Singapore

Train delays add to PSLE pupils' stress

Exam board says no candidate affected, but child expert says delays would cause more stress

His heart sank when he saw the crowd at Pasir Ris MRT station. It was a big day for him - the first day of the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) - and the trains had been delayed.

The boy, who is 12 and goes to a school in Tampines, was flustered. He managed to catch a bus but was 10 minutes late for school assembly.

"I was anxious and worried throughout. I called my mum, who told me to call my teacher, who said to just come to school," said the pupil, who declined to be named.

Train services between Pasir Ris and Tampines stations on the East-West Line were disrupted for nearly 2½ hours yesterday morning, the second time train delays have affected pupils taking the PSLE this year.

A three-hour delay affected the North-South and Downtown Lines during the PSLE oral exam on Aug 18.

Yesterday, SMRT tweeted about a 30-minute delay between Tanah Merah and Pasir Ris stations at about 5.55am, and it said the delay was not caused by the signalling project.

Free bus services were made available.

At 6.15am, SMRT tweeted that services had resumed but commuters needed to add 20 minutes' travel time between Tampines and Pasir Ris stations, attributing the delay to a track point fault.

Normal service between the stations resumed at 8.37am.

Yesterday's PSLE written paper, English language, began at 8.15am, and the O-level music practical exam at 8am.

A Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB) spokesman said candidates would not be penalised should they be late for school and that no candidate was affected.

He said: "Candidates would always be given the full duration of the paper, no matter what time they start. They are also not required to produce any excuse sheet as proof that they were affected by the disruption."

SEAB has been working with schools to advise candidates to plan for sufficient travel time and remind them about the actions they should take if affected by train service disruptions, he added.

However, clinical psychologist Carol Balhetchet told The New Paper it was inevitable that pupils affected by the delays would have increased stress levels.

With the exam already a stress factor, she said, the last thing the pupils need is an unexpected distraction such as the train delays.

"Any extra help, such as time allowance, would be great," said Dr Balhetchet, a former senior director of youth services of Singapore Children's Society, where she worked for 18 years.

"Give them time, let blood flow back to the brain and continue what they have prepared for months.

"The first day is vital, because it sets the pace to how they deal with the PSLE. The disruptions add to the already ongoing crisis situation, which is to manage the PSLE."

Junyuan Primary School pupil Xiong Junhan, 12, said he took 15 minutes longer to get to his school in Tampines from his home in Paya Lebar but made it for his PSLE paper.

"I was really fearful that I would be late, which would make me even more stressed during the exam. I wouldn't be able to focus and will take longer to think of the right answers," he told The Straits Times.

Another candidate, Ray Tang, also 12, told TNP he was on a bus when he was surprised to see a large crowd at the Tampines station.

He said: "I thought the PSLE would be a huge priority, so they would make sure the trains don't break down."

But the school had prepared the pupils to not panic and told them they should call their parents to inform the school about any train delays, he said.

"They said it was a national issue, so MOE (Ministry of Education) would be informed," Ray added.

Minister of Transport Khaw Boon Wan said earlier this month that with a newer and more robust design, power faults related to the third rail can be minimised and overall reliability of the North-South and East-West lines would improve.

Meanwhile, The Straits Times reported yesterday that the second-quarter Customer Satisfaction Index showed commuters were less satisfied with train services compared with a year ago.

"While 'reliability of trains' saw a year-on-year decline in satisfaction rating, other attributes such as 'sufficiency of train arrival information' and 'helpfulness of staff' had improved ratings", said the report.

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