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Friday, September 12, 2014

Why I Am Upset About The UPSR Leak - A Parent's Point Of View

UPSR. It is a mere entrance level exam for secondary school. The UPSR Science paper has been postponed because there was a leak while the National School candidates have to resit the English Paper 1 and 2 exams. It is a primary school exam for goodness sakes, so why should I be upset? Why should anyone be upset? Why should the paper even be leaked in the first place? I'll tell you why.

Why I am Upset About The UPSR Leak As A Parent

Its only UPSR. Why is it so important? So important that papers have been leaked? I'll tell you why. I am not speaking for parents universally, just for myself. The UPSR is a source of marital discord in my home. My husband who is the sole bread winner strongly believes in pushing the kids to do the best in this exam.

Why? He says that as parents our job is to teach our children to be the best that they can be. The kids are to be taught that they should not be mediocre.  I can't argue with that.

We're also middle income family with one sole bread winner. So we cannot "escape the system" by sending our kids to the many private and international schools that have mushroomed all over the place. So, that leaves us fewer choices for our children's secondary school education.

It's either

  • Chinese Independent Schools
  • SK
  • Homeschooling
  • SMJK
Take out Chinese Independent Schools because we do not speak Chinese and cannot give our children full support. Remove Homeschooling because we do not have the patience, know how or networking.

That leaves us with either SMJK or SK. To get into a good SMJK or SK, you need good UPSR results, preferably 7As for SJKC or 5As for SK. That's it. It is as simple as that. That is why UPSR is that important to many parents. 

I mentioned that it is a source of marital discord because I grew up in a relaxed environment. I don't even remember how I did in my primary school assessment nor what it was called back then. We had frequent memorable picnics at the beach during weekends. I wanted a carefree childhood like the one I had for my kids. My spouse on the other hand had strict parents. So with his background and the stress and pressure of being the sole breadwinner he strongly encourages the kids to do well in their examinations so they can get into good schools. We do not have the luxury to choose to go to private school, he tells me. So we cannot be idealistic and say "I want my children to have a carefree childhood and not have to worry about passing exams."

I feel caught in a corner. While understanding his stress and pressures, I cannot take away my own believe of wanting my children to have a carefree childhood. BUT this thing called UPSR gets in the way. I am forced to teach and counsel the kids towards achieving for UPSR despite my own believes.

I am told that times have changed but who changed the times? Who made the UPSR so important? I believe it is the system, the parents, the teachers, the school, all. Everyone of these contributed to "the change". It is a negative downward spiral that we have got ourselves caught in.

Why I am Upset About The UPSR Leak From The Student's Point Of View

My daughter has been preparing for the UPSR, not for the last 3 months mind you, but for the last 3 years. Yes, you heard that right. It is only the UPSR right? No. I have explained why it is not ONLY the UPSR earlier on. 

My girl is in a top class in a popular SJKC or Chinese School. We didn't ask to go to this school but was sent there when our application for a nearby Chinese School was rejected due to lack of space. The Chinese schools are overflowing. Many have 50 students to a class, some with 10 classes in Std One. So, we got rejected because we turned our application in late when my daughter was 6 years old instead of 5 years old because we couldn't decided which school to send her. SK or SJKC. SJKCs are famous for being very academically focussed. 

So we ended up in this so called popular choice of SJKC for parents in the top class because of my husband's encouragement and also her own effort and hard work. I will tell you what goes on in the top class of a Chinese School and why UPSR is so important at the school. 

Chinese School's are very competitive. They aim to show results. They stream the children and push the top classes to perform to show those excellent UPSR results. In my daughter's school, they were awarded some title not long ago because of this excellent result amongst other reasons. Because of this title, they are to maintain the good results or lose it, so says my girl. They have been told that they must meet a certain targeted stats so everyone in their class are expected to get 7As for the UPSR. Everyone of them.

Apart from textbooks, the school makes use of a lot of workbooks as supplementary materials. All of these workbooks are UPSR based meaning they are geared towards helping you to answer UPSR questions. Try going to a bookshop that carries a lot of workbooks for example, Popular bookshop. You will see many titles that say UPSR based or something to that effect. The school starts using these workbooks from Standard 3 and it peaks at Std 6. You wouldn't believe the number of UPSR based trial and sample or UPSR model papers the Std 6 child has to do leading towards that "unimportant primary school assessment" called UPSR. 

My girl has been working so hard for this UPSR she has almost no time for play. Healthy play and exercise that a child needs. From aged 10-12, she is cooped up in the study room everyday after school doing homework. She attends no other tuition accept the compulsory after school tuition by the school. That requires her to stay back in school 3 times a week. In addition she has to stay back in school on a separate day for extra curricular activities. She also has to attend extra compulsory Saturday school offered by the school in the months leading to UPSR. Her schooling hours are longer than some adult's working hours and her lunch hour is shorter.

Much to my unhappiness, my husband urged me to stop her only other activity which we send her for ie piano classes in std 5 and std 6 because she couldn't cope with all that homework. My husband said we would continue with her music classes after the UPSR. Many other things are also deferred to after the UPSR. This has become a constant source of argument, an argument that I can never win. Argument that leads to hurtful words from the spouse  like "You never support me in getting the children to the right direction in their education. You never support me in anything. You only get in the way." or "When it comes to the way the children are brought up, you shall have no say." Don't get me wrong, please. My spouse is a very loving father and husband and he would not normally say such hurtful things like that but he was just so frustrated that I could not see his point of view and come to an agreement. Also, sometimes that is just how married life is when you clash but this post is not about marriage. This is about UPSR.

That is how important UPSR had become in our lives. This is how a poor system based too much on academics and performance can do to a family too. This is what happens when choices and opportunities become limited just because you do not do well in an exam.

My girl is always busy with homework. Homework that was supposed to prepare her for UPSR. She does her homework everyday right after she steps into the house, has a bath and tea right up to dinner and continuing till bed time. Sometimes she even takes her homework to the dining table much to my chagrin while I watch her helplessly study her childhood away. Each night it is a struggle to get her to bed on time so that she will have enough rest to go through the next day.

She has worked so hard. So I am angry. I am so angry that she was robbed of this chance of saying "Yahoo! My exams are over!" It was supposed to be over yesterday and she finally could play with her beads and rubber band bracelets and other stuff which she has and never gets to play. I feel sad when she told me "Mom, after the exams, one of my classmates shouted "Freedom!" and the rest told her "No, lah.... we still have to do the Science paper." The children had been working so hard. The teacher who had worked as hard as them had promised them that it will all be over soon and they will be rewarded.

My girl told me she went to her Science teacher and said "Teacher now we feel demoralized and demotivated." and the teacher said "Yes, I am demoralized too....."

Why I Am Upset About The UPSR Leak For The Teacher

My girl's class teacher has been teaching them since Std 3. This is her retirement year. Every time I see her, she looks very busy and stressed out. Of course she would be. She teaches the top class which the HM had said would be the "harapan sekolah" (the students the school pins their hopes on). She pushes the students hard, oh my she really does. In pushing the students hard, I know she works twice as hard. During a two week school holiday, she made the children write 14 Chinese Essays. That would mean she has to mark 14 times the number of student's essays after that and several Maths Model papers.

I can't say I agree with her ways which includes marking the paper up or down to manipulate the children's results especially the Chinese Essays. It is marked down to raise the standard so that the children do not get complacent and marked up to raise their confidence again. There is a lot of concentration on the Chinese Paper 2 or Essay because this is the one that takes away the No. 7 A from many students. 

She makes the children write wishes on a leaf which they paste at the back of a wishing tree at the back of the class. They also make a wishing box. Many of the wishes are "I want to get 7As in UPSR". The children shouts "I want to get 7As. I can do it. I believe in myself." in class. More recently, they say a little prayer first before they shout "I want to get 7As in UPSR." They do a countdown on their whiteboard where a child would erase and rewrite xxx No. of days to UPSR each day. 

She promised them she would let them do art and gym as much as they want after the UPSR. Everything is after the UPSR. In the weeks and months leading to the UPSR, there are no library periods, no art classes, no gym and no extra curricular activities. All these are replaced with lessons.

The teacher has been working very hard indeed so I am sure the poor teacher would be very upset too because she must have been looking forward to yesterday too as much as the kids have, the day UPSR was supposed to be over. 

That is how important UPSR is to the teacher and to the children.

A few weeks ago, all the students met up with the HM individually to identify their weaknesses and encouraged to work on them so that they would get 7As in UPSR.

That is how important UPSR is to the HM and to the school.

Everyone has been working so hard. Children, Parents, Teachers. Schedules had to be changed. There was time for little else accept studying and homework and the children had to wait till after UPSR for many things. Now they are told that the Science paper has been postponed and worse still for the SK students, they have to resit for the English papers. 

So, yes, I am upset which prompted this post. Even though I tell my parenting group on Facebook to stay positive and as much as I want to stay positive for my child, I am upset but I won't show it to her. She deserves a break. She really does. 

So whats the big deal?  The UPSR has only been postponed 2 /12 weeks. Yes, so what? Yet, why do I feel as though we have been robbed? 

To anyone reading this, I hope that you will not be discouraged. This is just my personal story and it is not the case for every child. My son who is standard 4 this year, even though he goes to the same school, and my husband pushes him in his studies, is not in the best class and is not so pressured by his teachers like his sister. 


  1. Hi. I can feel ur pain.... of being held up from 'freedom'. My girl is in Std 5 now. Approaching to UPSR soooon. I too don't remember how i survived my primary exam but it was with much much much less pressure back then. Anyway, we as de parents will hv to stand tough and tall for them to struggle another 2 weeks. Then u and ur daughter can scream ur lungs out de word 'freedom'!!! Gambatte!

    1. Hello May Yoon, your girl is the last batch of KBSR kids. Good Luck to her and to you. :)

  2. Hi, I understand exactly how you feel. My son did his UPSR last year and I was like a mad woman driving my son and husband up the walls in my quest for him to do well just so he can enter one of the "controlled schools/class". Well enter he did but both my husband and I were and still am so disappointed and sad at the condition of the "local system". We're looking to transferring him out of the school. Stay strong for your daughter's sake and all the best in her Science paper.

    1. Hi, Thanks for sharing with me your experience too. :)

  3. Are you a peace? What difference or steps you can take since ur #2 is not entering UPSR until 2 yrs time? Did you regret choosing Chinese School? I dont think so right. What cant control external factors. We just have to go along the system. Best Wishes. Hugs.

    1. LittleLamb, You are right. I do not regret choosing Chinese School. As for No. 2, he is a different individual so the circumstance seem different with him even with the same parents and the same situation. His sister was very serious and studied very hard from Std 3 onwards. Despite us heading the very same way in terms of what steps as you mentioned, No. 2 is still very relaxed and playful coming towards end of Std 4 now.

  4. Ran across your page by accident and read some of your posts.
    I feel sad for the children.
    We live in Switzerland and though my daughters are only just starting school, I will never push them at school. Both my husband and I have university degrees and high paying jobs, but, it's not our dream jobs. I cant say we're happy. I want my daughters to do something in life that makes the happy. Money isnt everything. (though agreed, it's nice to have).
    I hope your daughter does well with her exams.


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