The Good, bad and the PSLE – book review

There are some books that are pleasant, eminently readable, simple, creative as well as realistic while at the same time give you the inspiration to read again. Such books are indeed rare now-a-days and this book ‘The Good, bad and the PSLE’ by Singaporean author Monica Lim is one such.

The books’ content is about the trials and tribulations in the life of a working mom who has two primary school going kids. One is smart and a perfectionist like any Singaporean girl while the other is given to the ways of the world albeit in children’s parlance. And the daily transactions in the lives of these three characters, in Singapore, where there is an over-insistence on the scores a child gets in the Primary School Leaving Exam, forms the crux of the story line.

There are many such occasions where you have to hold on to your chair while reading the passages where the younger child Noah interacts with the mom, for you are sure to fall down laughing. I don’t mean to say that the laughter is just a mirth and nothing else but after the laughter part you get to ponder on the ill-effects of this over insistence on the primary school’s final exams by the Ministry of Education, Singapore.

Please note that I am not competent to pass judgement on the MoE’s policies but the children that I meet day to day and the extreme stress that those children undergo at ages 10 to 12 as well as the stress that the parents undergo have made me change my initial opinion about the schooling in Singapore. Probably it suits the country, I am not sure about that. Just for the sake of evaluation, let us say, the bench mark of a schooling system is the number of nobel prizes that the country has won. Did the education system help win even one Nobel, be it in Science or in Literature or in Medicine ?

Probably Nobel prize should not be used as a bench mark as the population is too few for sampling. I might be wrong in my hypotheses. But a similar hypotheses, if applied to the USA, works in favour of its schooling system. And its primary schooling system is not as stress inducing as Singapore’s is.

Well, as I said, I am not an academic and certainly not an expert on education and hence not competent to advise Singapore on what it needs to do. However the policy of grading students even as early as Primary 3, if that is true, certainly calls for an introspection. Edison was not an academic achiever, neither was Srinivasa Ramanujan who consistently failed in English but who was far ahead of the world in Mathematics.

Coming back to the book – it discusses these things in not so detailed a fashion but through the transactions of Noah, the Mathematically gifted yet linguistically disadvantaged child and April, the linguistically gifted yet mathematically not-so-gifted elder sibling.

I am not going to write in detail on the transactions of the two children for that might hinder your reading experience and spoil the joy of reading.

The time when Noah is asked by his mom to learn while he actually looks at a butterfly and replies that was what he was doing made me think hard on the choices that we give children towards their education preferences. Noah was actually learning by observing a butterfly outside his window while we are asking him to learn by reading the book. What kind of choice is that we give the children ?

And the moment April is stunned by her PSLE result and cries uncontrollably – that part is bound to touch your heart. The child is good in English but would not be going to the ‘elite’ schools just because the overall PSLE score is low – this does not speak of an enlightened schooling system.

The book ends with the mom writing to both her children letting them know how much she loves them and that their academic scores don’t matter in her love for them while at the same time the scores are needed for the outside world.

The book is Singapore centric no doubt. But the problem of educational stress that children undergo is universal. Cases of children committing suicide as they did not get a high mark are a common occurrence now-a-days in India as well known for its civilisational maturity.

Read this book. You will enjoy it no doubt. But would be left with many questions. I request you to sincerely ponder over the questions and think of alternatives.

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