The most Hilarious ‘ting xie’ episode

Keeping up with Chinese has been an uphill battle for Kate. She is doing Higher Mother Tongue and the standard is very high for kids who come from English speaking families.

She has been very diligent since P1, and tries her best to read her textbook, cover the words and test herself. However, her teacher has already hinted that I should either make time to tutor her myself or consider tuition.

I don’t mind getting her a tutor if I find a passionate educator willing to come to my house to teach her in creative ways, by doing craft or even baking, at a reasonable fee. Till then, adding a weekly chore of sending an 8-year old for Chinese tuition just to keep pace with her school work doesn’t make sense to me.

I have long come to terms with this, and know full well that it takes more than one or two periods a day in school to learn a whole new language. I am happy so long as she keeps at it, and gives it her best, and is able to converse with our elderly relatives.

Now, the problem is, week after week, she comes back with more than 20 words wrong for her ting xie, and I can see that she is wondering how she can do better.

I suggested she find one of her sisters as they may have some time to spare now that they are home a bit more.

Armed with her textbook, she eagerly seeked out a sister, and the latter was more than happy to give her a hand.

Kate had jotted down the han yu pin yin for the difficult words, and they went through the chapter together.

After learning all the words, her sister tested her. They did this for 3 consecutive days until she scored 100%!

She was exuberant and looking forward to going to school for ting xie!

After school, her sis checked in with her, and they were both confident that she would get 100% for the first time!

They patiently awaited the day when Kate would get it back.

The next week, Kate alighted from her school bus and looked absolutely dejected.

I asked her what had happened?

She blurted out something about her ting xie, about how she got it all wrong, how the words were wrong to begin with…

I couldn’t quite understand what she was going on about and had to slowly break it down and get the story straight.

As it turned out, she did write everything correctly as her sis had tested her. However, it was all wrong because the words were incorrectly learnt to begin with!

When her Chinese teacher taught them, Kate wrote down the han yu pin yin, but perhaps her teacher was teaching too fast, or she could not catch it properly, and wrote the wrong han yu pin yin!

She had mis-matched the words to the prounuciations!

Kate ended with a plea, “Mummy, can I please have a REAL tutor?”

I had to hold it in and not burst out laughing. Poor kid. I can imagine her great disappointment. In fact, she was much sadder than all those previous weeks when she didn’t put her heart and soul into learning her ting xie.

I told the older girls the story and we had a good laugh. And THAT sister guffawed and said, “I knew it! I had a feeling that something was not quite right. But I was pressed for time that day, and since she had it all written down nicely, I assumed she had copied it from the board. I’ve not had to read Chinese for many years!”

She had a good chat with Kate, and promised her that for the next round, they would double check the words with google translate.

In fact, Kate didn’t want to chance it, and brought up her own dictionary!

Let’s see what happens when she gets her paper back next week! ūüėČ

About MummyWee

Michelle Choy is an Occupational Therapist by day and mum of 6 by night. Besides the already very demanding job of managing 5 teenagers and one 7-turning-17 tween, she is also co-Founder of The Little Executive, a nurturing centre to develop children in areas like resilience and executive function. She conducts small group parenting courses to help parents navigate this challenging journey, and has been featured on national TV, radio and print media.

6 reasons why we love Polytechnic HBL

My daughter’s Polytechnic course went online at the start of Covid-19 and full HBL is still ongoing. She is studying Marketing and tells me that online learning is not very different from being in a huge lecture hall where the lecturer is way up front, and the students are behind their computer screens.

In fact, she is enjoying off-campus learning because she doesn’t have to wake up early to get ready and spend an hour getting to school. They have a lot of gaps between classes and she can use it more productively at home.

I noticed a huge difference in her lifestyle, and the pace is more healthy and balanced. Here are 6 reasons why HBL has been a positive experience for the family.

We see her a lot more

Previously, she would leave the house at 8am and get home after dinner. Although she has empty slots between lessons, it doesn’t make sense to come home. She hangs out with her friends or they do their assignments in school. We see her during the weekends and have to pre-book her.

With HBL, she is home everyday! Besides the fixed lectures, she is on zoom with her group mates as they work on their projects together, and she can eat her lunch while keeping tabs on what is going on.

green curry, yummm

Healthier home-cooked meals

At poly, they usually eat at the food court. Home-cooked food has less salt, sugar and MSG and she can have freshly cut fruits and salads. She also helps me prepare lunch for Kate and Kate is overjoyed to have her sisters at home when she gets home.

appetizer

Bonding with siblings

Once they enter poly or Uni, they have an active school and social calendar and you hardly see them. Just by being at home more, the in-between pockets of time allows them to spend time with each other. These are the simple memories of home they will remember and which will keep them close. Kate said that the best thing about this period is having her siblings at home!

sisters are the best

Taking elderly relatives for errands

My teens seldom get to visit their 90-year old grand aunt and she quipped that during these past 2 months, she has seen them more than in the past 5 years! She only goes out during the weekdays to avoid the crowds, and they are now able to drive her for her medical appointments and to take her to the wet market to buy from her favourite stalls on days they have free blocks of time between their lectures.

Teaching Kate Chinese

Kate is doing higher Mother Tongue and the work that she comes home with is beyond what she can cope with by herself. I personally do not agree with this philosophy whereby parents are expected to coach them with their daily work or resort to tutors. I’m glad the teenagers are home now to help out because her Chinese teacher has been dojo-ing me!

Saves time, saves money

HBL has freed up a lot of time, and she is able to save money on transport and extras like starbucks, snacks or bubble tea when out with friends.

She is hoping that online learning will continue to be tapped into as much as possible, with a hybrid of on-campus classes only where necessary. I do hope so too!

SCHOOL STORIES:

  1. When your son gets into fights in school
  2. My son the loan shark
  3. So kids can’t play once they start school?
  4. Things teachers say
  5. Lessons learnt from #1’s Os
  6. My son. There’s hope yet
  7. Who has an obsession with tuition?
  8. Paying tutors $250 an hour to do assignments?
  9. I didn’t even know my child was being bullied until…
  10. How I got my son to do his homework without nagging
  11. How #2 topped her level in English
  12. DSA. Yet another initiative parents have warped.
  13. Tuition – First line of attack?
  14. Why do exams have to be so stressful?
  15. First day mix up!
  16. The day I forgot to pick my son from school
  17. No more T-score. Now what?
  18. Tackling the new school year
  19. She did it, without tuition
  20. So who’s smarter?
  21. Why I do not coach my kids anymore
  22. My Best Parent Teacher Meeting EVER
  23. My daughter created a winning exam strategy
  24. 6 tips to really prepare your child for P1
  25. 6 tips to choose a Primary school
  26. 6 things to do in the PSLE year
  27. 6 tips to choose the right Preschool
  28. 6 tips to choose a Secondary school that is right for your child
  29. Our education system is starting to get exciting!
  30. PSLE results: Good or bad, what do you say?
  31. “Mum, just get me exempted from Chinese.”
  32. A huge jump in P6 SA1
  33. PSC Scholarship? WOW
  34. My teen in a neighbourhood school
  35. What the PSLE is really about
  36. How to choose the “best” Secondary school for your child

About MummyWee

Michelle Choy is an Occupational Therapist by day and mum of 6 by night. Besides the already very demanding job of managing 5 teenagers and one 7-turning-17 tween, she is also Founder of The Little Executive, a nurturing centre to develop children in areas like resilience and executive function, to survive today’s volatile world. She is also a parenting coach and has been featured on national TV, radio and print media.

Recommendations to maximize happiness and minimize suffering in Singapore’s education system

That was my daughter’s philosophy assignment topic. I do agree with her ideas, and happy to know that she scored an A for this paper!

Here is a short excerpt:

A Holistic Approach to Happiness

Happiness is determined 50% by genetic set-point, 10% by external circumstances, and 40% by intentional activity (Salzgeber, 2018). Given the importance of intentionally changing one’s behavior to being happy, the education system should teach the practice of happiness as a core aspect of the curriculum, from Primary to Tertiary education, to maximize happiness. This can be done by implementing modules of empathy, philosophy, and mental wellness.

Teaching empathy

The value of teaching empathy has been affirmed by some of the happiest countries in the world. Danish schools, for example, credit their standing as the second happiest nation in the world to their weekly empathy lesson for students aged 6 to 16 years (Newsroom, 2019). To maximize happiness, Singapore should similarly incorporate empathy classes as a fundamental subject and hone the skills of real learning and understanding in students.

Benefits

Cultivating virtue ethics. Numerous philosophies can be reconciled in their recognition of virtuous activity as happiness. Aristotle declared happiness to be the final aim of virtuous activity, inter alia. (McMahon, 2013). Similarly,  Stoicism proclaimed that the cultivation of virtue was essential to a happy life, through the embracing of four cardinal virtues: wisdom, temperance, justice, and courage (Saunders, 2019). Empathy lessons cultivate these values by teaching students of all ages to recognize and respect others and their emotions, thus teaching happiness.

Kate doing her chinese homework

Developing interpersonal relationships. Seligman (2004) propounds that developing relationships is essential to feel satisfied in life. In my experience, all good days share one thing in common: a connection to others. Such days are a reminder that, as social creatures, we are not meant to exist in isolation. Further, developing meaningful relationships is key to reaching Attunement;  a connection to others enforce stability and balance and can help us feel ‚Äėsettled‚Äô amidst the fact-paced rat-race to the end. The effect of interpersonal relationships on happiness can alternatively be explained by Desire Theory. Following the Desire Theory, if happiness results from getting what we strongly want, and building connections to others is an intrinsic desire, then having strong interpersonal relationships is pivotal to attaining happiness.

Moreover, having empathy promotes prosocial behaviour (Newsroom, 2019). Being prosocial is important to happiness as helping others genuinely makes us feel good. Personally, I enjoy doing works of charity and putting effort in friends and family as making others happy results in a sense of fulfilment. The benefits of being prosocial finds parallels in doctrines positing that happiness is contagious; in spending on others, we spread happiness, and correspondingly experience happiness in giving it.

Feasibility

The effectiveness of empathy lessons may be limited in Singapore. Nordic countries attribute their happiness to upbringing: ‚Äúhappy parents raise happy children who grow up to be happy adults who raise happy children‚ÄĚ (Newsroom, 2019). Given that Singapore still places considerable importance on academic performance at the expense of character development, Singapore may experience difficulty in changing the mindset of parents to value and promote empathy in their children.

On the other hand, taking one step in the right direction is better than taking no steps at all. Further, that parents may not prioritize empathy is an even greater reason that schools should. My own exposure to the importance of empathy in a ‚ÄėVirtue Ethics‚Äô class in Junior College was valuable. There, I observed first-hand the importance of being more understanding of my peers, which made school a happier place to be in. The existence of such classes demonstrates that teaching empathy in schools is both feasible, and has practical benefits.

Philosophy as a core module

I propose that philosophy be implemented as a core module from Primary to Tertiary education.

Benefits

My experience approaching philosophy for the first time in my university‚Äôs ‚ÄėBig Questions‚Äô module was eye-opening. Prior to the class, happiness seemed fleeting and elusive. Studying philosophy introduced productive ways of evaluating my mindset and implementing practical changes to my lifestyle that truly helped me feel more at home and happy.

Cultivating philosophical reflection and intellectual virtue. Studying philosophy has been correlated with happiness. As mentioned, both Stoicism and Aristotelian philosophy declared happiness to be the final aim of philosophical reflection and virtue. Thus, studying philosophy is instrumental in teaching one to maximize happiness for oneself, and can help one reach Attunement.

Finding meaning in life. As observed by Victor Frankl, humans are motivated to find meaning in life (Frankl, 1992). A person who has meaning is likely to be more passionate in living, and thus find happiness in the state of Engagement. Studying philosophy exposes students to fundamental questions about existence, reason, and mind; it thus contributes to happiness in guiding students to finding meaning and satisfaction in life.

Feasibility

Implementing philosophy as a core module is likely to be feasible in conjunction with the other proposed measures, as the decentralization of academic performance as the primary focus of education enables more leeway for non-academic modules. Although younger students may not fully grasp the more complex philosophies, concepts can be simplified for their benefit. As Aristotle eloquently put, ‚ÄúLet no one when young delay to study philosophy ‚Ķ for no one can come too early or too late to secure the health of his soul‚ÄĚ (Epicurus, 1954, para. 1).

Mental wellness modules

Teaching the practice of mindfulness, meditation, and positive psychology supplements the effectiveness of the above propositions in maximizing happiness. Killingsworth propounds that true well-being depends on the state of our minds and the quality of our consciousness (Bradt, 2010). Thus, mindfulness, meditation, and positive psychology have similarly effective outcomes in contributing to well-being, including a greater sense of coherence, empathy, and more satisfying relationships.

Conclusion

Institutional measures alone cannot guarantee happiness. However, happiness and education are intimately connected and quality education can and should aim to maximize happiness and minimize suffering where feasible. Thus, Singapore should implement the proposed changes to assessment methods and curriculum to overturn the excessively competitive mindsets of students and parents today, and strike a holistic balance that is the formula to maximizing happiness.

About MummyWee

Michelle Choy is an Occupational Therapist by day and mum of 6 by night. Besides the already very demanding job of managing 5 teenagers and one 7-turning-17 tween, she is also Founder of The Little Executive, a nurturing centre to develop children in areas like resilience and executive function, to survive today’s volatile world. She also makes time to volunteer with children and the elderly in her community.

Social and political views of our young people

#1 will be voting for the first time and has been following GE2020 closely. At that age, my peers and I were apathetic about politics as it didn’t seem to directly impact us and we took a stable government and the peace and prosperity of our country for granted.

Gen Z, however, seems to be a socially woke generation, hyper aware of social injustice and prejudice. When #1 was 16, she took up photography and ventured out on foot to capture the local streets. She came home disturbed, and showed me her photographs. This scene in particular, stirred up unease in her.

Who are these fellow human beings? She mulled over the fact that it is on the backs of these men’s hard labour that our shiny buildings are constructed, yet they are sitting under the hot sun on the side of the roads they have built for us, with cars zooming past them. They contributed largely to the foundation of our city, but are we treating them with dignity or we simply look away because it makes us uncomfortable? What could she do for them? Invite them home for a meal? Tell their story? Acknowledge them? She gave them a smile, waved and left with a heavy heart.

So what are some of the issues that our youths of today are concerned about?

#1 took this photo in 2015

CLIMATE CRISIS

Earlier this year, they watched in horror as bush fires swept across New South Wales and wildlife perished and became extinct. 2 big questions they couldn’t comprehend: why wasn’t the Australian government doing more? and if climate change was at the root of this and many other problems facing the world, why is the climate crisis not an even higher priority for all governments? They read how some countries are banning single-use plastic, proposing sustainable green recovery packages post-covid, and hope that our leaders are doing their part in minimising the carbon rebound while reviving the economy.

They believe that every individual has to be the solution, and have stopped shopping fast fashion and switched to eco-friendly brands, are against consumerism and buy reusable, sustainable and ethical products where possible.

They are also not afraid to speak up. During her Secondary 4 year, #2 had a session in the hall about environmental issues. Wrapping up, the HOD asked if anyone had anything to say. She stood up and gave an impassioned speech about how it should be everyone’s shared responsibility, that she was confused as her teachers did not walk the talk and the amount of paper churned out by schools was significant and she pointed out scenarios where they could do better. Her teacher shared with me that because of my daughter, she now thinks twice before printing anything and would consider other options first.

The covid situation heightened their environmental awareness and as factories were shut and air travel halted, statistics have emerged about carbon emissions. They discovered that aviation and fast fashion are the two biggest culprits in environmental pollution. They want to rethink our vacations as air travel leaves a huge carbon footprint, and it is better to move to a country for a year or two to study or work and explore that country, instead of flying to a destination just for a week or two.

The tables have turned. They are thinking through big issues which concern their future and getting us to re-evaluate many areas of our lives which we have stopped questioning.

FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND HUMAN RIGHTS

Gen Zs have grown up with a lot more connectivity to the world. #2 used to write fan fiction and made friends with teenagers from around the world and became close friends with a few. With technology, they were privy to each other’s daily lives, homes and classrooms.

They chatted about the differences in their school curriculum and discussed issues such as the LGBT movement. For example, her friend from Canada explained about the controversy surrounding their revised sex education curriculum, with different groups holding different views on gender identity and sexual orientation.

It got them thinking about the laws in their own country. They asked questions like why is Section 377A which was enacted in 1871 still valid and upheld in the 2007 review when people should have freedom of choice? While they understood that we are a conservative Asian society, they questioned the point of it being a criminal act if it is between consenting adults.

SOCIAL INEQUALITY AND MARGINALIZATION

They jokingly call our helper “our expat” because they tell me that by definition, an expat is anyone who lives outside their own country. Why should there be double standards and they be termed “foreign workers”? As a family, we do our part to take care of the workers around our street, and my kids would hand them biscuits and cold drinks.

They were proud of their dad when during the circuit breaker, he needed to separate his foreign workers and made the decision to put them up in a small hotel instead of letting them rough it out in temporary holdings. They saw the hubs interact with them and exclaimed, “Dad talks to them nicer than to us! And he treats them so kindly.”

While everyone was forced to figure out how to work from home, my daughter lamented that isn’t it sad for people with a physical disability? These are things that employers could have implemented ages ago, but sidelined. She feels that more needs to be done before we can become a truly inclusive society and a level playing field for all, especially for vulnerable groups.

Once, I took her to the market to take photos as I was writing about markets around Singapore. She was drawn to this sight of an elderly uncle with piles of neatly tied cardboard boxes, and wanted to capture his facial expression, but felt it might be disrespecful.

Methinks she has a flair for photojournalism. Her first publication – Scenes of Singapore as seen through the lens of a 16-year old.

#1 took this photo in 2015

Last weekend, the grandparents came over for dinner, and they had a robust discussion about the coming elections. They wanted to know who their por por and gong gong were voting for.

Immediately, my pro-PAP parents said, “PAP!”

“Why, por por. Please explain your choice.”

Their 80 year-old grandma went on to tell them how the government has been pivotal in building Singapore up, that they were born just before WW II, went through war, hardship, poverty, and experienced the transformation right before their eyes. From days of water rationing and eating rice with soya sauce, to having the opportunity to go to school and being able to make a good livelihood by working hard, saving up, and providing their children with an overseas education. “When gong gong was hospitalised, even in the 8-bedder, it was comfortable and the the bill was covered by medisave.”

“Yes, por por, we know the government did a good job for the past many decades, but what about now? When I graduate will I be able to get a good job? The cost of living is one of the highest in the world. And HDBs are so expensive we won’t be able to afford it. What about the foreign worker situation? Inequality? Minimum wage? Global warming?”

Grandma looked at her, confused. I could almost see the generation gap.

Gen Zs are far from being apathetic about social issues, and we as parents need to have open conversations with them, to guide them to hash out discussions in an objective and respectful manner.

It is too easy for them to get swayed by information shared by their peers, and I tell them not to simply accept everything they read or watch, be mindful of things being taken out of context, and to do their own research and look at things from both a micro and macro perspective before making conclusions. Pointing out the faults in systems and other people is not difficult. But to understand the full complexity of the problems, consequences, impact and trade-offs requires greater depth of deliberation.

I emphasis that there are multi facets to any issue, and beyond the elections, the real value of them as vocal citizens is not by being keyboard warriors, but by contributing meaningfully and working together to better Singapore. We tell our staff at work, when you come to us with a problem, please bring along some possible solutions you have brainstormed and we can improve things together.

We need a generation of young adults who are able and willing to stand up and steer Singapore into the future successfully. While it is a positive thing that they are taking an interest in the political scene, it is imperative that we give them a solid foundation of strong values, good character, open-mindedness, maturity and commitment to continue to build up a democratic Singapore, based on truths and sound judgement, not falsehoods, groupthink or rash emotions.

Our young people will soon be a force to reckon with, and their idealism and passion must be directed well.

About MummyWee

Michelle Choy is an Occupational Therapist by day and mum of 6 by night. Besides the already very demanding job of managing 5 teenagers and one 7-turning-17 tween, she is also Founder of The Little Executive, a nurturing centre to develop children in areas like resilience and executive function, to survive today’s volatile world. She also makes time to volunteer with children and the elderly in her community.

PSC Scholarship? Wow

When #2 told us she had received the PSC Provisional Scholarship we were truly surprised. Aiming for a scholarship has never crossed our minds and she had to google it! A quick search revealed that there are 4 or 5 President Scholars each year, and about 70 or so PSC Scholarships are given out. She discovered that her JC has never produced a scholar which on one hand meant that her chances are really slim, yet she mused, “It’ll be cool to be the first one from my school.”

Surely, we must throw a huge celebration then.

On hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t dismiss this option. After her Os, I was apprehensive about her decision to choose the JC route. I had heard that the stress levels have increased tremendously and weekends are spent catching up on sleep, homework and doing projects, which leaves hardly anytime for family or a balanced lifestyle. What is more worrying is the upward trend of depression and suicidal ideation which is worsened by the academic demands of the A levels.

However, she could not find any course in the polytechnics which deeply interested her and since she has a love for Literature and English, that made the choice easier. Besides, the 2 extra years may give her slightly more clarity in what she wants to pursue.

It turned out that JC life was even more gruelling than we had expected. Academically, it is very demanding as the timeline is short. But what compounded it was the extra activities that she took on. In JC, the students become a lot more involved and run all the events by themselves while the teachers play an advisory role.

She headed the committees to organise the investiture and Open House events and stayed in school till late, sometimes 9 or 10pm and by the time she took the bus home, had a bite and showered, it was close to midnight. That’s when she started on homework.

I was really worried at this unhealthy schedule, but when I met her home tutors after the first exam, they were very pleased with her and praised her ability to juggle both her studies and extra activities well. It seemed to be the norm that sleep has to be sacrificed because the workload was about to get heavier.

It was a whirlwind after that. She became President of her CCA and besides the three times per week practice sessions, it was her responsibility to ensure that everything was running smoothly. Most evenings, she was busy texting her core team and her teacher in charge. It became stressful when performances were approaching, because not only did she have to schedule in extra practice sessions, she had to ensure that her team was on top of their responsibilities, logistics was flawless, morale was kept high and unexpected situations were handled swiftly.

She was so busy she hardly had time to study. But guess what? She took on a second CCA! They were short of a guitarist and needed help. That meant early morning practice sessions. Some days she was in school from 7am to 9pm. She worked even longer hours than me.

I made her healthy and filling salads to take to school if not she would be too busy to eat, I listened when she aired her frustrations, but more often than not, I had to deal with her not wanting to talk much because she was just too tired after all that went on in school that day.

On top of that, there were assignment datelines, essays to write, loads of texts to memorise and it was not unusual to see her still studying at 1am. Not only was it mentally demanding, it was also physically and emotionally draining. She was fortunate to have a lovely, polite, caring bunch of friends, but it was also the teenage years where they are finding their identities and navigating many changes. 

I was really concerned and told her that something had to give, but she told me that as she had taken on the commitments, she had to see them through.

I happened to speak to her Secondary 4 teacher Ms Sandra and she laughed, “That’s good practice for her, and if she’s going to have 6 kids like you, she will have no problems juggling everything.”

Mums will always be mums. When you see your 17-year-old sleeping 4 or 5 hours a night and looking exhausted, you worry. And you want them to slow down. To take it easy.

As though all that wasn’t enough (for her poor mama’s heart), she participated in a slew of ad hoc activities. She signed up for a mission trip to Vietnam and got accepted. Ah, this was one which I whole-heartedly supported.

It was an eye-opener for them to see how the children lived and studied in the mountainous regions. She recounted how the weather suddenly plunged 20 degrees overnight and their toes were frost-bitten in their converse shoes. As they trekked up the mountain hand-in-hand with the children, these kids nimbly and happily made their way up to school despite being in slippers.

When she moved on to JC2, I assumed she would ease up on the activities and buckle down to some serious studying. How wrong was I. She took on even more!

On top of gearing up for their concert at the Esplanade, she was an Orientation leader for the incoming JC students. She missed a whole week of lessons and came home hoarse from all that shouting.

I was really curious and couldn’t understand why she was still taking on so much when she knows that she needs to focus on her studies this year.

“Mum, there are all these exciting things going on. Everyone signs up hoping for a chance. I so happened to pass all the interviews.” Anyhow, I told her that it was really quite enough and she shouldn’t take on anything more.

Kids don’t listen, do they?

She came back one day and told me excitedly that they had passed the auditions for the rock band competition. Music and singing have always been her passion and they had formed a girl band. They spent Sunday afternoons over at our place practicing their harmonies. Despite me shaking my head at this extra of extras, I must say it was really lovely to hear them jam.

Then came Project Work submission. I found out that it wasn’t projects they were working on. It was a compulsory subject called Project Work where they are assigned into groups of about 4 and there was both a written and an oral component. They worked on a real-life issue and I suppose it is to develop applicable life skills such as critical thinking, working collaboratively, inculcating creativity in application and focusing on the process.

Weekends were spent meeting up to discuss and work through it as a team. With any group work, frustrations with teammates are quite common. She was upset that some of her group mates turned up late for meetings or handed in their part past the deadlines with sloppy work. As she was aiming for an A, she put in many extra hours to edit their parts and rewrite the scripts. Her group mates were so thankful when results were released.

The last event of JC2 was Lit Nite. It was a big event for the Arts students. She ended up writing, directing and acting in it. Again, many late nights in school to prepare. A week before the performance, the senior literature teacher watched their play and asked her to rewrite half of it. She was really stressed at the short deadline. She worked late into the night to perfect it and spent that week with her team polishing up their play. It was wonderful that their efforts were rewarded with a win.

Finally, everything came to a halt a few weeks before Prelims. I asked her how was her preparations coming along and if she needed tuition as the syllabus was not easy and most of her classmates had tuition.

She is a really considerate child and said that she wouldn’t want to waste money unnecessarily if she could manage. She revised on her own and had some study sessions with her friends and they helped one another on concepts they missed out. She even offered to tutor her brother who was struggling with his PSLE.

I kept reminding her to have enough rest and the hubs and I reassured her that if it became too stressful, she could take an extra year and we are completely fine with it.

We knew that she had spent her 2 years gainfully and there was a lot to catch up on. Many of #1’s friends who went on to University said that the 2 years in JC were the toughest and some had to retain 1 extra year because they failed or by choice.

She put her mind into those final weeks before the Prelims, studied hard, and did really well for the exams. Phew. She was offered the provisional scholarship based on her excellent prelim results as well as her portfolio of activities (so glad all that counted for something!)

Many friends were curious to know how we did it. They know my chill education philosophy – no tuition, no assessment books, no ten-year series, no nagging.

What’s the secret?

I have always believed in making them self-motivated and self-initiated so that they take ownership of their own goals and efforts instead of me pushing them every step of the way.

Instead of drilling them academically, I have been giving them opportunities to develop skills such as getting organised, being able to plan their time, knowing what their priorities are, having the discipline to stick to it, trying different methods when things fail, learning not to give up but to persevere. All these are executive functioning skills which become increasingly important when the demands start to increase. The child needs to be able to manage themselves well to take on greater responsibilities and roles.

We have no idea how she will do for her actual A level exams because she is worried that she may have peaked during Prelims. The papers were tough and many were crying as they left the exam hall.

I’m just relieved that the 2 years have come to an end and I see her so much more now. She has time to pursue her creative interests like painting, writing novels and playing the drums.

Whether she receives a scholarship or not, we are already so proud of her. The skill sets she has developed and the challenges she has surmounted are invaluable experiences. So long as she keeps an open mind and a hunger for learning, she will keep progressing. She has a long way ahead of her, and this is just the beginning!

School Stories:

#1 – When your son gets into fights in school
#2 – My son the loan shark
#3 – So kids can’t play once they start school?

#11 – How #2 topped her level in English
#12 – DSA. Yet another initiative parents have warped
#13 – Tuition – First line of attack?
#14 – Why do exams have to be so stressful?
#15 – First day mix up!
#16 – The day I forgot to pick my son from school
#17 – No more T-score. Now what?
#18 – Tackling the new school year
#19 – She did it, without tuition.
#20 – So who’s smarter?
#21 – Why I do not coach my kids anymore.

 

About MummyWee

Michelle Choy is an Occupational Therapist by day and mum of 6 by night. Besides the already very demanding job of managing 5 teenagers and one 7-turning-17 tween, she is also Founder of The Little Executive, a nurturing centre to develop children in areas like resilience and executive function, to survive today’s volatile world. She is also a parenting coach and has been featured on national TV, radio and print media.

Our education system is starting to get exciting!

I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel! Things are coming together nicely and more changes are in the pipeline.

16 years ago, #1 entered kindergarten. It was a popular school and many of the kids came from affluent families. Little did I know that we were in for a shock. Her English teacher made her stand in the corner when she couldn’t come up with a word that begins with the letter ‘S’.

Something was wrong.

Didn’t I send her to school to learn such things? Why was she being tested and punished for not knowing? That was the first inkling I had that our system was too skewed towards testing vis-a-vis learning.

Even more disturbing, one day she finally had the courage to tell me that her teacher had dragged her to the N2 class and got a boy to complete her worksheet in front of her. She felt dumb and humiliated. I pulled her out of the preschool and put her in a church-based kindergarten where the teachers were caring and they focused more on character development.

Since then, moving them through various preschools, primary and secondary schools, I have found that it is not accurate nor fair to generalise.

There will be good systems with teachers or principals who are not aligned. There will also be narrow systems with passionate teachers who go the extra mile to help our children learn.

It is wonderful to see that the early childhood scene has proliferated over the past 10 years as child development research continues to unravel how children learn best. I have found a holistic international preschool for Kate where they play outdoors twice a day and the kids are taught how to resolve conflicts by themselves and learning is fun and experiential.

Unfortunately, that comes to a halt the moment children enter Primary 1. These 6 & 7-year olds are expected to sit in a classroom with 30 other students to learn in a one-size-fits-all system. It’s great that there will be no more exams or weighted assessments for the P1s and 2s, and a foray into experiential learning has been introduced, but there is still much room for improving the way lessons are conducted.

While in University, I was curious to know why our classmates had markedly different strengths from us Singaporeans. We were good at researching but they were brilliant at presentations and thinking out of the box. My classmates shared that their lessons were very hands on. If the topic was on gravity, the teacher came into class and tossed balls around. What follows would be an in-depth discussion with questioning and prompts from the teacher to ignite their thinking, instead of spoonfeeding them with concepts and content.

Returning to Singapore and raising my kids with the mindset of an occupational therapist, I asked myself constantly, “what is the rationale behind this activity”? I questioned the purpose of education and looked ahead 20 years because that would be the future landscape my children would be stepping into.

As my 5 kids moved into the primary and secondary levels, I was disappointed that there wasn’t a significant difference from our generation. It was only in the past few years that I started seeing the changes gaining momentum.

I was worried that our education system was not equipping them with the right set of skills to get them ready for their future. Too much time was wasted on testing and learning how to answer questions with specific key words and drill methods.

We had to strike a balance with what the schools could not provide and to guide them in the other aspects of education myself.

To be curious thinkers, to dare to try, to fail and try again, to learn to work together, to be creative, to come up with their own opinions and substantiate them, to know that there are different ways to solve a problem, to believe in themselves.

Along the journey, there were times when I had to guard against letting school extinguish their love of learning. It seems that the objective of completing curriculum and pressures of exams which teachers have to accede to outweigh the silent need of the seeds of curiosity to be watered and tended to.

It’s good that there have been changes in the exam papers, reflecting MOE’s push towards application, but the problem with change at the testing level is that students need to be taught how to think.

It is not as simple as adding thinking questions into the comprehension or Science papers and expecting teachers to be able to draw it out of them. These type of skills we are trying to inculcate are best started even as early as the preschool years and built upon year after year as they move on to higher order thinking skills.

The roadmap drawn out in the School Work Plan looks fantastic on paper, however, to equip the whole teaching force to be well versed to teach children at this deeper level will not happen overnight.

It is not difficult to deliver content. But to get the class to be engaged, to ponder thinking questions and to steer them towards having a fruitful discussion on the topic at hand, the teacher has to be skilled and it takes up a lot more time.

A few months back, I was invited to a small group session with ex-Education Minister Ng Chee Meng and these other lovely ladies. We were discussing how important it was to develop 21st-century skills lest we have a generation of children who are ill-equipped to take on jobs of the future. I asked Minister roughly what percentage of our primary school curriculum is currently targetted at inquiry-based learning and developing such skills? He did not have the numbers but hazarded a guess at about 5%.

I was flabbergasted.

He explained that we have a good system that has been consistently producing strong results. So while they recognise the need for equipping our children with a new set of skills to meet the demands of the future, they need to figure out how to carve out more time without overloading our children further.

How do we free up more time?

Curriculum. Education Minister Ong Ye Kung explained at the Schools Work Plan Seminar 2018 that curriculum has been cut twice, by 30% in 1997 and by 20% in 2005 and is comparable to other countries and further reduction will risk under-teaching. Since curriculum is at its bare minimum, they have to look to other avenues to free up time.

Removing mid-year exams in the transition years of P3, P5, Sec 1 and Sec 3 will free up an extra 3 weeks every 2 years.

From the Work Plan 2018:

“I hope schools will use the time well, for example, to conduct applied and inquiry based learning. In applied and inquiry based learning, our students observe, investigate, reflect, and create knowledge. And that will naturally take up more time.”

I am extremely pleased to read this. That is how I have been teaching my children when it comes to any form of knowledge and how we have been educating children in my enrichment centre.

However, in reality, this approach to learning will take up much more time than an extra 10 days per year. Teachers need to brainstorm, create lesson plans, share best practices and implement. It is a good start nonetheless and we are moving in the right direction.

Assessment. Personally I feel that the PSLE should stay because we need a national exam to sort the children at the end of 6 years instead of moving them straight through for 10 years of education. In fact, I find that the 6 years of primary school is the most narrowly defined approach, and it gets better once they get sorted into secondary school and beyond.

Take the tiny sample size of my 5 kids who have finished their PSLE. There is a stark difference in their learning styles, aptitudes, interests and pen and paper academic abilities and it would not be equitable to them if they were all bundled together.

#2 is the most academically inclined of the lot, and placed in a class of 40 or even in a lecture hall of 150, she is capable of learning well. However, #5’s learning style is experiential and he has been doing much better this year in a class of 8 where their teachers try to adapt the lessons to suit them. I have observed how the 3 different secondary schools my girls went through offered different niche programmes, learning approaches and pace.

Having said that, the mechanics of the questions in the PSLE and what they hope to develop in our students have to be re-examined.

More importantly, the way the PSLE has evolved to become a stress-inducing high stakes exam has to be unwound and mindsets need to change.

I am all for removing the 2 mid-year exams in primary school and 2 in secondary school as there is an urgent need to carve out more time. There will no doubt be a push back from parents who are afraid they will have no certainty of knowing how their child is faring and it will take time for parents to align with the big scheme of things.

One gripe I have is that too much time is still spent on preparing students for the PSLE. In many schools, preparations start from P5 onwards, and the entire P6 year is geared towards tackling the PSLE by drilling them with an avalanche of past year papers. That is 2 years of precious time that could be used for real learning instead of preparing them to be exam ready. I hope to see the day when these 2 are congruent – where real learning leads them naturally to be exam ready.

Many kids tell me honestly that they study only for the exams, and don’t ask them any concepts after that because they have forgotten what they have learnt.

Is that true education? If we measure our education by the yardstick of applicable knowledge, we have failed in our objective, and we have failed our children.

Removing class and level positions. This is a change in line with PSLE scoring no longer being in relation to their peers from 2021. It sends a strong message and will hopefully shift the mindset of parents from competition to learning for learning’s sake and to work towards the aim of advancement.

But as Minister Ong said, “the report book should still contain some form of yardstick and information to allow students to judge their relative performance.”

This is very necessary because of the wide variation in the standard of examinations set, thus the mark on an exam paper is not indicative.

During #1’s P5 year end exam, she scored 50+ for her English and I was very concerned as English is her strong subject. At the PTM, I was told not to worry as she was one of the top scorers and most of the other students had failed.

If schools are able to set consistent standards, and parents can be assured that an A means a child is doing well, a B means there is room for improvement, a fail means he needs extra help or hasn’t put in much effort, and so forth, then we can make sense of their marks. But if a score of 58 placed her in the top 85% then we do need the percentile of the cohort as a gauge as it paints a clearer picture. 

Joy of learning. Minister Ong says “They must leave the education system still feeling curious and eager to learn, for the rest of their lives.”

This is a lofty goal. It is sad how children enter preschool bright-eyed and full of ideas, yet they leave P6 either as robots churning out good grades or with their zest for learning squelched.

Several reasons contribute to it. High parental expectations, an overload of school work plus tuition, non-inspiring curriculum in the upper primary years, and teachers. At the end of P5, #5’s Science teacher told me, “You need to get him to conform. Don’t ask so many questions. Leave all that for secondary school. It’s time to wake up and focus on the exams. He is a bright child with so much potential, but look at his grades.” The irony is that he loves Science, and has been doing well in it, except the year when he was in her class.

At the same discussion, his male form teacher agreed that the PSLE was important, but he assured me not to worry as he feels that #5 will go very far in future, with his innovative and creative flair, natural leadership ability and eagerness to help his peers. He asked if I would be sending him to an international school as that would suit him better.

With MOE trying to do what’s best for our children, parents also have a part to play in this equation. New initiatives are rolled out to resolve problems or to enable. We have a choice how we want to react and respond to new policies.

We need to shift from teaching to the test to focus on learning to learn.

In the coming years, there is bound to be more changes, and I will be worried if there isn’t! We need to take a broader overview instead of being myopic. It starts with us parents who need to be comfortable with change. The world is changing rapidly and we will be overtaken if we don’t stay relevant.

I’m reassured to see that MOE has been planning ahead instead of being complacent as we are consistently top of the charts in international rankings. I am certain that together, we can do it! We will refine our education system into a truly world class system, and educate a whole generation of resilient learners who are not afraid to chase their dreams and have the skills and ability to do so.

Equip them right and let them fly. I have never placed emphasis on their results, only on the process of learning and #2 is testimony that they haven’t been short-changed. We were overjoyed to hear that she did really well for her A level prelims. Her home tutor called her in for a meeting and her name has been sent up for a PSC scholarship as she has not only managed to achieve stellar results but has held a full spectrum of leadership roles over the past 2 years in JC.

By equipping her with the right skills, perseverance, and support, she is ready to go far. I’m sure the rest of them will find their strengths and purpose and soar in their own time.

Tertiary Education. I am not worried even for my kids who are the round pegs in this square system. There are so many exciting courses in the polytechnics and local universities that they are having difficulty choosing just 1. And they don’t have to. It will be a lifelong journey, and our role is to guide them with wisdom. So long as they continue to want to learn and to improve their skills, the world is their oyster.

School Stories:

#1 – When your son gets into fights in school
#2 – My son the loan shark
#3 – So kids can’t play once they start school?

#11 – How #2 topped her level in English
#12 – DSA. Yet another initiative parents have warped
#13 – Tuition – First line of attack?
#14 – Why do exams have to be so stressful?
#15 – First day mix up!
#16 – The day I forgot to pick my son from school
#17 – No more T-score. Now what?
#18 – Tackling the new school year
#19 – She did it, without tuition.
#20 – So who’s smarter?
#21 – Why I do not coach my kids anymore.


~ www.mummyweeblog.com – A blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Why I do not coach my kids anymore

I have been asked this many times – Do I coach my kids? The answer is no. Not at all. I don’t look at their daily homework nor test them spelling. In fact, I tell them not to come to me when they get stuck because I probably won’t be able to answer their questions.

I’m not kidding. The way they do Math is different from our time, and don’t get me started on Science structured questions. “Mum, you need to answer with¬†key words.” When I guided them on their Chinese composition, they came back with a fail grade. It is still a running family joke.

They know my standard answer – go look for an older sibling as they’ll have better luck in getting the concepts explained properly to them, with the appropriate key-words thrown in.

It wasn’t that I didn’t try. When #1 was in P2 & P3, she would come to me when stuck while doing homework and I was able to help her. The turning point came in P4. Every few days, she would need help to finish her Math, Science or Chinese homework and truth be told, I was annoyed that she couldn’t independently handle homework doled out to her.

Having 4 other kids on my tail left me scarcely any time to deal with #1’s academic demands, and being in a constantly sleep-deprived state must have made me prone to going¬†berserk.

I remember one particular incident when I was trying to help her with her Math homework, and she could not comprehend it. I became angrier and angrier and started yelling at her. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but they were unnecessarily hurtful words along the lines of “I’ve explained to you so many times! What can’t you understand? What is wrong with you? Why are you so stupid?” My blood was boiling and I felt like smacking her.¬†

I was shocked at my own extreme reaction. I am by nature a calm and patient person, and here I was, getting agitated by my own child, over Math? I saw the fear in her eyes as she recoiled from my wrath, and there and then, I decided that it was not worth it. I could not let this ruin our mother-daughter relationship. My first and foremost responsibility is to be her mum, and this tutoring job can be outsourced.

I did feel like some kind of failure, but found out that many of my friends were in the same boat. Some have flung school bags out of the house, while others have raised their hands at their children. It is never the right thing to do, and we have no excuse. But the reality is that it is not easy teaching our own children. Some parents are cut out for it, and some are not. I am glad I recognized it early enough before saying or doing things I might have regretted.

When she moved on to P5, it became an almost daily struggle to complete her homework. Being our eldest, it did not occur to us that she might need tuition as she was fairly bright and in a top school so we had the impression that the teachers would prepare them adequately for tests and exams.

Since I had thrown in the coaching hat, the hubs volunteered to do it. The first time #1 went to him with her Math problem sums, he eagerly took on the challenge. 3 hours later, she finally emerged from the room. She revealed that daddy took so long to finish 2 pages of her Math homework and she still has other homework to do. Worst of all, he used the wrong method. His coaching stint ended as soon as it began.

Since then, we have stopped coaching them. Even if they come home with entire worksheets covered in red or if they fail their tests, I seldom nag or scold them. I ask if they had prepared well for it, and what are they going to do about it. I don’t want the focus when they get test marks back to be on what mum is going to say, but on how they think they can improve in future.

I keep an eye on the big picture¬†and monitor their grades for their CAs and SAs throughout the year. It is better to find out their percentile instead of looking at the raw score. In her P5 year, #1 barely passed her English mid-year exams. I was concerned, but when I spoke to her teacher she said, “Oh, don’t worry, it was a very tough paper and almost the entire class failed. She was one of the top scorers.”

They get one-to-one tuition in the P6 year because I find that an effective way to plug the content gaps in topics which they might have missed over the years. The tutors also know how to guide them to phrase their answers to suit the examiners. 

While writing this post, I was chatting with my girls to get their perspective now that they are already in secondary school. I asked them how did they manage without coming to me for help.

“We know that you will tell us to figure it out ourselves or ask our teacher, so we have to pay attention in class. There is a lot of wasted time between lessons, so we quickly get our homework done and if there is anything we don’t understand, we ask our friends. Most of them have tuition.”

I burst out laughing. They had found their own strategy and outsourced the coaching to their classmates! It’s good for their friends too, as the best way to understand something well is to explain it to others. Brilliant win-win situation.


School Stories:

#1 –¬†When your son gets into fights in school
#2 –¬†My son the loan shark
#3 –¬†So kids can’t play once they start school?

#11 –¬†How #2 topped her level in English
#12 –¬†DSA. Yet another initiative parents have warped
#13 –¬†Tuition – First line of attack?
#14 –¬†Why do exams have to be so stressful?
#15 –¬†First day mix up!
#16 –¬†The day I forgot to pick my son from school
#17 –¬†No more T-score. Now what?
#18 –¬†Tackling the new school year
#19 –¬†She did it, without tuition.
#20 –¬†So who’s smarter?
#21 –¬†Why I do not coach my kids anymore.

 

About MummyWee

Michelle Choy is an Occupational Therapist by day and mum of 6 by night. Besides the already very demanding job of managing 5 teenagers and one 7-turning-17 tween, she is also Founder of The Little Executive, a nurturing centre to develop children in areas like resilience and executive function, to survive today’s volatile world. She is also a parenting coach and has been featured on national TV, radio and print media.

~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

A new phase of my life

As I perch on the cusp of a new chapter of my life, I stop to pause, reflect and give thanks.

It feels surreal.

Something that has been brewing for so long has finally come to fruition.

It has been more than a year since I had my first discussion with a speech pathologist about this new initiative, and our enrichment centre is opening it’s doors tomorrow!

Not only do we share the same name, we share the same vision and can almost read each other’s minds from the first meeting we had. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner to start a venture with.

I have been running at breakneck speed the past few weeks.

Starting the day at 7am, dropping Kate off at school and going in to work with my team for half the day, picking the kids up after supplementary classes and dealing with their issues, sitting down together for dinner at 6.30pm and getting them ready for bed at 8pm. After that it’s back to the computer until around 2am when my brain stops functioning effectively.

On top of that, just this past 2 weeks, I had to deal with one sprained ankle, taking one to investigate her allergies, and taking two of them to extract their teeth and fix braces.

My essentials

To allocate more time for work, I had to sacrifice time with the kids. Thankfully the hubs wasn’t away much and he took over the lunch prep and taxi duties.

Kate has been spending more time with her older siblings which was great bonding for them.

On Hari Raya, #3 was going ice-skating with her friend and she offered to take Kate along. She helped her don her skates, take her in and out of the rink when she needed the toilet or wanted a drink of water and even graded her learning from pushing her around on the seal to holding her hands and skating with her without the aid after she gained more confidence.

There were days when I didn’t dare put Kate to bed for fear of falling asleep and not finishing things I needed to get done before going in to work. She has been really accommodating and would go off and find some jie jie to bunk in with.

It was quite amusing to search the rooms on my way up to bed and see her tucked in different beds depending on which sis it was.

One night, I found her sleeping inside a wardrobe! With the sliding doors open.

#3 had padded it nicely and made it into a secret hideout for Kate. We all had a good laugh the next morning when Kate said so matter-of-factly, “Yesterday I slept in the cupboard.” Oh well, these are the things fond memories are made of.

I really salute all the full time mums who have been doing this for years. It is not easy working a full day and coming home having to deal with the kids and running the household.

There were moments when I was working on the computer in the wee hours of the morning and wondering how I got myself into this busy state.

I guess once the cogwheel starts turning, there is no looking back.
Our signage is up!

I had to be really focused. No luxury of having a conducive environment or being in the ‘mood’ to work.

I’ve picked up a handy skill of being able to whip up my trusty notebook and carry on where I’ve left off.

I’ve worked at the BBQ pit of a condo while waiting for a kid to finish surprising her bff, at the car repair shop waiting to get the tyres fixed, I’ve even worked at mall seats while waiting for the girls to pick up their stuff.

It may sound strange but I am enjoying myself. I have been physically and mentally exhausted raising the kids for the past 18 years, dealing with teenagers and toddlers. At the same time.

Now that most of them are occupied with long school days, I can finally take a break from child-rearing and focus my attention on something I find meaningful.

When term 3 started, the kids asked if I could pick them up from school and I told them they had to take the MRT as I needed to work.

They were more amused than disappointed. “Mum! You actually have work?!”

I’m glad they are proud of me.

They have been seeing me as a stay-at-home-mum and never imagined I had the capabilities to go out and work, much less start a business.

#4 recently exclaimed, “Mum, you actually own nice clothes?”

Talk about tactless kids. I’ll console myself that they are just being direct.

My partner and I are taking this slowly and steadily, not over taxing ourselves or neglecting our families.

The hubs and I opened a spa 14 years ago and we failed miserably. Sars hit us in our 3rd month and hardly any customers came in and we did not have the cash flow to ride it out.

I teach my kids that there is a lesson to be learnt in our failures, but for the longest time, I myself couldn’t see the silver lining in our failed business and sorry state.

We went through a rough patch then, having lost a huge sum of money and with 3 young kids in tow. That time has passed, and the lessons learnt are invaluable to me today as I embark on this new endeavour.

No big capital expenses on rental and renovations but starting small, and focusing our energies on a solid curriculum and the children whose learning and lives we will be impacting.

And one of the most important lessons I learnt was to have a product that we believe in one hundred and one percent and finding the right team to journey with.


We have formed an amazing team which we have chosen carefully based on much more than their resumes. We are aligned with a shared sense of purpose which shows in the great camaraderie and respect we have for one another.

Who says hard work can’t be fun

This is the start of a refreshing and beautiful journey, of us discovering our passions, putting our hearts together to touch children and educate them in a meaningful way, which they can take away with them for life.

One thing I do miss is writing in this space. But now I have a new baby to tend to.


Exciting times ahead!

~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~