Mujir Hayyan Mohammad Taufiq may be anxious about sitting the Primary School Leaving Examination this year, but his parents are even more stressed – it is their first experience with the PSLE as both were educated in madrasahs (religious schools).

"As much as we reassure ourselves that it is just like any other year-end exam Hayyan will be sitting, the pressure and stresses do exist," says his mother, Ms Hurul-A'in Mohd Yusoff, 36, principal of a childcare centre.

His father Mohammad Taufiq Mohamed Ismail, 40, manages a mosque. They also have a six-year-old daughter studying in a madrasah.

"However, we always remind ourselves that this is not our examination, it is Hayyan's," says Ms Hurul-A'in, stressing that her 111/2-year-old son's mental health is more important than his grades.

Her focus is not misplaced in a year that has seen educational systems across the world shattered by the pandemic, leaving families disoriented and dispirited.

Compared with many countries, Singapore's mainstream schools have been relatively unscathed. National examinations are proceeding, albeit with social distancing protocols and examinable topics trimmed to compensate for home-based learning (HBL) during the circuit breaker in April and May.

About 41,000 candidates have registered to take the PSLE this year, says a Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board spokesman.

Some mums and dads are striving to support their 12-year-olds with gestures of encouragement and inspiration during this unusual school year. Experts also urge parents to ensure that their kids get enough rest and to remind them that they are more than their T-score.

A look at the calls to Tinkle Friend, a befriending service for primary school children run by the Singapore Children's Society charity, reveals the trajectory of PSLE concerns during the pandemic.

The number of PSLE-related calls and chats rose from 28 in April at the start of the circuit breaker to an average of 77 a month in June and July, before falling to 57 last month, says Ms Leela Narayana, assistant director of Student Service at the Children's Society.

In the earlier months, she says PSLE kids were worried that they would not be adequately prepared because of the many disruptions. Some felt less motivated to study during HBL and others were frustrated at being deprived of playtime.

"Most children were also fearful that they would not be able to meet their parents', teachers' and personal expectations," she adds.

However, most students seem to have adapted to the new pandemic norms and the return to classroom learning, she says.

As such, the nature of more recent calls mirrored concerns from previous years, including study distractions, anxiety over poor grades, self-esteem and physical health issues, as well as tips on time and stress management.

The many educational disruptions this year have also left some parents and children worried about the chances of getting into their schools of choice, says Ms Tan Su-Lynn, a senior educational psychologist with Promises Healthcare.

These included the scrapping of mid-year examinations and changes to how schools pick students for the Direct School Admission, a scheme where talented children receive early admission into certain secondary schools and junior colleges.

She adds that parents are also uncertain about the safety of their children during the examinations, and some are fearful about their kids falling ill before their papers.

Examination anxiety may also make it difficult for some children to breathe while wearing masks or face shields, which adds to their stress levels.


While transitioning to HBL was nerve-racking for many families, some parents say they are grateful for its positive aspects.

"We kind of enjoy the part where we can both sleep a bit later and me not having to rush her to eat and change for school," says stay-at-home mum Chew Swee Sien, 46, whose daughter Seah Ern Ting, 12, is sitting the national examination.

As this is her second time as a PSLE parent – she has a son in Secondary 3 – she is "very relaxed" about the process and makes sure that both her children enjoy outings and have time for play and hobbies.

When Ern Ting was nervous before her Chinese oral examination in the middle of last month, Ms Chew encouraged her by telling her to "just do whatever you can" if she was given an unfamiliar topic and acknowledging the girl's preparation efforts, sealing it with a big kiss.

Such acts of appreciation go a long way in inspiring revision-weary kids.

Xavier Chua, 12, was chuffed to receive a PSLE survival kit from his mother just before his oral examination last month.

Inside the brightly decorated box, he found his favourite snacks and a note of encouragement for his hard work over the last eight months. "I felt very touched because mummy took time and effort to make the kit for me. I thanked her and gave her a big squeeze," Xavier says.

His mother, stay-at-home mum and blogger Serene Seah, 38, says she learnt of the idea from a friend.

"It is not all about the final result. The need to recognise the efforts along the journey is equally important to fuel him emotionally to keep him going and put in his best performance," she explains.

Similarly, Hayyan's parents have engaged him in meaningful ways, including nature walks to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Upper Peirce Reservoir Park as he likes trekking.

Ms Hurul-A'in made his favourite dishes, such as sotong masak hitam (black-ink squid), even though the childcare centre she heads was still operating during the circuit breaker, while Mr Mohammad Taufiq gave him a jersey from his favourite football team, Manchester United.

"I was ecstatic," Hayyan says of the gift he received last week.

At the same time, he is mindful of the Read More – Source

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