What makes a good Teacher?

Despite my crazy schedule, teachers’ day is always a significant event in our yearly calendar, and I make time to mark this day. Teachers are such a big part of my children’s lives, and besides the heartfelt words of thanks throughout the year, this is one day we can formally show our appreciation to these very special people.

The flurry of activity started the day before in our kitchen as #3 and her bff spent the whole afternoon making cake pops. This year, I decided to use a fairly simple chocolate chip recipe to bake cookies for Kate’s teachers so that she could do most of the steps with minimal assistance from me.

It was dinnertime by the time the last batch of cookies were done and she packed them into little boxes and used her name stickers to seal them. All set!

In the morning, I taught her to hand the boxes to each of her teachers and she giggled and gave them hugs while wishing them.

I can bake!

After depositing her in school, the hubs and I prepared to go over to #2’s school as she was performing a solo item! Unfortunately, before her act, the hubs had to rush off to pick Kate up. That’s how it’s like when you have too many kids.

We were extremely proud of her for the courage to want to go up on stage to sing on teachers’ day. It wouldn’t have been possible if the teacher in charge did not back them up, allow them this opportunity, and give them words of encouragement as their nerves took over.

Despite the hurdles of not having rooms approved for her, the pianist and the drummer to practice together, and of being in the middle of prelims, they pressed on and did a good show to wild screams from their peers.

It didn’t matter that the singing wasn’t spectacular, but such spirit! One seemingly small step of a student going up on stage to sing. But the message was strong. Nothing is impossible. Dare to dream. Have the strength to persevere. I’m sure they will remember this for a long time to come.

And who knows? Many may have been inspired to step out of their comfort zone and rise up to challenges as they leave this school and embark on the next phase of their lives.

As part of the parents’ support group, we were invited to the teachers’ day celebrations where we showed our appreciation on behalf of all the parents by handing over the gifts we made, and thanking the teachers for their hard work.

Together, we prayed a beautiful prayer for teachers,

(Teachers:)
May our gift of teaching;
Awaken minds to new ideas, and expand hearts beyond boundaries.

May our love of learning;
Lead students to awe and wonder at their participation in our sacred universe.

May our story-telling inspire imagination and creativity;
And our example lead those we teach to be generous and noble.

(Parents:)
May your desire to educate;
Evoke the unique gifts of each student, and the deep desires of each heart

And, as you bless your students on their way;
May you delight at the gift your life offers to the future.


What struck us mummies was that teachers’ day celebrations in school are a far cry from what we had in our day.

Students from the media CCA groups came up with video montages and the young teachers gamely posed, danced and lip-synced to the delight of their students.

They also had a fun segment where awards were given out to teachers amidst much cheering, and it was heartwarming to see the camaraderie between the teachers, students, Principal and VPs.

We had a late lunch with their friends before coming back to the other kids.


#4 related an oral practice session they had in class and the topic was “What makes a good teacher?”

Given how much I had been hearing about their teachers piling them with homework prior to the PSLE countdown, I half expected things like, “A good teacher is someone who doesn’t scold us” or “Someone who gives us less homework.”

However, I was surprised how matured these 12-year olds were.

These were the top 8 traits they listed, ranked in order.

1. Someone who is patient.

2. Someone with the ability to make lessons interesting.

3. Someone who is understanding.

4. Someone who is fair to all.

5. Someone who is approachable.

6. Someone who is helpful.

7. Someone who is kind.

8. (She couldn’t recall what the eighth trait was).

My faith has been renewed in children! We tend to think of children collectively as being from a spoilt, ‘me-first’ generation.

It probably takes a saint to have all of those traits all of the time!

To all teachers, we wish you a very Happy Teachers’ Day! Enjoy the long weekend with your family and loved ones. We appreciate the good work that you do, day in day out.

And now that I run an enrichment centre, I have a team of teachers!

Let us never forget the why behind what we are doing, and besides enjoying teaching the easy and teachable kids, when the going gets tough, when the children are challenging, may we remember that it is a calling to be an educator, a responsibility as much as a privilege that we must never take lightly.

And not only is it the job of educators, but we parents are our children’s first teachers. I leave you with this prayer, which we ended the teachers’ day celebration with:

Enable me to teach with wisdom for I help to shape the mind.
Equip me to teach with truth for I help to shape the conscience.
Encourage me to teach with vision for I help to shape the future.
Empower me to teach with love for I help to shape the world.

HAPPY TEACHERS’ DAY!


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

#2’s literature assignment

#2 was chatting with me about a Literature assignment which she did well in, and I was surprised to see how progressive the curriculum is.

Fan-fic?

They sure are keeping up with the times!

The students were asked to write a fan fiction based on their reading material “Cry, the Beloved Country” by Alan Paton, a teacher who went on to become the first president of the Liberal Party of South Africa in 1953.


Fan fiction is a work of fiction written by fans for other fans, taking a source text or a prominent character as a point of departure.

Scope:

Fan fiction takes a lot of forms and does a lot of different things. Some fan fiction seeks to close loopholes in a source text or to explore character motivations. Some fan fiction turns minor characters into protagonists of their own stories, or uses minor characters’ eyes to see a different perspective on the major characters.

Assessment criteria:

  • Your story must be unique and original.
  • Your story must illustrate some form of purpose e.g. explore an issue.
Cry, the Beloved Country

The following is what she wrote, which I thought was pretty excellent!


Absalom,

We have come far. The rally at Alexandra was a success. Soon, we will have higher wages, better hours, a greater step towards justice. It all lies with the scripts now. Jarvis will have them ready tomorrow at 9am in Parkwoods. Do me proud.


John Kumalo.


.

Absalom stood over the plantation, the racing pulse in his right temple visible just below the tiny droplets of sweat beading up across his forehead. He had the letter clenched tightly in his left hand; it was the last of the many he’d received from his uncle over the years, yet was far from what predominated his mind. Of greater importance was the revolver he gripped in his other hand and the two empty spaces in its chamber that had been occupied less than an hour ago.

He dropped to his knees and started to dig, the butt of the weapon the shovel for its own grave. Ironic, but absolutely fitting, considering the entire incident had made him feel like doing something just so.

The ordeal had begun the morning of the letter. As dictated by John’s neatly inked instructions, with his partners, Matthew and Johannes, he was to meet Arthur Jarvis under the large Oak tree in Jarvis’ yard to receive the script for John’s final rally. He thought nothing of the task; bearing the secrets upon which the cause was precariously balanced had become a normality for them.

He blamed himself now for his blitheness. He should have noticed something had been amiss from Johannes’ devious eyes, the weapons he’d carried in a dark, lumpy sack over his shoulder, the too-lithe spring in his step as he walked. Johannes was only ever happy when he was in power, and power was something Absalom knew to fear.

They had been passing through the street next to the one of Jarvis’ residence, an hour early for their rendezvous, when Absalom finally built up the courage to inquire into the revolver Johannes held. The older boy had smiled secretively and reassured, “It is for safety.”

“And the bar?” Absalom questioned, looking to the thick iron rod Matthew was armed with, with what was almost nerves, for it was clear whom the superior of the trio was.

Johannes answered for Matthew as they entered Jarvis’ yard through an unlocked gate left slightly ajar for them. “It has been blessed.” His humorless tone and stony eyes told Absalom he had the last word.

Absalom had uneasily accepted his answers as the truth, but nothing could have prepared him for the next moments to come. In a spiraling whirlwind of macabre events, he was made to watch in horror as Matthew knocked an inquiring servant unconscious and Johannes shot Jarvis when he came down the stairs. The image of the fear on the white man’s face a split second before he was murdered haunted Absalom as the revolver was thrust into his shaking hands and he was told to run and meet them in Alexandra in six hours. So he had.

He stood now, surveying his work, his breathing rapid and guilt overwhelming him. His mind sped to trace back to how it all started, how all his little desires had manifested into one big pandemonium in which he was kept prisoner. From the letters his uncle had sent him from Johannesburg throughout his teenage years, detailing the racism and the protests against discrimination which had developed in the big city, he’d grown up exposed and wanting to make a difference in the lives of his people. He’d jumped at the chance of leaving Ndotsheni when the need to find Gertrude arose. His uncle needed someone he could trust to hold goods and run secret errands, and that responsibility soon came to rest on Matthew’s, Johannes’, and his own shoulders.

He shook his head at himself; he had been so naive. John’s letters had depicted their team as genuine, uncorrupted. They were the higher power with the bull voice and the intelligent brain and the pure heart. They were unstoppable. Or so John had said.

Like he had, the natives bought into their act like it was truth itself. They respected John especially, for he was the voice and the face of the movement. What would they do if they discovered that all of John Kumalo’s incredible speeches had been written by a white man, none other than Arthur Jarvis himself?

But as it was to his younger self, Absalom could not blame them for their blind innocence. Beggars could not be choosers, and they had known nothing but empty bellies and broken minds all their lives.

Absalom began the trek out of the plantation slowly. He knew what was waiting for him in Alexandra and was in no hurry to face it. The many similar meetings he’d been to had painted an image in his mind; he could picture the masses of people under Johannes’ leadership that would be gathered in one of the dirty fields out in the countryside, could almost feel the vibration of stomping feet beneath him, almost hear the chanting cries of youths begging for the overthrow of John and Dubula’s names at the top of the cause against racial discrimination. As if they knew better.

They, under Johannes’ and Matthew’s guide, would talk about fear and power. The fear of power, and the power of fear, and fear and power as its own. Absalom had to agree that the fear of power was very real, to himself more than others. He feared the white man’s power, and his own power to do harm and, most of all, Johannes’ immense power to ruin lives, for certainly his poorly thought out strategies to achieve his so-called ‘equalized revolution’ through violence and pure force would cause just that.

Absalom’s steps slowed. John’s twisted portrayal of his team had been a disappointment, but no doubt were they doing something great for the natives of Johannesburg. Principally, never once had he heard John or Dubula say a thing about equality or violence. Higher wages, better hours, a greater step towards justice, had been John’s exact words. Equality through violence? He could almost hear John laughing at the absurdity of the idea. Impracticality was a worse trait for a leader to have than empty boldness.

Yet, in spite of his irrationality, today Johannes had shown he was to be taken seriously. Today he had silenced the real voice of the movement. Today he might have just destroyed John’s chance to succeed.

With this change of thought, Absalom began running, this time towards the vague location of the police station in town that he’d crossed maybe once or twice before. A plan was forming in his mind; he had been given the opportunity to help his people beyond anything he’d ever imagined and was willing to sacrifice himself for it. They would suffer under Johannes’ ridiculous schemes to create what he thought to be equality for them all, and Absalom could only hope that turning himself in for the fatal crime they’d committed together would bring the leaders of the new aggressive resistance down with him.

He could only pray that John’s team would be able to rise above Jarvis’ death and suppress the wild schemes Johannes had left in his wake. Perhaps after he had accompanied Johannes and Matthew to Pretoria, Johannesburg would see a new justice for the natives, after their long fight against white supremacy.

For what better way to fight power, but with more power?

__________


#2 does have a bit of a flair for writing fiction, doesn’t she? But then again, most mums are biased 😉


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

School Stories #17: No more T-score. Now what?

After waiting almost 3 years for more details, MOE has finally released some information pertaining to doing away with the PSLE aggregate score.

During his 2013 National Day Rally speech, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that the PSLE T-score will be replaced with wider scoring bands, like the O and A level exams, in a bid to reduce stress levels by not sorting the students so finely.

Now we have a date. 2021.

The first batch of pupils to be affected will be this year’s Primary 1 cohort.

Parents with children from P2 to P6 can heave a sigh of relief at finally getting an answer, and continue with their current strategies.

In the meantime, the other parents are second-guessing what is in store as more information will only be released in the coming months.

The big question being, how is MOE going to address the issue of allocating places into secondary schools when they will clearly get many students with similar grades vying for that last spot.

Already, super kiasu parents have been pre-empting the announcements and are padding their children’s resumes in the event that non-academic achievements can be used as the tie-breaker.

This would be an unfortunate scenario, as instead of alleviating the current high stress levels, it will add even more stress to the children as parents push them to achieve in these other areas as well.

Furthermore, it will widen the gap between the haves and have-nots as wealthy parents have more money and time at their disposal to ferry their kids to the best enrichment classes around, some who can even “guarantee” good portfolios.

Worse, I hope that we will never see a day when parents drive their kids even harder to attain the next band up, instead of just the next point up.

The GREY HANDBOOK

What are the changes?

So far, I’m in agreement with everything that has been announced.

– that “the new system will no longer depend on how pupils do relative to each other”, as has been with the T-score.

Strange that this system has gone unquestioned for so long. If I scored an A, it shows I have a good grasp of the material, and I’m satisfied with the effort I put in. Not only will it beget contentment and equanimity, but is a healthier mentality than thinking, “I have to score an A* to beat the others.”

– that it will only be implemented in 2021 as the ministry needs a “few years to work through the changes carefully, developing and testing the new exam and secondary school posting systems”.

Such a major overhaul is going to throw up unforeseen challenges and ample time is needed to consider how the herd will respond, so that unintended consequences can be carefully smoothened out to ensure this change is indeed for the better.

– that “a five-day OBS (Outward Bound Singapore) expedition-based camp will be compulsory for all Sec 3 students from 2020”.

Brilliant. I have always believed that the outdoors is a terrific teacher, in more ways than one. More opportunities to spend time in the great outdoors is necessary especially in this age where our kids are so sheltered and spend way too much time indoors, and on their gadgets.

– that “more will be done to match students’ interests with their course of study” and “up to 12.5% of the polytechnic intake, starting from next year’s cohort, will be admitted via the new Early Admissions Exercise (EAE)”. “The EAE will assess students’ suitability for admission on the basis of their aptitude, talents and interests in the courses they are applying for. This could include interviews, aptitude tests and portfolios”.

Tertiary education admission is an important part of the whole equation, as parents would be reassured of the chances of their children entering their chosen fields, and has to be carefully administrated.

All good changes in the right direction. But how does that solve the problem of the high stress levels and parents’ unrelenting chase for sought-after-schools?

Nothing will change if mindsets don’t change.

It baffles me how on one hand, parents are waiting with bated breath to see what alternatives the MOE will come up with, yet whenever new policies are introduced, they will try to find ways to maximise their child’s chances and look for loopholes to squeeze their children into schools which they perceive as ‘good’.

There will always be a tier of parents who are aiming for the creme de la creme list, believing that the elite schools and the benefits that come with them will outweigh any cost or sacrifice, whether on their part or their child’s.

So be it.

However, for the great proportion of parents who wish there was a better way, a way where they can walk away from this academic arms race, yet not short-change their children, here’s what can be done.

Make the majority of schools desirable to the majority of students and parents, to spread out the demand.

What do I mean?

Let’s just pretend that this year, #4 were to score 250 for her PSLE. I would strongly encourage her to go to the same school as her 2 older sisters even though the cut-off point is 230.

I have witnessed first-hand how the school has shaped #2 over the past 4 years, and as a Parents’ Support Group volunteer (aka opportunity to watch her interact with her peers, have informal chats with her teachers and even her Principal), I have journeyed with her closely to know that she has imbibed much more than academic knowledge.

From their specialised Learning for Life programme which every student went through from Sec 1 to Sec 4, to the vast number of leadership opportunities to nurture them, the dedication of so many caring teachers (which I can write a whole post on) and the “looking-out-for-one another” culture amongst them, I have been converted to a loyal supporter of their school.

The branding and identity of each school has to be that strong.

This entails a two-pronged approach.

The first aspect would be for every school to have a specialised programme which benefits every single one of their students, not just a select few, and the second but equally important part, is to market these programmes well to both the students and parents.

And guess what?

All our secondary schools already have these wonderful unique programmes running!

Surprised?

Here’s what else our Acting Education Minister Mr Ng Chee Meng announced recently:

“(The next few years) will give parents and pupils the chance to understand and adjust to the new system. In the process, secondary schools will develop strengths and specialised programmes. This will allow students to choose a school that is a good fit for them”

In 2013, then Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said that all secondary schools will offer two distinctive programmes by 2017 to develop students beyond academics.

One is an applied learning programme to help students see the relevance of what they learn and the second, a “learning for life” programme to develop character and skills such as teamwork through activities like a school expedition.

The problem is, not many parents are aware of these programmes.

I still remember the process I went through with #1 and #2 when we had to pick 6 schools after the PSLE results were out.

We took out THE GREY HANDBOOK which listed all the secondary schools alphabetically.

As with many parents, the order to select a school went more or less like this:

1) Brand name (Let’s just see.. WOAH!)

2) Cut-off point (We’ll flip around and highlight those that are close)

3) Distance (Narrow down the search of eligible schools by distance)

4) CCAs (Check that the shortlisted schools have CCAs he/she intends to join)

5) Details of programmes (Read about the specialised programmes and awards. With 165 pages of details of schools, we were overwhelmed and read only those we shortlisted)

6) Friends (All the better if possible to be in the same school)

We visited the various open houses and surfed the websites of the schools we were keen on. Problem was, we didn’t know exactly what we were supposed to be looking for.

I casually interviewed the neighbours in my condo with secondary school going children and most of them gave me vague answers such as, “The school is not bad. The Principal is quite nice. The teachers seem ok. The friends so far also ok.”

Not once did anyone mention, much less rave about any outstanding programme they knew about. Yet their own kids were studying in the school!

One neighbour did mention that her son’s school has a rock climbing wall. “Since your kids like to do rock climbing, they can consider this school.”

Come to think of it, I do not even know what specialised programme #1’s school had and she has already graduated!

Perhaps MOE needs a better marketing communications team.

Enough of “Every school a good school.”

It’s like saying “Every parent a good parent”.

Don’t we expect every parent to be a good parent?

We need to face the fact squarely that every school is not the same, just as every student and every household is not the same.

The message should be more along the lines of Every school has a unique programme. Which one fits your child?

While writing this post, it dawned on me that if #2’s school has such a wonderful programme, all the other schools must have one too!

I started pouring over the tiny print in THE GREY BOOKLET and lo and behold, I am intrigued.

What sort of specialised programmes are we talking about?

If you look under the innocuous heading of “Special Student Development Programmes” in THE GREY HANDBOOK, you will see that they run the gamut from Social Entrepreneurship training, to Eco-sustainability, Robotics and Engineering, Effective communication/public speaking, Business & enterprise/Essentials of Marketing, Leadership with service to the community and even applied learning through Aerospace!

I had actually gone through the handbook twice, once with #1 and again when #2 had a different aggregate score from her sister, yet none of these remarkable programs caught my attention.

There is a lot of information and jargon to sieve through and it is easy to get overwhelmed.

Specialised programmes

We were given 7 days to make our selection of 6 schools and as a result, we defaulted to the more easily defined match of cut-off points, potentially missing out on wonderful opportunities to discover other schools which may have been a better fit.

Then there are the niche programmes.

All schools have been building up their niche programmes, be it in sports, science or the arts.

That’s an excellent way not only to distinguish themselves, but to pool resources and groom our youngsters who show aptitude and interest in a variety of arenas.

However, say I live in the East. Would it be practical for my child to travel all the way to the West for a niche sport?

It has been physically and mentally draining for my 3 older kids as training in their niche activity took up 3 days per week. One mistake I made was not factoring in peak hour traffic.

For #1, it took her 20 minutes to get to school by bus, but an hour to get home because during peak hour traffic, the buses were full and did not stop. By the time she got home it was 7.30pm, which left her hardly enough time to finish her homework and get to bed at a decent hour.

The more realistic scenario would be to look at the schools in the vicinity of our homes, consider their cut-off points and keep in mind the niche areas.

If there is no good fit, that’s where the level-wide Learning for Life programmes would come in to distinguish one school from another.

Branding Every school

For many years, I’ve seen a strange phenomena going on in my older children’s previous primary school.

It is a popular school with frantic volunteering and balloting as it is consistently in the top 10 ranking.

However, after a few years of having their child in the school, the parents are wondering what all the hype is about, and can see no significant advantage the school has to offer. And the most dismal realisation is that the stellar results were achieved via excessive tuition.

How’s that for successful branding?


I still remember vividly an article about a school which allowed their entrepreneur club students to run the drinks stall in the school canteen. I don’t remember the details as it was many years ago but it stuck in my mind.

Parents need to hear about exciting events and experiences that go on in the schools and the media can play its part.

How will we know we have succeeded?

We need a paradigm shift from the prevailing method of choosing a secondary school to this scenario:

Mum: These 10 schools (with a various range of cut-off points) have niche activities or specialised programmes that you would like to pursue, and ethos which our family aligns with. Instead of spending 6 hours a week on tuition for several subjects, let’s allocate 2 hours for tuition on your weak subject and spend the rest of your time on family activities or other pursuits.

Another way to look at it is if the child is very talented in a particular field and sets his sights on a certain school with that niche area, it would be a great motivator for him/her to work hard to achieve the necessary grades.

Hard to study all 165 schools’ information

Time to update the way THE GREY HANDBOOK presents the information.

Now that our secondary schools are rolling out interesting and successful programmes, it is time to make the information easily digestible by parents.

I had the misguided impression that the “Special Student Development Programmes Offered” paragraph was simply acclaiming their school’s merit, with jargon like highly effective programme, balanced academic curriculum, and various mentions of awards, that I gave it a cursory glance.

The way the information is presented seems to be at the discretion of the schools, and for some, it was not clear if the programmes / overseas trips mentioned were for the whole cohort or a select few.


It would be immensely helpful if parents could have a separate summary booklet of all the schools’ unique programs, in a consistent format. And after shortlisting the schools, they can refer to the handbook and the websites for more information.


A cheat sheet like this would be useful (the following information was randomly lifted from the grey handbook).

Nearest MRT: Ang Mo Kio

Type of school: Co-ed / SAP / IP

Mother Tongue: Chinese / Malay / Tamil

Learning for Life programme: (For All students) Design Thinking

Aims: To prepare students for the complexities and challenges faced in this digital age of social and economic revolution and innovation.

Sec 1: Integrated learning journey with holistic learning experiences

Sec 2: Leadership camp

Sec 3: Overseas adventure camp

Sec 4: Whole school youth carnival cum learning fiesta

Programme for selected students based on aptitude: Design Thinking focusing on Health Sciences and Technology, in partnership with Science Centre Singapore.

Niche area: Hip hop dance (I’m simply picking one CCA out from their list, as it is neither listed in the grey handbook nor on their website or I’m just not enough of a sleuth.)

Special mention: The students’ work in designing and making rehabilitation equipment for real-life nations with wrist injuries, has been showcased at MOE ExCEL Feast 2013 and the PS21 Convention 2013.

Many parents hold the mindset that academic comes first, and all else is secondary. However, I can see how these concurrent programmes actually help to motivate them in their studies, and give them vital skills which would not only serve them well in the school setting but more importantly, laying a strong foundation for them as they move on to tertiary education and beyond.

If you ask any child, they will likely tell you that the fondest memories they hold of their secondary school life are the school camps, overseas trips, or organising of events with their friends.

Why wait till Primary 6 to hand out such important information about the  secondary schools and what they offer?

This information should be made available to parents much earlier. Or at least an abridged version.

Parents can then watch out for the budding interests in their children over the years, perhaps join some CCAs in primary school or externally to see if their interest is sustained, and start to make their plans accordingly.

If more details can be provided about what the secondary schools have to offer, parents can make a more informed decision as to which school would best fit their child instead of solely relying on brand names to equate with quality education.

With more parents loosening up and not joining in the fray to enter the perceived ‘good’ schools, whatever new system that will be implemented to sort the pupils by a wider band will have a chance of success at what it aims to do: reduce the stress of this high stakes exam.

A simple analogy.

Instead of trying to use genetic modification to make all fruits look like apples (or durians, the King of fruits), shouldn’t we embrace the fact that together, the different fruits make a dynamic fruit basket bursting with colour?

Changes are happening very rapidly and our children will be facing challenges which they have to rise up to and conquer.

Are they prepared?

As a nation, do we want to be shackled by the single-minded pursuit of chasing that last mark as can be seen by the billion dollar tuition industry?

The next few years will be extremely interesting, to see how parents react to the new measures and if there will indeed be a shift in mindset.

Oh well, we will have no part in this academic arms race and go on our merry way as we have always done.

The good news is, now I know what to look for, and the secondary school landscape is looking much brighter for #5 and Kate. I’m going to study THE GREY HANDBOOK to mark off some suitable schools for my son!

Related posts:

When this announcement was made in 2013, I wrote a post “So who’s smarter”. By a policy shift, #2 who scored 3As and 1A* would be deemed smarter than #1 who scored 4As, although #1 had an aggregate 10 points higher. Much food for thought, isn’t it?



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

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

School Stories #16:The day I forgot to pick my son from school

Last week, I caught a stomach bug and was throwing up through the night.

I was exhausted and weak and drifted in and out of sleep the whole day while the kids were at school.

The hubs was away and I asked my sis-in-law to pick Kate up.


At 2pm, while lying in bed, I could hear the familiar noise of #4 and #5’s school bus dropping them home.

I tried hard to think.

What day was it today?

Tuesday? Or Thursday?

It must be Thursday.

It was the week before CA1. Was there CCA?

I strained my ears to pick up their voices.

Normally, if the both of them were on the bus together, there would be a commotion as they race each other into the house, shouting, “Me first!”

But if it was just one child coming back, there would be silence.

In my foggy state of mind, I heard some voices and convinced myself that they were both safely home.

Waiting in vain
The thought of having to drag myself out of bed to go downstairs to check if the both of them were home seemed like a herculean task at that point in time.

I drifted off to sleep.

I must have slept for 3 hours.

Suddenly, my phone rang.

I woke up, looked at the unfamiliar number, and croaked into the phone.

“Hello.”

“Is this Mrs Wee?”

My hair stood on end.

Having been slightly energised by the nap, my mummy instincts kicked in.

Something has happened to one of my brood.

“Yes?”

“I am Mrs Ong, the VP. Your son is here with me in the general office and he seems upset.”

I started blabbering, “Oh gosh! I’m so sorry! I was sleeping. I was not well. I’ll be there right away. Please tell him to wait for me at the general office.”

I tried to think. How long must he have waited?

He ended CCA at 4pm. It was now 5pm.

Poor boy. He usually waits for me at a designated spot just outside of school.

He must have stood there for what seemed like an eternity as the other parents’ cars drove off one by one, leaving him all alone.

Without a phone, he must have felt helpless and afraid.

We have a no phone policy for the younger kids, but it is something we have to re-look.

As I was rushing out the door, Kate asked me what was happening.

She had come into my room earlier to look for me but I told her that I was really sick and could not attend to her.

Yet the next minute, she saw me up and about, frantically grabbing my car keys, dashing out the door.

“I forgot all about your gor gor! He is still waiting for me in school!”

She trailed me with her million questions as she followed me into the car.

As mums, we can somehow summon our inner reserves even though we are running on empty.

I reached his school, and as I drove past the playground, I spied a boy who looked a lot like #5, playing with 2 younger boys.

I quickly parked the car and walked towards the playground.

Yes, it was my son.

Thank goodness he was happily playing with some new friends he found at the playground.

He ran towards us and scooped Kate in his arms. “Mum, can we play at the playground for a little while?”

I am constantly baffled how boys get over things so quickly. My girls would have been fuming.

Of course I had to oblige.

“Just a little while ok, mummy is not feeling well.”

As I waited in the car, the hunger, weakness and light-headedness came flooding back. Physically I felt really awful.

But the emotional roller-coaster was over.

My son is safe. All is well.

Back home, I asked #4 why was there a commotion earlier when she was the only one alighting from the school bus?

“Oh, my bus mates were shouting bye to me.”



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!

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




No appealing if you miss PSLE cut-off point

During the December holidays, MOE passed a new ruling that secondary schools are not to take in transfer students with PSLE aggregate scores lower than their official cut-off point.

So what exactly does that mean?

Basically, students who did not make it into a school via the Secondary 1 posting exercise need not bother to appeal.

Even those who miss by 1 or 2 points, just too bad. The sorting process is going to be more cut-and-dried.

Photo source: The Straits Times online

As one principal shared with me, this was the best Christmas present ever.

It takes the onus off principals to have to make the very tough decision of letting one student in over another based on arbitrary criteria.

Although it seems like a move backwards towards unrelenting meritocracy, I can see the rationale behind this. Transparency, objectivity, stopping the unnecessary hopping, minimising principals having to justify to pushy parents why another student was offered the place instead of their child.

I remember during #1’s time, she missed by 2 points to get into the school of her 1st choice.

During the decision making process, she had studied the book, looked at the various cut-off points, weighed the pros and cons (distance/friends/CCAs/perceived image of the school) and convinced herself that it was the best choice.

Lo and behold, the cut-off point increased by 2 points and she did not make it in.

Experienced friends told me, “Don’t worry, go and appeal. Got chance.”

I made a trip down early in the morning and easily spotted the “Appeal Box” placed on a table at the entrance of the school, and it was already filled to the brim!

Feeling extremely daunted, I went ahead and asked for the appeal form as my daughter really wished to enter that school. We had to answer questions on her achievements and awards, and not surprisingly, we did not get a call.

#1 was admitted into the school of her 2nd choice. I felt it was an excellent school, but she always had the “what if” thought at the back of her mind.

With #2, her aggregate was lower than #1’s even though she had better overall grades.

This time, I was wiser.

The image of the burgeoning appeal box stuck in my mind. As my kids have hardly any awards, I decided to play it safe.

For her 1st choice, we shortlisted a few schools and finally chose a school with a cut-off point a few points below her aggregate.

She got in comfortably even though the cut-off point had increased.

With #3, I was very keen on her following in #2’s footsteps as I was impressed by the way her principal helmed the school. Full of heart and very student-centric. It was obvious that they put values above academic paper chase.

Even though her aggregate was barely scrapping the bottom, we decided to try our luck as the siblings were looking forward to being in the same secondary school.

Guess what? The cut-off point rose again and she missed it by 2 points.

This time, I was very disappointed. The hubs said, “Go and appeal. She missed by just 2 points. Say her sister is there too. Valid reason. And next time if they need, let’s go and help out.”

I stared at him. He thinks we are still living in the old days, kampung spirit and all.

The girls were devastated and I told them we would try to appeal.


When I submitted the form, I was told that it could take anywhere up to the 3rd week of school to get a response while the musical chairs went on.


As the days drew nearer to the start of the year, #3 said that if she does not get a place before school starts, she does not want to transfer anymore. She would be happy to stay put, make new friends and start fresh with everyone else.

I could also tell that the uncertainty was unsettling. To write her names on the books or not. To alter the uniforms to the right length or not. To familiarise herself with the bus route and neighbourhood of which school?

Based on her sporting abilities, she was called in for the try-outs a few days before school started and got accepted immediately via the DSA vacancy with the understanding that she would participate in their niche sport and would not be allowed to transfer to another school for the duration of the 4 years.

As fate would have it, she sustained an eye injury in her first friendly match and is now unfit to continue in her CCA. The twist and turns of life can be stranger than fiction!

So, what now, for #4?

With this new directive, I would have to be more careful in selecting the school of her 1st choice after the PSLE results are out. It would be prudent to give a 2-3 point buffer from the previous year’s cut-off point just in case it increases due to demand.

Well, that’s just me, being the ultra chill mum that I am.

However, I can already hear the buzz going on.

Last year’s batch of parents were literally caught off-guard. They will be sharing their war stories with the next batch of parents and we can expect the latter to take it up one notch.

Now that there is no more room for showcasing their childrens’ CCA credentials via appeals nor any arm twisting, what are they to do?

Probably put more pressure on their kids academically as the PSLE aggregate becomes more critical because even 1 point makes a difference whether the child can make it into their school of choice.

The DSA route would also be more fervently pursued since the appeal option has now been choked off.

For the sake of the children I hope that the DSA initiative would be scrapped soon as the impact has become contrary to what was intended, and that our new education minister would push through more details with regards to replacing the PSLE aggregate with grades, as promised by our PM 3 years ago.

I was tempted to do my homework and start asking the parents I see around my neighbourhood to recommend some good schools with values which align with mine, with a more modest cut-off point just in case.

But as I thought about it, I can see that with her abilities, #4 should be able to make it into #3’s school if she goes in with a fighting spirit and gives it her all this year.

I have confidence that she will rise to the occasion. Sometimes, our believe in them is the little extra that they need.

To fellow mums with P6s, we are all in this together! It is going to be a year of challenges, excitement, and joy of watching them set targets and strive to achieve them. Jia you!

Based on past experiences with my older 3 kids, here are 6 things I will do for #4 in her PSLE year.

Here are 6 tips to choose a secondary school that is right for your child.

More related posts on school & such.

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



School Stories #14: Why do exams have to be so stressful?

The exam period has just ended, and as usual, children and parents were highly stressed.

I don’t get it.

Before I go on, let’s draw the perimeters. I’m referring to lower primary school kids. I understand the need for full revision for a high stakes exam like the Primary 6 PSLE. But what about the lower years?

To me, an examination is but an arbitrary guide to see if our children have learned what they are supposed to have picked up throughout the year, and to flag serious concerns, if present.

I like how in some other education systems, testing is done informally, where the children do not even know when it is just daily worksheets and when they are being tested.

My kids don’t get tuition in the lower primary years, and I resist giving them extra ‘mummy’s homework’. Thus, there’s no chance of squeezing in more sessions with the tutor nor piling on the home revision even when it’s nearing the exams.

During the exam period, they come home and play as per normal, and er, do things like making nests with twigs found at the playground.

#5 fashioned his own nest

They are inundated with past year exam papers in school and they deserve a break to relax and unwind. I don’t believe in forcing them to memorise chunks of information, only to regurgitate them and promptly forget after the exams are over. Not at this age.

In fact, I was flabbergasted when I asked a GEP (gifted education program) student, who was in my house, some P6 Science questions which #3 was stuck with and she could not answer any of them! (and this was barely a few months after she had passed the PSLE with flying colours) When I probed further, she replied rather sheepishly, “I’ve forgotten everything. We just cram to take the exams.”

This, we call education?

I get bombarded by questions on my laissez faire attitude towards their exam scores.

What if they end up in a lousy class?

All the better!

They will be with peers who are of a similar standard, and the pace will be more suitable.

Last year, #5 was in a mixed ability class because there is no streaming after P1. He got Band 2 for his Math. This year, he was streamed into one of the lower ability classes and he scored 46/50 for CA2!

Building a lil’ nest for Kate to play with

The other objection I hear all the time from my well-meaning friends is,

You have to push them, for them to do well.

Intrinsic motivation works way better, and it is a life skill for them to cultivate.

The kids had 4 extra days off from school the week before the exams. #4, who is in Primary 5, requested for some Math assessment books.

#4: Mum, can I buy a Math assessment book? I need to practice more before the exam.

Me: Are you sure you will do it? It’s only 1 week before your exams, seems like a waste. But I will buy if you will do it.

When we reached Popular bookstore, they were closed for stock take. I’ve never seen a child so disappointed in not being able to buy an assessment book before!

So. I decided to take her to the vendors who sold past year exam papers from various schools. They sold them in bundles of about 10 exam papers, costing $18.

Me: $18. Hmm. There are 11 papers in there. How many do you think you can complete?

#4: I have 8 days before my Math paper. I will do 1 each day. Ok?

Of course I bought it for her.

I was pleased as punched that she had finally taken responsibility for her own learning and wanted to do well. Whatever grade she gets in the end will be immaterial. The battle has already been won.

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?

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

A letter from a 16-year old who has never had tuition

I wrote a post “Is Tuition your first line of attack” about how children should try their very best before even asking for tuition. I received an email written by a 16-year old student, and she impressed me so much that I have to share it with you.

Hi Michelle,

I thought your latest article on tuition was thought provoking – and the conversation you had highly amusing. As someone who has not had tuition in her life nor felt the need for it, and whose parents strongly oppose tuition, I suppose I’m a sort of rare breed in Singapore.

Most of my peers are enrolled in tuition. It is easy also to find students who really enjoy tuition, up to the point where they don’t quit even when they excel in that particular field. While parents definitely remain a driving force in this tuition mentality, I wholeheartedly agree with your point on how some students themselves seem to view it as the “norm”.

Your viewpoint on how students should not be over reliant on tuition is, I feel, very relevant in our current society, for we are cultivating a generation of learners that require spoon-feeding. However, perhaps I can offer alternative viewpoints to some of the other points you made.

You mentioned that our education system is not able to prepare our children for national examinations without any external help. Perhaps that may be true for children sitting for their PSLE at 12, but I feel it becomes less so for teens aged 16 or 18. At that age, the main driving force should be themselves, and not the system they are in.

In addition, while Singapore’s syllabus is definitely challenging compared to say, Britain’s, that doesn’t mean the system is unable to prepare children for national examinations either. I believe that both the student and the system are equally important.

Lastly, you mentioned that you see tuition as a means of catching up when one is lagging behind. While I do not dispute that tuition may be an effective method, I believe that work should have a continuous standard of consistency – and tuition should not be used as a desperate measure. If used that way, the risks of the student expecting tuition, not putting in sufficient effort, and not being able to face adversity will increase.

Being able to produce work at a consistent and commendable standard is definitely no easy feat, but I believe that that is the true key to excelling academically. If one starts early and builds up the foundations from lower secondary, the chances of floundering months away from major examinations drops. Furthermore, persisting and learning how to overcome challenges in their academic life will never do a student any harm – especially when the real world is so much harsher, and when there isn’t “tuition” that can salvage damages they incur when they grow up.

Thank you for reading this email ; I like the viewpoints you offer about various academic processes!

Best wishes,
Claudia

Hear, hear.

Straight from the mouth of a 16-year old.

Her parents have done such a remarkable job bringing her up – instilling independence, self-motivation, and perseverance in their child. I should get my kids to hang out with her 😉

Here’s an excerpt of my reply:

A few things impressed me. The fact that you have no tuition at all, you embody the learning style of what every parent hopes their child would achieve (independent and consistent learning), and that you are able to put forth your differing opinions in such a pleasant and straightforward way without sounding antagonistic. Very rare for this generation of students.

Let me elaborate on the point of our education system not being able to prepare the majority of students for the exams.

When my eldest took her Os, she discovered that friends in other schools had very detailed notes which helped tremendously in their revision, which her teachers did not provide. Furthermore, some of her teachers were not able to impart skills in tackling the papers, which she only picked up in the last few weeks from her older cousins. There are many more examples, which led us to the conclusion that the standards of getting the students prepared for the Os differ drastically depending on the teachers and the school.

I totally agree with you that the right way is not to give our kids tuition as a desperate measure and they should study the way you do. However, the reality is different for many students, and as a parent, when you see your child still not making the mark months before the Os, you become desperate!

Could you elaborate on why your parents are opposed to tuition? Nice to hear from parents who hold this view.

Claudia’s reply:

Reading your elaboration of the education system, I totally agree with the points you made. Certainly, there will be effective teachers as there will be ineffective ones. When I encounter such teachers, I try to source my own notes from other platforms, rather than sit around waiting for good teaching that I know will never happen.

From young, I never possessed the mentality that all my unsolved problems could wait till tuition – I attempted it myself, and asked my parents as a last resort. This possibly bred a more independent and self-responsible style of learning, which my parents hoped to cultivate. They absolutely hated it when I wanted answers for something I had not yet attempted.

Secondly, there was also time, or lack thereof. My parents thought I should be spending time on other enrichments and lessons, or things that I actually liked, rather than go to tuition and get overloaded with yet more homework. They thought I already had enough of that in school!

Another reason is also, as you mentioned, finances. When I was younger, I was shuttled to a variety of lessons, none of which I regret taking, I must add. All those lessons must have snipped away a huge chunk of income – but those were what my parents consciously chose to enroll me in, rather than tuition.

The broad reasoning, however, is definitely difference in mentality, and what skills or passions they hoped I would cultivate in the long run.

I must really meet her parents. Not easy to find like-minded parents in today’s world, and they sound like they have succeeded in what I am still attempting to achieve with my kids! And for Claudia to assimilate the ideals, live it, and expound it at the age of 16, I really take my hats off to her parents.

Finally, I asked if she could share how she sources for better notes or help when the teaching is not adequate, as it would be insightful for all of us, especially those with children in secondary school.

And here are her tips:


I’m not clear how the situation is in other schools, but in mine, a plethora of platforms with different notes by different teachers are usually available. These notes are not printed by our teachers, but sometimes turn out to be more helpful in revision. Downloading such notes can be useful compared with your own – especially if the language used to explain concepts differs between both.

Getting hand-me-down notes from seniors is a good option as well. Between different years, there is likely to be certain variations made between the notes, like different graphics used, different explanation formats etc. These can really supplement conceptual knowledge and ensure no part of the notes is left uncovered, especially since there is the possibility of unspecific or unclear notes.

In terms of actively asking for help, I find that approaching a subject teacher individually might be more helpful. With 30 or more students in class, the teacher might adjust the teaching pace to suit the general needs of the class and not the individual. Going for a short one-to-one consultation, or group consultations might allow the student better clarification time. That being said, I feel these consultations will only be effective if the student has put in effort and hard work but still has unanswered questions.

I was surprised that notes from different teachers are available on her school’s website as that is not the case for my girls in their secondary schools. Sounds like a cheap and viable solution for inadequate notes, which would make revision for the Os more comprehensive.

Such an enlightening and motivating exchange I had with this very intelligent student. Many parents dream of moulding this kind of child, but few succeed and thus succumb to tuition, at one stage or another.

Thank you dear Claudia, you are indeed a beacon of light not only to us parents, but to fellow students, as testament that it can be done, and that we should not waver in our quest to develop resourceful, self-motivated children, but allow them the opportunity to find their own independent feet and taste the sweetness of achievement by their own efforts.



Related post:

6 tips to choose the secondary school for your child

6 things to do in the PSLE year


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 – Is tuition your first line of defence


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

School Stories #13:Tuition – First line of attack?

I had the most amusing conversation with #2’s classmate, C. She has been asking #2 to enrol in her Math tuition but #2 told her that I’m not allowing it at the moment, but will consider it next year when they are in Secondary 4.

C called me to try and convince me herself. She spoke with such urgency and couldn’t believe how a parent would not immediately sign their child up for tuition if they could afford it.

These were her arguments:

  • CA2 is coming up very soon. She is only scoring around 50-60 marks. What are we waiting for?
  • Another classmate who just joined managed to pull up her grade from C to B. The tutor is very good and we will definitely see improvement.
  • She needs to get her foundation strong if not it will be very difficult next year to catch up and get an A.
  • They have 8 subjects to concentrate on next year, and it would be too stressful if many subjects are weak.

I found the conversation highly amusing because the roles were reversed! A child was trying to convince a classmate’s mother of the necessity of tuition.

Beyond that, I was struck by C’s genuine concern for my daughter. What a good friend she was! I told #2 that it is hard to find such caring friends these days as kids seem to have a ‘better for you, worse for me’ mentality.

However, I was somewhat perturbed that tuition was seen by most children in Singapore as a norm, an expected part of school life, the right of a student.

I replied that I whole-heartedly agreed with all her points. However, I explained that tuition should not be seen as an easy way out.

Not doing well? Tuition!

Tuition is a privilege, not a given.

The given is that the child puts in her best effort to listen in class, finish all the requisite homework, approach the teacher for help if she doesn’t understand, and keep practicing.

And if after all these, she is still not performing, then, and only then, should tuition be considered.

Knowing her, #2 must have been either daydreaming, or was not motivated to put in enough effort for her Math. If she was able to score A* for Math in PSLE without any tuition, I am sure she is capable of achieving better results, and should not be allowed to be spoon-fed by tuition at this stage.

I also explained to C that there are sacrifices and priorities that go behind a decision to allow for tuition, especially in a big family like ours.

As the location is rather inconvenient, I have to send her, wait around for 2 hours, and pick her back. That means I will not be able to spend the time doing something more productive with Kate or the other kids, not to mention the stress of driving in peak hour traffic.

I quipped that since the tutor was so amazing, I’m sure #2 would be able to score an A if I signed her up 6 months prior to the O levels. They felt I was pushing it, but I recounted the story of how I went from an F9 to an A1 for my O level Math with 5 days of tuition. Yes, I had a pretty astounding tutor. Who happened to be my best friend’s mum. Who offered me the tuition free because she felt sorry for me.

Besides time and effort, there is also the financial consideration. Could the money spent be put to better use? #2 really wants to go to Canada to visit her good friend and I told her that if she achieves the goal I set for her, I would take her there.

I would much rather use the money for a nice trip together than spend it on tuition, as I want the children to learn that money is finite and the way we spend it should reflect our beliefs and priorities.

There was a pause on the other end. C was dumbfounded. It never occurred to her what went behind parents providing tuition for their children.

In secondary school, before throwing them the life-line of tutors, I encourage them to study with their classmates and help one another to revise, so that those strong in certain subjects can teach the others and vice versa.

Our home is always open to them, and they have learnt that cooperation is better and way more fun than competition. Besides, by teaching their peers, it helps to reinforce what they have learnt. It really is a win-win situation. The kids also learn that everyone is gifted differently and no one should feel inferior or superior to others.

Besides, I don’t want them to be reliant on tuition because when they enter polytechnic or university, no one is going to sit by their side and spoon feed them.

The big question remains: Is 1 year enough to chase up? Well, maybe not. But I have to draw the line somewhere.

If I was wiling to pump money, time and effort to send her all over the place for tuition from the time she was in Sec 1, I would definitely expect her to churn out the As. The expectations would escalate, and so would the stress.


It’s just unfortunate that even though we have a world class education, it is still not able to prepare the majority of our children adequately for the national exams without external help.

I have accepted that reality and factored it into my overall strategy.

I am not willing to let tuition run amok in our lives because it is all too easy to be sucked in to this whole ‘better not lose out’ mentality and be blinded to the opportunity cost and toil it will take on the children and our family.


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

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