Friday 26 October 2012

PSLE leave may "feed into fears" of parents: Josephine Teo

By Monica Kotwani, Channel NewsAsia, 24 Oct 2012

Introducing PSLE leave "feeds into the fears" of parents and the exam should not be the "defining moment in a child's development", wrote Minister of State for Transport and Finance, Josephine Teo in her Facebook post on Wednesday.

Her reaction comes as OCBC Bank announced three weeks of leave for staff from next year to help their children prepare for the national examination.

A few people have asked me what I thought of the PSLE Leave, a new scheme which a major bank in Singapore has introduced...
Posted by Josephine Teo on Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Writing on her Facebook page, Mrs Josephine Teo highlighted her experience, having just seen her twins through the PSLE.

She said there are many occasions where parents would need to "be there" for their children.

But it should not be a "default assumption" that parents must take significant time off to help children prepare.

Mrs Teo said OCBC Bank's move may be well-intentioned, but it may result in some parents feeling "unusual" if they don't take such leave.

A child psychologist said this may reinforce Singapore's stressful exam-climate.

"If I put myself in their shoes, I'll be constantly checking 'Did you do your homework? Have you studied? How many hours have you studied? Oh my gosh, why are you watching television? Are you playing your Game Boy when you're supposed to be researching this on the Internet?'," said Dr Carol Balhetchet, a clinical psychologist at Singapore Children's Society.

She added: "If parents want to be really useful to the child, then at the beginning of the year, put in place some structure, some time-management plans and teach the child how to study. I think they can help them there.

"If they do the supervisions so to speak, putting the pressure on the child during the period of the exam, we're going to have very, very stressful children who do not know how to study on their own."

OCBC said the PSLE Leave Scheme is part of a slew of work-life balance initiatives introduced over the years.

It was implemented because the bank sees more employers applying for annual leave to spend time with their children who are taking their PSLE.

It said feedback from employees and industry has been "very favourable".

The PSLE leave implementation comes as the government in recent months said it would re-look into ways of reducing this over-pressure on one single national examination.

And parents Channel NewsAsia spoke to had mixed reactions as to the benefits of such an official study leave.

Thanam Muthusamy, who is a teacher, said: "I do know of some parents who actually stay at home not to put the pressure, but just to make sure they're eating well and sleeping well and just encouraging them along but knowing our Singapore parents, I think they're putting a lot more pressure than not."

Some parents said taking regular leave during the PSLE year is better than doing it closer to the examinations.


Parents, beware of giving kids more stress

Offer support year-round instead of just during exams, says psychologist
By Stacey Chia and Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 26 Oct 2012

TWO years before her son sat the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), Madam Mazlita Abdul Jabbar, 37, switched to a part-time job.

She wanted to spend more time to guide him in his studies. She believes her efforts paid off: Her son, Muzammil Arif Din Abdul Jabbar, went on to become Singapore's second-best scorer last year.

"It gave me time to teach him how to make mind maps, apart from just teaching him the concepts.

"Also, sometimes, I do need time to learn what they are learning before I can help them," said the accountant, who works in the mornings while her children are in school. She has two younger kids - in Primary 3 and kindergarten.

It is not uncommon for working parents like Madam Mazlita to opt for part-time work, take time off for a few days, weeks or months, or even resign when their children face a crucial examination.

Most do it so that they can be around to provide last-minute help, drive them to the exams and even cook their favourite dishes.

But experts said the heightened parental presence during this period could give their children more stress.

The issue of parents taking leave or quitting their jobs to help their children prepare for the nationwide exam came under the spotlight early this week after OCBC Bank announced a new PSLE leave scheme.

Staff can carry forward between 10 and 15 days of leave if they have a child sitting the PSLE the following year.

On Wednesday, Minister of State for Finance and Transport Josephine Teo called the scheme "over the top" in a post on her Facebook account.

Responding to feedback on her post, which was mostly in favour of OCBC's policy, she wrote yesterday: "The bank providing such leave suggests it should be the norm for parents to take leave for their children's PSLE."

"Yes, it does determine the secondary school they go to, but that itself is not the only thing that determines their future."

Every year, some 50,000 pupils attempt the PSLE.

Many parents who took leave told The Straits Times they did so mainly to provide moral support.

One such parent is Ms Lee Hwee Boon, vice-president of the global enterprise banking division of OCBC Bank.

Three weeks before this year's PSLE, the 41-year-old took half a day off from work every day to spend time with her son, who is in Bukit Panjang Primary School.

Said Ms Lee: "Exams are a trying period, so just being there for them is helpful."

Apart from helping her son with his work, she bonded with him during walks in the park to de-stress.

But while parents have the best intentions, their efforts can backfire. Child psychologist at the Singapore Children's Society Carol Balhetchet said some parents are naturally anxious during this period and may unknowingly pass on this anxiety to their children.

"Some parents would do the PSLE or homework for their child if they could... but they can't... so they hang around the child, putting more pressure on themselves and their child," she said.

She added that parents do need to show support emotionally and physically but it should come throughout the year while the children are preparing for the exam, and "not do what we call cramping parenting".

Member of Parliament Baey Yam Keng, whose daughter took the PSLE this year, told The Straits Times: "I know parents are anxious over the major PSLE exam more so than the A or O levels because they can help or coach the child at this level."

But parents' decisions should depend on whether their children need parental supervision or can handle their revision themselves, he added.

South View Primary School principal Jenny Yeo agreed, while noting that in her school, parents who take leave specifically for the exam are in the minority.

"By the time they have to sit the PSLE, they should be able to cope on their own.

"If parents do this at PSLE, does that mean they will do it for all the other major exams?" she said.


'Consistent revision is the key to less stress’
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 26 Oct 2012

MS CHERYL Liew-Chng decided not to follow in her friends' footsteps of taking "PSLE leave" when her eldest son Bryan took the exam two years ago.

The 44-year-old said another mother she knew quit working when her child was in Primary 6 just to ferry him to tuition sessions, in the hope that he would do well and go to a good secondary school.

Ms Liew-Chng, who runs her own workplace consultancy LifeWorkz, chose a different route instead. She cut down on her overseas work trips, avoided taking night-time conference calls and went home earlier in the evenings to ensure that Bryan, now 14, completed his revision.

The mother of three felt that there was no need for her to take time off from work because Bryan - a disciplined and above-average pupil in her opinion - had been consistently revising for the three years before the exam.

Ms Liew-Chng and her programme manager husband made sure that the Anglo-Chinese School (Junior) pupil consistently revised his schoolwork before he played computer games or went out.

He also had help from his grandmother, a retired primary school teacher, and two tutors - for mathematics and Chinese.

Ms Liew-Chng also credits his Primary 5 and 6 teachers: "If you had good teachers, the child should be fairly well-prepared and not feel stressed. With ongoing learning, he doesn't feel the pressure of last-minute preparations."

While about 60 per cent of parents she knew opted to reduce their workload or to take a sabbatical around the exam period, she feels that banking on those last few months of effort is not good, as some children may crack under the pressure.

"When you've already done your work for the last three years, we just have to make sure you eat and sleep well," said Ms Liew-Chng, whose two other children are aged nine and five.

Bryan is now in Secondary 2 at Anglo-Chinese School (Independent). "My husband and I value education, but don't think it's the only standard or milestone that will measure our child," she said.


Mum helps daughter clear maths hurdle
By Stacey Chia, The Straits Times, 26 Oct 2012

MRS ELIZABETH Goh's only child might have failed the Primary School Leaving Examination if she had not taken time off from her job.

"She was not doing well in mathematics all throughout primary school. We wanted to give her more attention so that she would feel motivated and know we believe in her," said the 41-year-old who was a sales consultant in a logistics company.

Initially, she and her civil servant husband decided she would take a year of no-pay leave from work. However, upon seeing the benefits of being at home, she decided to resign halfway into the year, a few months before the PSLE.

She said her daughter, who was in Qihua Primary School, started passing maths tests when she had more time to supervise her work.

"I made sure that she didn't waste time... we had a maid who would remind her to do her homework, but of course sometimes she would not listen," said Mrs Goh.

"My presence is, of course, a better choice because she would be more afraid of me," she added with a laugh.

She said she was also able to work more closely with her daughter's maths tutor. "Previously, I did talk to the tutor but I didn't have time to follow up."

Her daughter is now in Secondary 1 in the Normal (Academic) stream at Orchid Park Secondary School and doing well.

Mrs Goh said she has no plans to return to the workforce yet, and wants to be around while her daughter goes through the first two years of secondary school.

"When children are in their teenage years, many parents are worried about bad influences from their peers. I would like to make sure she has the right values in place before I go back to work."

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