Singapore students suffering from test anxiety

From ‘Singapore students suffer from high levels of anxiety: Study’, 20 Aug 2017, article by Sandra Davie, ST

Singapore students may be topping the charts in mathematics, science and reading, but it is exacting a heavy emotional price on them.

An international study suggests that Singapore students, known worldwide for academic excellence, also experience high levels of anxiety and have been exposed to bullying.

The findings emerged in a study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which conducts the triennial tests called the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa). The study polled 540,000 students from 72 countries and economies to look at the connection between well-being and achievement in the Pisa tests.

…Students were asked to respond to statements such as: “I often worry that it will be difficult for me to take a test”; “I worry I will get poor grades at school”; “I feel very anxious even if I am well prepared for a test”; “I get very tense when I study for a test”; and “I get nervous when I do not know how to solve a task at school”.

It emerged that their anxiety levels were significantly higher than the OECD average for all five questions. For example, 66 per cent of students across all OECD countries said they were worried about poor grades at school, but among Singapore students, it was 86 per cent.

One question that the survey did not address is the source of students’ anxiety, which sometimes may escalate to fatal proportions. The following statement should have been included: ‘I’m afraid of letting my PARENTS down if I do not perform as expected’.

In 2016, an 11-year old boy leapt to his death because he couldn’t bear to show his PSLE results to his parents. Master H would be caned on his palm ‘lightly’ for every mark that fell short of the ‘stipulated standard’ of 70 marks. More disturbingly, this was what his inconsolable mother wailed when she was next to her dead son:

“I only ask for 70 marks, I don’t expect you to get 80 marks.”

Yes, even when your son is dead, you still see the need to validate your obsession with grades.

For some children, 80 marks isn’t even good enough. A 13 year old got scolded by her mom for making a careless mistake despite getting 83 marks in mathematics.  Another was forced by his parents to RETAKE another year of PSLE despite passing. If it’s not kiasu parents, it’s the system that screws with you. Earlier this year, St Hilda students who scored 97 marks for Chinese STILL could not qualify for Higher Chinese. And these were in PRIMARY ONE students. 

In the article above, one possible explanation given was that Singaporean kids were ‘more driven’, but it’s hard to quantify this without adjusting for another emotion – Fear. Fear of falling behind. Fear of incurring the wrath of grade-obsessed parents. Fear of not meeting ridiculously stringent cut-off points to get into selected subjects.

We have two ministers with Education as their portfolio, and if even this doesn’t curb the stress levels that our children face, we’ll be faced with not just a diabetes epidemic, but rising rates of paediatric mental disorders as well. And there’s only one industry out there cashing out on all this test anxiety, like drug companies milking diabetes – the billion dollar tuition industry.

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3 Responses

  1. 2 education ministers is overkill IMHO. then again yes the tuition industry is somewhat complicit in revving up the stress factor.

    Btw can I ask for your permission to reproduce this post on our education portal http://www.domainofexperts.com? As usual explicit mention shall be made of the fact it first appeared on your site, and we shall cite gdy2shoez as the author. Hope to hear from you again:)

  2. Thanks, have a great long weekend yourself too! 🙂

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