5-more-marks disorder

“BAND 2? Not good enough! Just another 5 marks for Band 1 and you missed it! What happened?” you howl.

Or how about “See, all the careless mistakes and you lost the 10 marks to get 90!”

Familiar scenes that most of us would likely go through at least once – I call it the 5-more-marks disorder syndrome. All done with good intention as our kids need to be pushed in order to excel.

Yes, most definitely every parent has the expectation for the child to continue with top grades like the high 80s or 90s of earlier lower primary years. Then you were a happy parent! Unfortunately, all hopes shatter at some point, usually at Primary 5 – the tormenting year for the average Singaporean. Unless your child belongs to the gifted group or the cream of the crop, most Singaporean kids at this juncture see a complete slide down in their grades in almost all subjects!

You probably have been told at some time or other: “Should your child score 80 at lower primary, it will drop to 70 then 60…good luck then, and be prepared to see the reds!”

No, this is not quite a myth unfortunately as most parents of kids aged 10 and above would have discovered. The teacher will tell you too.

The common symptoms of “patients” (parents with the 5-more-marks disorder syndrome) – panic attack and SOS search for the best tutors on the island. The anxious plea: “No matter how much it takes, please get the grades back or he might just fail his Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) and the future is ruined!”

As the patient slows down and takes a deep breath to better manage the situation, the condition takes root. The adrenalin falls and he thinks he is now in better control of his emotions so he heads for Singapore’s solution land (maybe the children’s nightmare) with his ‘prescription’: Popular with its assessment books to the rescue!

He does not quite understand the content of the ‘prescription’ that he thinks his boy needs or for that matter, the credentials of the author. He knows only one thing – that he needs a lot of them and many types too. Once done with the selection, he flashes his faithful membership card saving at least $10 from the bill.

Meanwhile, at the ringside stands the apparent cause of the 5-more-marks disorder syndrome – maybe a 10-year-old who is fidgeting, feeling lost and undeserving, discouraged and sorry for his ‘misbehaviour’.

And when the solution kit for countering the disorder condition arrives, for the child it turns out to be a highway of rushing from one tuition class to another, worksheet after worksheet and a desk completely piled up with loads of assessment books and past-year examination papers from all the top schools in Singapore. His life withers in the meantime since he hopes for a better tomorrow after the PSLE. He dares not utter a word of protest about the solution kit since most of his classmates and friends share similar experiences. Yet deep down, he probably wonders if his worth is determined strictly by his grades.

The 5-more-mark disorder syndrome has taken Singapore by storm. If you have not contracted the infection, stay away. It is contagious only if you welcome it with open arms by joining the infected. Should you be exposed to it, it’s totally curable and requires no long-term medication. The real prescription is just but a simple recognition and appreciation for who your child is.

Not convinced? Let me share a little story of a parent whose daughter has continuously failed in Science and Math since Primary 3. Fortunately, she still manages to scrape through on total marks at each year-end examination because she is adept in Language and the Arts. However, she will not be accepted by the mainstream Secondary School unless she gets a pass for her Science and Math in the PSLE this year. That criterion, by the way, also applies to the School of The Arts (SOTA).

This mother, challenged with her daughter’s learning ‘disability’, has got her to undergo counselling at the Children’s One-Stop Psycho-educational Service (COPES) at the Institute of Mental Health. No, the girl does not have a mental problem. She is there to get professional help for her seeming learning ‘disability’ in Math and Science. Her parent told me, “Pay a visit to the IMH and you will be shocked to see the increasing number of students undergoing therapy. They do come from good schools as well. No, they have not lost their minds, just responding to the stress in our system.”

Next time when your child returns with a lower than expected score, give him a pat on the shoulder and exclaim, “Wow! Great job for the 70 marks! That’s like 7 medals out of 10 events!”