Fifth Grade Math Problem Goes Viral — Bet You Can’t Solve It!

Months ago, millions of internet users racked their brains over the color of a controversial dress. As debates over the dress have died down, netizens are now faced with a new challenge in the form of a Singaporean mathematical problem.

The math riddle’s question is quite simple: “When is Cheryl’s birthday?” However, that seemingly easy question has caused a ruckus. Not only are people cracking their skulls over in trying to come up with the answer, but many are now starting to question the quality of education in the United States.

Last Friday, Hello Singapore host Kenneth Kong uploaded a photo of a math problem on his Facebook page. He captioned the photo, “This question causes a debate with my wife… and it’s a P5 question.” In no time, the math problem went viral worldwide.

math problem singapore

Kong’s caption suggested that the math problem was intended for 5th graders in Singapore. The term P5 refers to Primary 5 in the Singaporean education system. This level is equivalent to the 5th grade level in the United States. This triggered mixed reactions from people. While some people laud Singapore for their excellent mathematical training, there are some parents who feel that the Asian country is putting too much mental stress on their children.

This issue was cleared up by an official confirmation from Henry Ong, the executive director of the Singapore and Asian Schools Math Olympiad. He explained that the question was made for older Secondary 3 students in their country. Secondary 3 is equivalent to ninth grade in the American educational system. Ong also said that the viral math problem was “a difficult question meant to sift out the better students.”

With clarification from the director, people were so impressed with Singapore’s efficiency in teaching mathematics that they started to compare the mathematical proficiency of Singaporean and American students.

The Atlantic claimed that students in the United States “have made strides in math proficiency in the recent years” but they are still behind their international peers. In a Program for International Student Assessment report, American students fall at the middle of the pack ranking 35th out of 64 countries in math.

While some might have surrendered on trying to figure out when Cheryl’s birthday is, there have been quite a few minds who were able to answer the viral math problem. The New York Times apparently has cracked the mathematical puzzle and now offers a detailed explanation on how they came up with the answer.

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