Singapore Primary Math Explained sc-math

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Updated: 15 May, 2007

Calculators will be introduced to primary 5 pupils in year 2008. From year 2009, the calculators will be allowed in paper 2 of the restructured PLSE math examination.

My view is that the introduction of calculators into the Singapore primary math curriculum makes Singapore math tougher. This is especially so for the weaker pupils.

Why?

Singapore's Ministry of Education's (MOE) had stated that "even with the introduction of calculators in the Primary 5 and Primary 6 mathematics curriculum, pupils will still continue to learn, practise and be assessed on computational skills without the use of a calculator." It is for this reason that paper 1 of the restructured PSLE math examination format "does not allow the use of a calculator so that important computational skills will continue to be emphasized and be assessed".

Pupils' workload are therefore not reduced with the introduction of calculators as they need to maintain their proficiency in mathematical computation without calculators. Instead, they now have the added requirement to learn to use the calculators efficiently and effectively. More importantly, they must now contend with the likely consequence of "tougher" problem sums and "tighter" time constraints in the math examination.

Currently, the variety and complexity of challenging questions are constrained by the need to avoid mathematical computations that are too time consuming or difficult without calculators. Because of this, pupils weak in problem solving skills were often able to use "trial and error" or "guess and check" to answer these questions.

With the availability of calculators, it is now possible to set questions that requires "repeated computations, or computations with large numbers or decimals". It will therefore be more difficult for pupils to intuit the answer or to use trial and error for such questions. They will have to depend more on their thinking and problem solving skills for such challenging questions.

Assuming that the total time allotted remains about the same, taking the math exam in 2 separate papers instead of 1 limits the pupils' flexibility for time management. Currently, pupils good in math (especially speed math) can complete the easier questions fast to gain additional "thinking" time for the more challenging unfamiliar questions. With 2 papers, time saved in paper one cannot be carried over to paper two. These pupils will therefore effectively have "less" time for the challenging problem sums.

It seems that MOE introduced calculators into the primary math curriculum to enable pupils to solve questions requiring more computation and not to reduce their workload. This implies that even greater emphasis is now placed on the pupils' ability to analyse data and to apply their knowledge to solve problems (thinking and problem solving skills).

Singapore math is therefore getting tougher for the pupils. To excel in the PLSE math examination, knowledge of mathematical computation and standard algorithms alone may not be enough. With calculators, the challenging questions to distinguish pupils with the ability to apply their knowledge to solve unfamiliar problems will probably become more challenging and varied. (Note: MOE had stated that there "will be no change in the question types, the number of questions for each type, or the level of difficulty of the questions".)