the standards they test, so he volunteers his time here to help students and parents to help themselves - http://www.kiasuparents.com/kiasu/forum ... f=27&t=276

(2) See this link... http://www.nie.edu.sg/nie_cma/attachmen ... ndrome.pdf

It may be true that the difficulty of exams have stayed the same since 2008... but it most certainly made a BIG jump somewhere between 2005 and 2008. So when did that jump happen... even if not in recent years?

coast wrote:The spokesperson added that the ministry reviews the subject syllabi regularly based on "widespread consultation with teachers and experts". In fact, the content in the mathematics syllabus was reduced in 2001, she added.


This is another way of saying that MOE HQ is powerless to do anything about how testing is done in schools? They reduced the syllabus in 2001 and well... if school exams and PSLE get more difficult, there is nothing to be done?

coast wrote:A primary school teacher, who had taught for more than a decade, pointed out that parents would question why schools are not giving questions as difficult as those set by tuition centres and found in assessment books. "It is a vicious circle," the teacher added.


Actually parents question why textbooks don't document the strategies students need to tackle SCHOOL exams. So stop blaming parents for wanting more difficult questions. Most of the questions in this thread http://www.kiasuparents.com/kiasu/forum ... f=69&t=280, come from SCHOOL exams.


coast wrote:A primary school teacher with eight years of teaching experience told Today that while pupils might not need the algebra skills when they enter the workforce years later, "the skills of analysis and looking at problems in different perspectives … will help them in future".


Kudos for raising standards. High standards and ever higher standards will help keep the workforce relevant. Let's assume this to be entirely true... so raising standards are good. It remains then that SCHOOLS can raise their OWN bar to teach even MORE effectively so that they can HELP the students reach higher standards without

(1) expecting parents to teach
(2) expecting parents to pay others to teach

Tests get harder. Textbooks document less and less.


coast wrote:The MOE spokesperson said that a primary school education here would "lay the foundation for a child's future learning". She added: "During these formative years, the focus of schools must be to build his confidence and desire to learn, while providing him with a good foundation in literacy and numeracy for him to access secondary education."


Build confidence? When students in P4, P5 and P6 are given harsh "wake-up calls" through tests where HALF the class or more fails. That builds confidence and desire to learn? See here - http://www.kiasuparents.com/kiasu/forum ... 76#p708776


coast wrote:"Care will be taken to ensure that these changes do not increase the level of difficulty of the paper," the spokesperson said.


It's ok to expect high standards of our kids provided the teaching service itself can itself rise to these standards by teaching vastly better.

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Re: Primary school maths: A vicious circle (from TODAY May 8

Postby peapot » Tue May 08, 2012 12:56 pm

Actually I hire a math tutor because I don't know how to solve the math problem myself. The tutor is there also to help me understand the question so that I can teach my child. Imagine if the parents doesn't even know how to solve the problem then how can we coach our kids? I feel depress because I m not good with numbers so I need coaching too.

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Re: Primary school maths: A vicious circle (from TODAY May 8

Postby Chenonceau » Tue May 08, 2012 12:59 pm

nansk wrote:I came to the forum today specifically to read the discussion on this letter! But there is no discussion so far. :(

If at all primary maths has become a "vicious circle", it is due to the kiasuism of Singapore parents. They want to expose their children to the "best" and toughest of problem solving practice regardless of their kids' aptitude and interest in maths.

Quoting from the letter:
"A primary school teacher, who had taught for more than a decade, pointed out that parents would question why schools are not giving questions as difficult as those set by tuition centres and found in assessment books."


The most difficult questions in this thread come from SCHOOL exams - http://www.kiasuparents.com/kiasu/forum ... f=69&t=280. People don't post tuition centre problem sums because they don't have to. The tutors in the tuition centre will answer their questions.

They have to post SCHOOL exams in KSP because these are questions you cannot ask your school teacher especially if the questions are set by other schools.

nansk wrote:This indicates that the parents compare what schools cover with what tuition centers and assessment books cover.


As noted above there is no need to compare tuition centres and schools. Just compare school exams with school exams. The clear advantage that tuition centres have are the EXPLANATORY NOTES that are missing from school textbooks. Too bad for students in schools that DON'T give out explanatory notes of ANY sort.... and who don't go for tuition.

nansk wrote:Instead, why not compare what the schools cover with what is needed for the exams? I believe that school teachers do try their best to cover the syllabus completely.


You believe? Or you know? I am absolutely certain they test what they don't teach. When I raised this issue with an HOD, the response was "The bright ones will naturally know." DS' class in CA1 were penalized heavily for Science answering technique. Many failed. Even more were borderline. Their Science Teacher consoled them "Don't feel bad. You all did badly because your answering technique was wrong, but you know your stuff. NOW, let me teach you answering technique."

Question is... why did they test and fail the kids on what they HAD NOT YET taught?


nansk wrote:Another problem, imo, is that parents hyperfocus on the challenging word problems in the exam papers. How much percentage of the total marks are these challenging word problems? What percentage of students are expected to be able to answer these problems? In any test, some of the questions *will* be designed for the advanced/accelerated student. If *every* student taking the test is able to answer *every* question, then I would say the test is too easy! The teachers setting the paper certainly do not expect this. So why must every child be forced to practice challenging word problems endlessly?


How can you make an general accusation like this without supporting evidence? Can you point to incidences of parents that give their children endless challenging problem sums? I run Motivation Workshops for parents whose children FAIL math and are in danger of being pushed to Foundation Math. In P5, they are ONLY doing computation exercises AND focusing on Paper 1. Many are doing this.

nansk wrote:Aren't the parents guilty of expecting more from their children? (More than *they* ever did in school themselves?) Witness the endless search for more and better maths assessment books on this very forum.


Better Math assessment books aren't necessarily the most challenging. Parents in KSP recognise this. In many a thread we celebrate Simon Eio's Step-by-Step Math... not challenging but definitely one of the BETTER assessment books.

nansk wrote:If we recognize our children's ability in maths and provide them with a challenge adequate to their level, then there will not be this kind of stress and strife in our daily lives. Rather than blaming the syllabus, we should look at our own expectations and temper them.


It's really amazing how parents can allow themselves to JUDGE the motives and skills of other parents as if they are the only ones to know how to parent and how to love. You sound like you think you're the only one who knows that kids need to be given work customised to their abilities. You sound like parents ONLY are to blame for the sorry state of education in Singapore today.

Stop assigning blame.

Everyone is to blame. Including MOE. It is now important to co-ordinate a fix. MOE is in a good position to lead and co-ordinate. If it does nothing, civic action will result. Someone will come up and offer charity. An NTU Prof (from Malaysia) provides free Math solutions on the internet for kids who don't have money for tuition and whose teachers are too busy to answer their questions. 2 PRC students studying in US universities offer online Science lectures. Where is MOE is all this?

If parents now have to band together to lead and co-ordinate a fix then what is MOE for?

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Re: Primary school maths: A vicious circle (from TODAY May 8

Postby Chenonceau » Tue May 08, 2012 1:09 pm

nansk wrote:I came to the forum today specifically to read the discussion on this letter! But there is no discussion so far. :(


There is no discussion because we have said so much since 2008 and nothing has changed. Instead we hear excuses after excuses... and the phrase "parents only are to blame" implying therefore that MOE has no part to play in a system that it runs and administrates.

nansk wrote:My dh and I didn't learn by the model method but, when it came time to teach our child, we bought the books needed studied the method and worked out lots of problems so as to master it. Our child is only in P2, so we don't have experience with teaching the new syllabus at higher levels, but we are confident we can simplify the concepts enough to teach them well.


Good for you! You're smart. What about people like peapot and myself who CAN'T learn the model method no matter how hard we tried? Our kids should be consigned to failure?

Lastly, you find it normal that we pay taxes to fund MOE and we still have to hunker down to do the teaching ourselves? You may have time and competence. Many parents hold heavy jobs. They have no time. Many also have not the competence.

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Re: Primary school maths: A vicious circle (from TODAY May 8

Postby looking4Tutor » Tue May 08, 2012 1:32 pm

nansk, do you have success story to share?

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Re: Primary school maths: A vicious circle (from TODAY May 8

Postby kitty2 » Tue May 08, 2012 1:56 pm

Chenonceau wrote:
nansk wrote:I came to the forum today specifically to read the discussion on this letter! But there is no discussion so far. :(


There is no discussion because we have said so much since 2008 and nothing has changed. Instead we hear excuses after excuses... and the phrase "parents only are to blame" implying therefore that MOE has no part to play in a system that it runs and administrates.

nansk wrote:My dh and I didn't learn by the model method but, when it came time to teach our child, we bought the books needed studied the method and worked out lots of problems so as to master it. Our child is only in P2, so we don't have experience with teaching the new syllabus at higher levels, but we are confident we can simplify the concepts enough to teach them well.


Good for you! You're smart. What about people like peapot and myself who CAN'T learn the model method no matter how hard we tried? Our kids should be consigned to failure?

Lastly, you find it normal that we pay taxes to fund MOE and we still have to hunker down to do the teaching ourselves? You may have time and competence. Many parents hold heavy jobs. They have no time. Many also have not the competence.


:goodpost: :celebrate:

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Re: Primary school maths: A vicious circle (from TODAY May 8

Postby Pris.tang » Tue May 08, 2012 2:13 pm

Chenonceau wrote:
nansk wrote:I came to the forum today specifically to read the discussion on this letter! But there is no discussion so far. :(


There is no discussion because we have said so much since 2008 and nothing has changed. Instead we hear excuses after excuses... and the phrase "parents only are to blame" implying therefore that MOE has no part to play in a system that it runs and administrates.

nansk wrote:My dh and I didn't learn by the model method but, when it came time to teach our child, we bought the books needed studied the method and worked out lots of problems so as to master it. Our child is only in P2, so we don't have experience with teaching the new syllabus at higher levels, but we are confident we can simplify the concepts enough to teach them well.


Good for you! You're smart. What about people like peapot and myself who CAN'T learn the model method no matter how hard we tried? Our kids should be consigned to failure?

Lastly, you find it normal that we pay taxes to fund MOE and we still have to hunker down to do the teaching ourselves? You may have time and competence. Many parents hold heavy jobs. They have no time. Many also have not the competence.


:goodpost: :goodpost: :please:

Some schs have even advise parents to subscribe to maths magazine and ask parents to go through it with their children at home to help them cope with the syllabus. The irony is i myself am learning through all this magazines to be able to guide them exam method correctly.

Now is no longer about just getting the answers the children must even know and do the correct model drawing correct working to get the answer. Even if there is a easier way to get the same answer marks will be deducted for wrong working or wrong model drawing.

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