A chat with Ms Sim Ann about the education system

I met with Minister of State Ms Sim Ann and took the opportunity to voice out my concerns about our education system. I shared with her that as a parent, I was disappointed in the new policy changes and that what we desperately need is real change. I was rather baffled as I have been following our Education Minister, Mr Heng Swee Keat’s, comments on the newspapers over the past year and I feel that he has got the fundamentals right, but why are we not seeing that filtered down to the policies?

I highlighted to her the problems and some suggestions from a parent’s point of view. 

1. Students – They are getting so stressed that mental health issues like depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and self mutilation are all on the rise and it is very alarming.

Suggestion: Every time I speak to a child from an International School, be it a 6 year old or a 16 year old, they tell me that they love school. Why don’t our children feel the same way about our schools? I found out that the way lessons are conducted there are vastly different from ours. We should perhaps study their system more closely and adopt those that would work for our framework. I know that the Ministry has previously sent teachers into International Schools. However, when they come back to their own schools and try to implement what they have witnessed, they are constrained by resources, time and support. To make anything work, the entire system has to follow through. 

2. Teachers – They are tremendously overworked with additional duties so much so that they can hardly cope with completing the syllabus, much less deliver inspiring lessons. The Enhanced Performance Management System (EPMS) has also been manipulated. Teachers realise that to get a better performance grade and hence a better bonus, they need to take on more initiatives and be more visible. This leaves them less time for their main role – teaching. Many good teachers end up leaving the service due to burn out or lack of work life balance, which leaves our children with new and inexperienced teachers. Sadly, many teachers start off very passionate, but the burden of the system leaves them drained and disenchanted.

Suggestion: We do not expect great chefs to do the administrative work and organise the parties. We let them concentrate on what they do best – cook. Can we do the same for our teachers? Let them have enough time and resources to come up with creative ideas to bring the lessons alive to the students. Let other people organise the fun fairs and sports festivals. Let CCAs be 100% outsourced to professionals. Instead, experienced teachers should mentor the new teachers, especially in the areas of keeping the class in order and handling difficult students. If the teacher can’t even manage to get the students to sit attentively and listen, how can they teach effectively?


3. Tuition – Too much time and money are spent on tuition. I know of children who have back to back tuition on the weekends. There is practically no more time left for family bonding. Some teachers even blatantly tell their students to get tuition. 

Solution: We have to re-look our syllabus such that tuition should not be needed for the majority of students. It is unfortunate if new parents decide to stop at 1 or 2 children due to the high cost of raising kids these days, especially if much of the cost is contributed by tuition.

4. The ‘teach less learn more’ policy – it has not been implemented properly and now it seems to be a ‘schools teach less, tutors teach more’ reality.

Coincidentally, #3 had some homework on ‘Our MP’

5. Parents – Because of the hierarchical system, whereby they are streamed from top down: IP, Express, Normal (academic), Normal (technical), ITE, etc, parents being parents will try to push their children to do as well as possible to go to the ‘best’ schools or to ensure they don’t end up in the ‘neighbourhood’ schools, which leads to much of the stress faced by the children. I agree that there are now many pathways open to students. However, this top down system seems to suggest that “If you are not so smart, nevermind, you can go down this other path”. How many parents would feel proud if their child went to ‘Normal’ stream or ITE? It is very hard to rid this ‘labelling’ mindset, so perhaps we should revamp the whole secondary education scene, into a horizontal system, recognising the different intelligences and the different ways children learn, and catering to them. 

Solution: Let us use the Primary years to sort them out. We can then stream them into different Talent schools in their Secondary years. We need to re-brand them, such that none of it is a ‘second choice’ school, but each a more suitable fit for the individual child. Examples could be:

1. Academia School
2. Entrepreneur School
3. Engineering School
4. Artistic School
5. Education School
6. Trades School
7. Culinary School
8. Design School
9. Technology School
10. Journalistic School

The core subjects such as English, Mother Tongue, Math, Sciences and Humanities should all be taught, but using different modalities and with different focuses. For example in the Design school, they can first study a product, research into the history of such products and various competitor’s products, find out about the creators, learn about their countries of origin, and attempt to build a better design. We can easily incorporate all the elements of the different subjects into one project. When a child is motivated by his area of interest, learning is quicker and more dynamic. 

We have to challenge this basic assumption: Is academic intelligence the most superior of all intelligences? Will it get the child furthest in life? If we pursue this at all cost, will he have the happiest future? A career he loves? A family whom he cares about and who cares about him? Friends who will support him in times of need? One very worrying trend I am hearing from teachers is that students now have a ‘each man for himself’ mentality. They think that is the only way they can advance themselves and score higher marks than their peers. What has this system, and the parents’ response, inadvertently done to our children?

We do not need mere robots which our system has been so successful in producing thus far. We need to prepare our next generation for the demands of our ever changing economic landscape. We need entrepreneurs, visionaries, innovators, leaders. We also need to realise that not everyone is academically inclined, and that there are multiple intelligences. And we need these different intelligences to shine if we are to push Singapore forward dynamically in this new era.


As it turned out, she was the right person I was speaking to as her portfolio is in the Ministry of Comms and Info, and Education. She briefed me on the direction they were heading towards and explained to me what a mammoth task it was, not only to craft the right policies but to move the whole system to align with their new direction. She said that the Ministry valued the opinion of parents and is trying to reach out more effectively. She also mentioned that the Ministry is serious about equipping teachers and schools to bring out the best in different students. However, it is a long journey and parents’ feedback is most welcome.

After 9 years of being disappointed in our education system, I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. (Although I can foresee it to be a very, very long tunnel) I will give Mr Heng and his team my full support and hopefully, all of us – ministers, principals, teachers, students, and especially parents do our part in forging the next chapter in our education landscape. I have been invited to a dialogue session on education with Minister of State Sim Ann. I am looking forward to it and I hope that we can all have open minds and do our part to craft a truly world class education system. If we can transform Singapore into a first world country in one generation, I don’t see why we can’t transform our education system in one decade. Let us all rally together to move this mountain.


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

So who’s smarter?

In the recent announcement on education changes, they are going to replace T-scores with grades in a bid to reduce stress. (I seriously doubt their goal will be achieved).

Let’s see what the implications are:

#1 had an aggregate of 240.
#2 had an aggregate of 230.

As a result, we all felt that #1 is smarter.

I even told #2 that as she did worse than her sister, she has to end up in a “lousier” school. (I can’t believe I seriously said that.. worse, I can’t believe I felt that way!)


With the new changes, the PSLE will be based on a grade system, much like the ‘O’ levels. Let’s look at their grades.

#1 had 4 As.
#2 had 3 As and 1 A*.

Just by a policy shift, #2 is now smarter!
She would have been able to enter the ‘better’ school.

#1’s aggregate was 10 marks higher than #2, which is significant. And yet, under the new system, she would have fared poorer. Honestly, I don’t think this move will reduce any stress in the children. The parents will just end up figuring out how to beat the new system and how to find strategies to give their kids the best grades.

This really got me thinking.

1) So who actually IS smarter?

2) Why are we even labelling our children as ‘smart’ or ‘not so smart’ based on some written/oral exams.

3) Are the ‘smart’ children good in other areas? Are they better at problem solving? Better at thinking out of the box and coming up with new ideas? Better at communicating and selling their ideas to other people? Better at designing functional and aesthetically pleasing structures? Or are they merely better at memorising the required answers and reproducing them?

There are so many other smarts. Some pre-schools are based on the philosophy of multiple intelligences. Maybe it’s time our schools adopt this multi-faceted approach towards teaching and testing our children.

We got it all wrong. Education should not be about competition, to squeeze the child to get the best scores to enter the best institutions. It should be about instructing and stretching the child to their fullest potential in the areas of their interests and natural talents so that they are equipped to perform work in an area which they are gifted at. Look at those extremely successful people in any field. Why are they so successful? They have been guided and encouraged in what they are good at and interested in thus they excel in doing their life’s work. They are doing what they are meant to do. That, as parents, is our job. To look for the gifts in our children and to let it bloom. Instead of looking for the best tuition centres to get the best marks for PSLE.

I have never put much emphasis on the PSLE as I have long realised that our Singapore education system is only single-faceted. I think these questions are food for thought. If all parents stop to ponder these questions and groom their children in areas they are naturally smart in, maybe it will be a collective step towards a less stressful and more fulfilling life.

Sane tip: Knowing your child’s strengths and weaknesses and styles of learning will reduce a lot of stress for you. You cannot expect a square peg to fit into a round hole. I give you an example. #3 is a brilliant child, able to think out of the box and is highly logical. However, she does not do well academically. Do I get stressed? No. I lower my expectations in the academic arena but I have high expectations for her in life. She has high EQ, thinks very quickly on her feet, and is very resourceful. I am not stressed, and neither is she.

Save tip: I have saved a lot of money by not sending them to tuition. The extra money saved from 3 kids can easily raise the other 3 kids!

~ mummy wee – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

A chat over breakfast… Think before you choose a school

Met up with my old neighbours (the playgroup mummies) for breakfast at the Grandstand. They suggested Paul at Taka which I had tried once and felt was not impressive. I prefer Maison Kayser as I had a lovely breakfast at the Scotts square branch a while ago. We decided on the Grandstand outlet as it was more convenient for everyone and parking was free. The Grandstand does have a lot of eateries but not many are open at 10am.
















We ordered all their ‘best seller’ items to share. We were slightly disappointed as we did expect a little more from such a renown French bakery. My experience at the Scotts square branch was better, I guess because they had a menu serving hot food plus the lovely ambience!

















Anyway, we did have a lovely relaxed morning catching up… about school, the ridiculous fact that they are not able to complete the syllabus before the exams (what’s new) and a couple of other gripes, about how to talk to our kids about the birds and the bees (some of our kids were asking those questions at P3!), about the P1 registration (this year they allow online registration, so when you go to the school to suss out your chances, the numbers on the board does not include those via the internet). Our kids are in different schools – top schools, mission schools, neighbourhood schools so we can do a comparison and we do see that there are differences in the schools.

One neighbour shared with us her decision to put her daughter into the neighbourhood school instead of one of the top 10 schools (both are in our vicinity). Her husband is an expat and after visiting both schools, this is his verdict: 

The top school: Too academically focused, very limited CCAs available, especially for Sports, and the school has a somewhat cold atmosphere. 

The neighbourhood school: The kids looked happy; talking, laughing, running about (it was recess time), there were many more options with regards to CCAs and the school felt more welcoming and seemed like a better place to study in.

To him, the choice was clear. It was a more holistic, happier environment to put his daughter in. I hope many more parents are able to have an open mind when choosing a school for their children. They should take the trouble to find out more about the schools in their area and consider which one is a better fit for their child, instead of just following the crowd and trying their luck at the most popular schools. 

Afterall, it is a known fact that most of the top schools allocate their better teachers to the top classes in a bid to improve their ‘above 250’ scorers. And that they give them such tough exam papers at the P5 level resulting in many students failing… which leads to parents looking for tuition to improve their grades. Much of the stellar results in top schools are actually a result of tuition, not the schools themselves. In #1‘s school, there was a teacher who was known to tell all his students on the first day of school. “I expect every one of you to get tuition for this subject.” Wow. Talk about delegation.

I myself have realised my narrow-mindedness in the way I made my decision on choosing a Secondary school for my children. I will share about that shortly.

We had a bit of time after breakfast before picking our kids up, so we walked over to Pasarbella, the oh-so-cool market which I love!

















I wanted to check out Pantry Magic which was closed the last time I was there. The things are nice to look at but rather pricey. I ended up getting myself a cherry pitter! It’s not cheap at $11.20, but if it can save me a lot of time cutting out the seeds for them, it’s worth the money.

















There’s also a hair salon for kids, which will set you back $18 per cut. I’m glad my hubby is pretty nifty with the scissors. He cuts my son’s hair at home. 
















If you have a free afternoon, this is a lovely place to stroll and window shop. The displays are all so charming. I’ve been here a couple of times but it’s still nice to wander around.

Organic fruits



















At one corner, there is a Japanese outlet selling sashimi and fresh seafood where you make your selection and they cook it for you. Look at this fish with the goggle eyes!

This is an Alfonsino fish


Sane tip: There’s an indoor playground upstairs – Fidgets. You can drop your kids off to play (if they are independent enough) while you have a lovely stroll around the market.

Save tip: None here!

~   mummy wee – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore  ~

Education changes? Please, we need real change

If anyone did catch my comments on 93.8Live yesterday on the new DSA admission criteria, it was only a snippet of what I shared with the interviewer. We have to seriously consider this new admission criteria from the child’s point of view. Imagine the child enters an elite school based on qualities such as resilience, drive and leadership. Will he be able to cope academically? How will his self-esteem be affected if he is surrounded by peers who learn at a pace much faster than himself? If he is not able to cope, will he be able to afford tuition to catch up? Also, will he be able to fit in socially? And if after a year he does not fare well, will the teachers take kindly to him? After all, he is not contributing to the school like the others who enter through a sports DSA.

To be honest, I was sorely disappointed in the changes announced. Yes, I agree they are a step in the right direction. But after dialoguing with hundreds of parents and educators over the past few months, surely they can do better than this? They seem to be implementing a Band-Aid solution to immediate problems and pressures from parents. Not fair for those without links? 40 definite places. Top schools only for the elite? Admit some with character. T-scoring too stressful? Broaden the grading.

We need to go back to the basics.

1) In today’s climate, what should our education strive to achieve?

2) Are they achieving it?

3) Are there any serious problems as a result of our current education system?

1) There is no doubt that our education system worked well in the past, to get a whole generation of people educated to build up our country. However, now that things are in place, what is the next step? We need innovators. We need thinkers. We need our children to develop a questioning mind. We need them to be able to work as a team, to learn to communicate their ideas, to be problem-solvers, to have an entrepreneur spirit, to be visionaries. To build their character, to learn to take risks, to dare to be different. To build on their strengths, to follow their dreams. These should be the goals of our education.

2) If we continue to drill our students, get them to memorise chunks of texts and to churn out model answers, how will they be prepared for the future? How will they achieve the desired goals of our education system?

3) Our children are way too stressed. Too much is being tested and too little is being taught. Too much tuition is needed to plug the gaps. Too many passionate and experienced teachers are leaving the service due to burn out. Too many parents are giving their children undue stress, usually not by choice.

None of the changes proposed will solve any of these real problems. We also need a mindset change amongst the parents.

What is happening to our children? The PSLE year is just ‘so stressful’. Their minds go blank during PSLE due to the extreme pressure to perform. The number of children seeking help at IMH for anxiety and stress related illnesses is climbing. There are children contemplating suicide before major exams. Even if 1 child commits suicide due to academic pressure, that is 1 child too many. What are we waiting for?

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


Why should they read?

We all know that we should be reading to our babies from as young as possible. We discuss which is better: zoo phonics, jolly phonics or letterland phonics. We ask perspective kindergartens at what age will my child be able to read. But have we thought about why we want our kids to read?

Is it to enter Primary 1 well-equipped to handle the worksheets? Is it the better their command of English, the higher they will score at PSLE? Or the better their results, the better their future career prospects? It is only when you know why you want your child to read, can you decide on how you want your child to learn to read. 

Our home library

Here’s my story on their ABCs…

#1 started kindergarten at the age of 3. I knew we had to send our children to kindergarten but was totally unaware of this whole enrichment business out there as I had no interactions whatsoever with other mummies. As we were the first amongst our siblings and friends to have children, I didn’t have anyone to turn to for advice.

Before long, I made friends with my daughter’s best friend’s mummy. She asked me what enrichment I was going to sign my daughter up for, as the school offered a different enrichment after school every day. I was surprised. “Enrichment? What for? Is it good?” She said it doesn’t matter whether it is good or not as they will still learn something. Her rationale was that as she was busy working the whole day, it was at least better than letting her daughter watch TV at home. Her daughter had the whole array of enrichment classes, including phonics. She could read well enough by the end of N2.

My daughter on the other hand, could hardly read a single word even at the end of K1. She was having a miserable time in school as the teacher would ask the children to name 5 things beginning with the letter ‘S’ and she was the only one who couldn’t. She would be punished by being made to stand at the corner of the class. I was shocked. I couldn’t understand why the teacher punished my daughter for not knowing when she was the one who had been teaching her the whole of that year. In fact, shouldn’t she be angry at herself for not being able to have taught her well? 

I started to find out why all the other kids were better than her and was surprised to discover that almost all of them had phonics enrichment outside of school. I also learnt that many of the parents were involved in their kid’s education, meaning they either read to their kids frequently or made them do assessment books at home (yes, at the age of 4 or 5). I thought to myself, ok, things must have changed tremendously from my day when anything to do with school was confined to school. I have to admit I felt rather disconcerted that we seemed to have to ‘top up’ more work just to get by, on top of what was taught in kindergarten.

Anyway, I pulled her out of that kindergarten and transferred her to a Catholic kindergarten. Things were very different there. The whole atmosphere was different. The pace was slower, the children were calmer, the teachers were more loving. And nobody was punished for not knowing their work. I was happy and so was she. Then came shock number 2. She enrolled for Primary 1 and we went for Orientation day. As all the excited K2 students streamed into the hall, I could hear them reading quotes off the walls. They could read words like “wisdom”, “praise” and “diligence”. I was dumfounded. #1 couldn’t even read “Cat”.


I called up my one and only ‘mummy’ friend. I related the incident to her and she gave me a whole spiel about how #1 will lag behind if she can’t read. It will snowball and she will find it hard to catch up and her self-esteem will be affected. She will also have difficulties with Math as she would not be able to read instructions like “Underline the bigger objects”. She recommended a phonics centre and I signed #1 up the very next week. In 2 months, she was able to read fluently enough for P1 standard.

I started getting concerned about #2 who was then in K1, and monitored her reading. Luckily she had an enthusiastic young teacher who followed their class up from K1 to K2. She was very diligent and was able to get the whole class prepared for P1. Not only could #2 read well, but she was able to write simple sentences on her own! I was relieved.

When #2 went to P1, I attended a dinner at her school. At our table was an English tutor of 20 years who previously taught at a prestigious primary school. She was sharing with us parents that there is no point in drilling our children with assessment books. It is much better to get them to read vocariously as they will then have a very strong foundation on which to build on. She kept telling us to get our kids to read, read, read.


So that was just what I did. I told #2 that she had to start reading. I did not have time to read to her as by then I had 5 kids under the age of 8. You can imagine how crazy things were around the house. I bought her a lot of books and she read everyday. Her aunt knew she loved reading and bought her a French classic children’s book called ‘Nicholas’ which was translated into English. When she visited again about 2 weeks later she enquired if she had finished reading the book so that she could purchase the sequel. #2 replied, “Yes, I have finished reading it… 3 times.” She went on to read classics like Anne of Green Gables, Heidi and Little Women.

Sadly, #1, #3 and #4 did not pick up a love of reading as they were not introduced to books from young. As for #5, things started getting less chaotic when he was around 2 years old. By then I knew how important it is to read to your child. I also had more time to spend with him in the mornings as the other 4 were in school. So I read to him every morning. We would go to the library and borrow heaps of books. He loved being read to. He would gather a pile of about 10 – 15 books each day and plonk them on the sofa. We read for about 30 – 45 mins each time.

I read the stories straight through without talking about the pictures or discussing the characters. His teachers commented that he had a nice rhythm to his reading. Most of the other children could also read well, but they sounded flat. That must have been a result of listening to me read to him all the time. He also did well in journal writing as he was brimming with ideas. Reading gave him a wide vocabulary and a whole pool of ideas to draw from. 

So now, why do I want Kate to be able to read?

I have decided that besides the undeniable need for her to be prepared for primary school and to fare well in her future exams, I want her to grow up to love and embrace reading. To be excited to open a book, to discover a different world within. To broaden her mind, to read a wide variety of subjects. To question what she is reading and to draw her own conclusions. To discuss with like-minded individuals what she has read. To be immersed in the richness of poetry. To enjoy reading Bronte, Dickens and Hemingway. For time to stand still when she reads.

What strategy am I going to employ with Kate?

I’m not going to be caught up about whichever type of reading method they use at the pre-school I will enrol her in. I will be wary however if her teacher makes reading a bore or a chore. But ultimately, as with most things, reading begins at home.

I will: 

  • Read aloud to her daily (But not just straight through. I will share how to read to her in another post)
  • Expose her to all genres of books
  • Make a trip to the library a monthly family routine
  • Have regular reading sessions with her (we can find a lovely picnic spot, she reads her book and I read mine)
  • Never make reading a punishment or a bribe
  • Ensure she reads good books, both in language and content

Sane tip: When your child loves reading, she can spend hours by herself immersed in her book. You can either read with her (ah, how relaxing) or you are free to do your own thing.

Save tip: Our local libraries are quite impressive these days. Check out the children’s section at the Central Public Library at Bras Basah. Form book circles with other mummy friends. Each family can purchase a series of books and then swap them around.

Other related posts:

Tips for reading with your child
Help! My toddler refuses to read
The Groovy Giraffe – Great books at great prices

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

Racial Harmony Day

Last week, #4 volunteered me to help out in her school’s racial harmony day. To be honest, I never actually knew what they did in school on RHD. I just presumed they wore the different nationality’s costumes and that was it. When I entered the school hall, I was surprised that the teachers actually took the trouble to organise different booths to showcase the different cultures.

There was a henna booth where the kids had their hands drawn by the parent volunteers, and the older students even had the choice of creating their own designs. There was a booth where a mummy volunteer taught the students how to don a sarong kabaya. They could then proceed to another booth to have their photos taken.

There were plenty of traditional games to give the students a chance to play the games we played in our day. There were games like Capteh (whereby the players kick colourful feathers attached to a rubber base), Kuti-kuti (whereby the players flick colourful animal shaped tokens), 5 stones (triangle shaped packets filled with beans), hop-scotch and paper balls which you have to manually blow up. I was manning the card games booth, with ‘old-fashioned’ games like ‘Donkey’, ‘Old Maid’, ‘Happy Family’, and snakes and ladders.

Traditional games

The lower primary students were very excited and enthusiastic to try out all the different games. The upper primary students were reticent at first. Perhaps they felt that the games were rather childish. However the teacher encouraged them to take a break from the stress of the upcoming Prelims and to enjoy themselves. They ended up having fun with the simple games!

Many students asked me if I had ‘Sleeping Queen’ (a current card game). One boy saw we were providing card games and asked if we had poker cards. I couldn’t believe it but quite a few kids asked me “Auntie, how do you play snakes & ladders?” The parent volunteer next to me promptly answered “Ladder go up, snake go down”. To which the boys let out a long “Ohhh….”

It reminded me again that our kids are indeed from a different generation. Their experiences are so different from ours. They do not see the world like we do. They probably perceive me as ‘old-fashioned’. I am slowly stepping into their world. One parent volunteer I met told me she took leave to be here as her presence meant a lot to her child. Although I am so busy, I always leave the school glad that I had spent a morning with the children. It is heartening to see your child happily playing with her close friends. I find that time stands still when I’m in the company of so many carefree and spirited children (even if it’s just for a period, before they return to their boring classrooms). To see them wholeheartedly enjoy whatever they are doing reminds me to do the same.

I highly recommend all mummies and daddies to at least volunteer for 1 event per year per child. It’s really not too much to ask right? It means a lot to our children, and it says to them that they are important. Important enough for us to take leave from our work or from our busy schedule to be involved in their school life. Think about it: it costs nothing, you don’t have to plan anything, and it’s not all that tiring… unless of course you volunteer for the outdoor excursions like the zoo outing or the nature trail at fort canning. Sounds much easier than taking them out over the weekend!

Sane tip: I used to tell my kids, do you seriously think I have extra time to volunteer in your school? I realised its a poverty mentality. Now, I tell all of them, if there’s anything you would like me to be involved in, just ask me. I will definitely try my best to go. I realise that taking a couple of hours out to be in the company of my child and her classmates will always slow me down in my busy day. Your child will be so happy you went that she will be very pleasant company for the next few days (that’s what I notice, anyway).

Save tip: If we are looking for ways to bond with our child, I don’t think I can find any cheaper alternative than this.

~ mummy wee – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~