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Passing math is useless. You are setting your child up for failure.

“My mother says a pass is enough. I will most likely fail if I try to score an A. She means I am not good enough to learn math. Why try harder?”

Preparing your child to score an A in math looks like one or more of the following:

  • Your children cry and yell at you for forty-five minutes at doing page after page of math questions.
  • They ‘forget’ to go for math tuition classes and you have to call the tutors to ‘explain’ their absences.
  • They scribble random workings and run off to play with their friends in the playground (or join their friends for an outing at a nearby mall).

It drives you up the wall. They seem to be telling you they value fun and relaxation over discipline and consistent effort.

Worst of all, your energy levels are low and time is tightening its noose around your neck. It’s been a long day at work (or a long day of dealing with your children’s tantrums).

Is it worth YOUR time and energy to prepare your child to score an A?

You decided that as long as they pass math, the smiles on their faces (and yours too) will return. Less bickering on the homework, more time to chat with them.

Unknowingly, you set them up for a vicious cycle of failure in their studies and adult lives.

“My mother says a pass is enough. I will most likely fail if I try to score an A. She means I am not good enough to learn math. Why try harder?”  

They do what is required of them but they will stop going the extra mile to deepen their understanding. Minimal effort is good enough. Why waste time and energy dealing with this complicated monster subject when I can go out with my friends and have fun?

Next thing you know, whenever they have friendship troubles, or challenges at their workplace when they grow up, they adopt the ‘minimal effort is good enough’ mind. They either run away from solving their troubles and challenges, find someone else to blame, or ask someone else (Hint: It’s you, the parent!) to solve them.

You also know math concepts are built upon one another. If your child is passing math, it means they have not mastered their basic concepts. If they can’t master basic concepts, how can they understand and solve higher level questions?

A pass in math is like a bronze statue with feet of clay. Mastery is like a bamboo plant anchored in the face of strong winds. Would you like your child to be that statue or the bamboo?

You might be banging your fist on the table.

Grades say nothing about the child’s persistent efforts to understand and master the basic concepts! Grades don’t tell you that the parents are struggling to help their children understand math and they are in tears and frowns when it comes to math homework and tests!

Most of all, grades don’t tell you that some parents tell their children to give up because they are not math people!

Hence, shouldn’t mastery and not the A grade be the goal of learning math? Some children may take a longer time than others to master a concept. Why pressure them to get an A in Math when they haven’t mastered the basics yet?

Your blood might be boiling now.

“Are you saying my child is lazy because he scores a B or any other grade except an A? That’s narrow minded and insulting!”

You feel upset that the child will think only an A is good enough and other grades are garbage. You worry his friends will laugh at him for not getting an A. Or worst, your neighbours or family and friends label you as a lousy parent for not helping your child get an A.

Let’s remember that exams and tests assess math conceptual understanding and nothing else. Your child gets a grade based on his level of conceptual understanding. It does not mean the child is lazy or stuck at the grade forever. It is an opportunity for him or her to find out what the gaps in understanding are and try resolving them again.

Most of all, it is not a grading of your parenting style.

Unfortunately, we have an unhealthy culture of ‘get it over and done with the first time’. Because of this, we believe that those who didn’t score an A the first time will be unfairly labelled as ‘slow and stupid’. As Carol Dweck would say, there are parents who have a fixed mindset of ‘either you can or you can’t learn’.

Since exams grade understanding, and does not include effort, why not see the grades as an indicator of your child’s current understanding of their math?

Meaning, see an apple as an apple.

You might be unmoved by the above arguments, though.

“My son tries his best but can’t pass for the past four years. He has reached his limit and looks so sad. Why can’t the grades reflect his massive efforts and his multiple attempts at understanding advanced concepts?”

You sound upset that if he puts in A grade effort, the results should also be an A.

Let’s see this from a science experiment view. What learning outcomes is the examination assessing your child in? What resources help your child to review and understand the various questions that assess these learning outcomes?

Let’s adopt another lense. What if we associate happiness with helping your child to score an A in math? Like praising your child for making small improvements in his learning?

Alternatively, could this grading situation be an opportunity for you and your child to learn about your responses when faced with a daunting challenge? It may not be math but friendships or moving overseas for work attachments. Or even buying their first car.

On a deeper level, could this be a time for you and your child to realise it is not the situation but you and their interpretation of the situation that matters more?

Could this be a platform for you and your child to discuss why we get emotionally affected by grading and how to disrupt our negative feelings of sadness and anger with a sense of

“Yes! I will master them even if I have to take a hundred times to master the concepts?”

Still unconvinced?

“The exams don’t assess holistically what is taught. Only understanding is assessed. Why work so hard for an A that has a narrow emphasis on understanding? There is no fair shot!”

You are feeling frustrated with the exam assessment and want to meet the examiners to complain about the absurd difficulty levels. You and wonder if they assess your child’s learning accurately when some of the questions seem out of their current level.

Life is unfair. Exam difficulty is not in our control. What other options could you consider? Could your child retake the same test a few months later to find out how much your child has understood?

For some parents, it’s a permanent setback. It’s a gateway into their children’s dream school. Stakes are high. They have limited time and energy to get their children retake the exams and counsel them when they can’t pass their math.

On a deeper level, exam grades are like money: It amplifies our responses towards difficult times, it reveals the character and values we hold closely.

That’s why we always aim for an A: to find out what we are made of when grades don’t go our way.

We thoroughly prepare our children to score an A so that no matter what results your child gets, they will learn the values of problem-solving and become independent and confident problem-solvers in their adult lives.

The values of

  • summoning courage to understand their problems and challenges, and
  • consistent efforts to resolve the challenges they face to realise their dreams, developing self-discipline, a critical component to mastery.

Thorough preparation starts from your child paying attention in class during math lessons, doing the homework, asking questions to clarify understanding and asking for challenging homework to stretch their understanding. No matter what results your children get for math, you have taught them to be courageous in the face of challenges and developed their self-discipline.

It’s not the ‘A’ grade. It’s the values that define us.

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