It has become an annual affair in newspapers worldwide, publishing questions from Singapore’s primary school mathematics exams that have stumped not just students, but parents as well. The equivalent of elementary school, primary school mathematics in Singapore is famed for the rigor and complexity of its questions. These questions have sent many others such as Americans into a tailspin of confusion, leaving them wondering how it is that children at such tender ages could possibly be solving such questions. Equally questioned has been the necessity of such difficulty in math questions. In this article, we aim to bring readers through what makes Singapore primary school math so challenging and the effects of such an approach.
Firstly, it is widely acknowledged that Singapore has raised the bar for math education in both primary and secondary school levels. Questions contain cryptic clues that on the surface, bare no relevance to the question or even the concept taught in school. Instead, careful studying of pictures and diagrams are required in order to establish the variables at play for the given scenario. For example, even in instances where the generic formula that has been taught in class is used in the given question, students will need to figure out the right data to use to fill it in. In essence, Singapore students learn not just how to apply a formula correctly, but also how the equation works.
Secondly, the subject has been structured to train students to solve unstructured problems in unfamiliar contexts. It has become a common sight for Singaporean students exiting exam halls to be bewildered at what exactly a particular question was testing them on. Questions seldom explicitly state what concept or formula is to be utilized by the student. Instead, they are expected to apply multiple concepts or to use the aforementioned contextual clues to derive a variation of a generic formula. As such, definitive answers do exist for the exam questions, but are obscured behind the many scenarios painted in the question. In the long run, this curriculum empowers Singaporeans to challenge international mathematics tests with confidence as they are adaptable to various styles of questioning.
Thirdly, beyond the traditional abstract realm that primary school mathematics typically resides in, Singapore education flips this concept on its head by introducing visual elements. Questions often have multiple parts, starting with a base solving component before moving onto a pictorial phase. This bridges the abstract and concrete elements, challenging students to take generic equations and applying them to real life scenarios. Moreover, it may also require them to make adjustments to the equation or use variants of the formula while still retaining the overarching concept.
If you are interested in having your child pick up Singapore math education, consider sending them to primary school maths tuition conducted by a certified Singapore math educator. This will challenge their understanding and mastery of mathematics topics while also developing their problem solving capabilities.