How did I raise a champion?

I posted about my daughter and her teammate winning the championship in an International Moot 2022 (proud mama moment heh heh) and friends were keen to hear how she did it. They know of my hands-off approach yet how did she end up in a prestigious competition, beating 140 law teams from around the world to clinch the top spot?

Her story, I suppose, is remarkable given that she’s swimming amidst the sharks. Her classmates were from elite schools while she went to mission schools and did not have extra help from tutors. She has an academic mind, but still struggled in her first year of law school. It got better in the second year and she decided to take on the most demanding module of mooting.

Her classmates where complaining that it was such a tough module and she wondered how tough could it be as they were all super smart. She decided to take it and see for herself. Talk about loving a good challenge! She worked hard and was fielded as speaker and not only did the duo fight their way through to the finals, both of them were awarded Honourable Mentions for Best Oralist and brought glory to their University with the ultimate win.

We were at the edge of our sofa as we watched the livestream. She has no speech training nor debate experience and we were relieved to see that she was confident and was able to take the heat and answered the rebuttals with poise and eloquence.

So how did she manage to get this far?

1. Don’t do the thinking for them

Thinking is a great skill! Since they were young, I encouraged open debate, and the children were free to voice their opinions and substantiate why and how they came to their personal opinions or decision. Instead of telling them what to do, they were allowed to make their own decisions, plan their schedules, all within boundaries, and they had to face the consequences of their decisions. They failed many times, and things did not turn out as planned, but failure is the best teacher.

This was a crucial pillar which helped them to look at all angles of a problem and figure out a solution. With so many kids, my priority was for them to be independent. They made their to-do lists, set their goals, and explored their interests and passions in their free time (this meant that the house was in a mess most of the time, but I could live with that!)

2. Build their Executive Function skills

Having to manage such a demanding module means that they have to be organised, focused and know how to manage their time and priorities from week to week so that they can keep up with their already hectic curriculum load.

These are executive function skills which I have been developing in them since young. These skills cannot be taught via textbooks as children have to be guided and given opportunities to practice and hone these skills through activities, games and autonomy to manage their day to day lives. As an occupational therapist, I view the child holistically so that besides academics, other aspects of their development are not neglected.

I noticed that most parents are not able to teach these skills themselves, thus several years ago, I started a non-academic enrichment centre with another therapist who had been teaching children executive function skills for almost 20 years. We have seen such tremendous change in the children who come to us, and teachers are sending their own kids here as they know that we are the only centre focusing on developing executive function skills and resilience.

We are heartened that schools are starting to recognise that children are lacking in these skills. They are unable to pay attention in class, can’t stay focused on tasks to completion, struggle to regulate their emotions and all of these impedes their learning in the classroom. We have been approached by both local and international schools to help their students and are relieved that teachers and parents are now aware that these are skills that can be developed, instead of putting labels on children as being “naughty” or “lazy”. One P4 boy said to his mum, “It’s not that I don’t want to focus better, but I just don’t know how to!”

3. Prioritise sleep

Sleep is so important, yet often overlooked. It boosts their immunity and brain development. During her primary school days, up till P6, I ensured she had 9-10 hours of sleep per night. Sometimes they had too many past year papers to do but I felt that going to bed on time was more important than finishing another paper mindlessly when she was exhausted, then going to school tired, perpetuating the negative cycle.

She was well-liked by her teachers and thanks to her suggestion, they adopted a great strategy whereby all subject teachers had to write the next day’s homework on the whiteboard to ensure the kids were not over-stretched.

Once they enter the teenage years, their sleep pattern goes haywire. It’s alarming how some of our young people are already dependent on medication to help them sleep. While you can still control the amount of sleep they get, please do.

4. Allow for playground time

I insisted they spent 1-2 hours each day at the playground, even during their PSLE year. This gave them the opportunity to practice social skills, learn to make friends, negotiate and handle their own disputes. Her siblings said that she created the most brilliant games, complete with rules and instructions. Social skills are very important as we find that the young generation are unable to work collaboratively with others.

Making time everyday for outdoor play helps them to destress from the hectic day and to let them unwind and relax. We adults need downtime, and so do our kids!

5. Small pond, big fish opportunities

The 12 years spent in mission schools grounded her in values like humility and keeping an open mind, which surprisingly were what set her apart in this competition.

On hindsight, a mid-range JC offered her a lot more opportunities to lead and the experiences gained were invaluable. Being in charge of her band, managing the morale of the team and dealing with last minute changes during concerts helped her develop the flexibility to go with the flow and not be fazed by unexpected challenges. She headed several committees and that taught her to juggle different commitments while keeping her focus sharp.

During the run up to this competition, her group mate had a serious injury plus contracted covid, and they had to do a last minute reshuffle! She had to ditch what she had prepared for months and take on a whole new case, studying 52 pages worth of legalese in a short time. And during the competition itself, technical mishaps like the camera suddenly crashing and wifi not working had to be handled with professionalism and calm, whilst they were madly scrambling behind the scenes!

6. Build Resilience

The week long competition was fierce, as 140 teams fought to reach the semi-finals. After one particularly tough and stressful round where the tribunal grilled them aggressively, both of them broke down. It takes resilience and strength of mind not to be affected, to quickly pick themselves up, face up to their shortcomings, and learn from their mistakes to do better the next round.

I believe that all children are born with their own unique genius. This child thrives on competition and has a sharp mind for facts and figures. Next time, I’ll share about my other kids who are arts inclined, and in our eyes, they are just as successful.

Our responsibility as parents is not to force them to live out our dreams, but to nurture them with strong fundamentals of understanding the value of hard work, perseverance and teamwork, imbue in them a wide range of skillsets and a resilient mindset, and they will find their own areas of pursuit and flourish, while you sit at the edge of your sofa cheering them on!

About MummyWee

Michelle Choy is an Occupational Therapist and mum of 6. She is also co-Founder of The Little Executive, a nurturing centre developing resilience and executive function in children. She is a Parent coach and Certified Professional Trainer (UK) and is regularly featured on national TV, radio and print media. She is proud yet humbled to be awarded Singapore’s 40-over-40 inspiring women 2021.

Not just one mindset to the top

If you are getting all stressed about the frenzy and nitty gritty details of the new PSLE scoring, and want a breath of fresh air, this is for you.

First, pause and take a deep breath. All that anxiety is not good for you, nor your child.

Let me share the story of my daughter.

She was a diligent child, paid attention in class, and did her homework. We had 5 young kids then, and with no time nor desire to be her tutor, we were completely hands off, except to provide encouragement.

Here grades were consistent and there was no reason for her to have tuition.

Until 3 months before her PSLE.

She scored Bs and Cs for her Prelims and I thought she needed additional help. On hindsight, it was a waste of time and money. Her SAP school had set the exam papers so tough which seemed an unnecessary and demoralising strategy.

For the PSLE, she scored 3 As and 1 A* which to us were excellent grades, all by her own efforts over the past 6 years.

However, it surprised us that even with straight As, her aggregate was 230. With the T-score system, the value of an A became discounted because there were too many students with high scores.

Actually, the biggest change with the new grading system is doing away with the T-score, and students will no longer be measured against how well they do in relation to their peers in that cohort.

It will follow the O and A level system, where the grades will be based on their absolute standards, NOT in comparison with their peers.

Anyway, back to my story.

We looked at her aggregate and chose a school with COP of 228, which was 2 points below her actual aggregate, so that she would get in quite comfortably. It turned out to be a very good school in our opinion, with a Principal who led with a heart, and very caring and dedicated teachers who went the extra mile.

She made it to a JC and there, she studied hard, played hard, and took on a plethora of extra activities like mission trips, public performances and headed countless committees.

Somehow, she managed all her responsibilities as well as her studies.

She scored straight As and was amongst the top scorers in her JC.

Many friends and relatives congratulated us, like it’s some kind of badge of honour that she was well on her path to becoming a successful lawyer or doctor and was also offered the provisional PSC scholarship based on her grades and extra-curricular activities.

Honestly, I am as proud of her achievements as I am of my other daughter, who will be graduating very soon with a degree in fashion. The funny thing is, her sister who pursued fashion had a higher aggregate for PSLE than her.

We encourage our kids to follow their passion and find their purpose, rather than conform to our pre-set expectations of the path we want to force upon them.

We didn’t immediately narrow down the top courses based on her eligibility but kept her options open and explored courses based on her interest.

It was a toss between law or liberal arts at Yale-NUS. She is clearly an arts student. She enjoyed literature, taught herself to play 7 instruments and loves performing arts. After her A levels, she went to Artfriend, bought some materials and produced paintings that were pretty amazing for an amateur!

Life-like doggie

We attended several open houses, spoke to artists, musicians, arts graduates and concluded that she could keep these interests as hobbies. She applied to law schools both in Singapore and in the UK and we finally decided that it was best to study locally as we still have 4 younger children to support through University. It turned out to be a wise choice due to the current situation.

She started school and told us how she was the only one who scored so low at PSLE haha. The majority of her classmates had scores of 270 and above.

It is not that she is a late bloomer, but most of them had tuition all the way from primary school till JC.

It was an intentional choice I made right from the start and was prepared that my kids would not have that kind of perfect scores like their tuition-aided peers. I wanted them to have a balanced view of life and to develop other skills. They learnt to be independent, self-directed learners, and spent a lot of time exploring and creating.

I aimed to give them a happy childhood, and was always mindful that the mental health of our children are just as important.

I am deeply concerned about the mental health issues and suicide cases amongst our young people. There are many contributing factors – the impact of social media on their self-esteem, high academic demands, expectations of parents, grappling with teenage issues of relationships and identity. I shudder to think that the severity and finality of taking one’s own life has been lost on this generation of young people, and the impact it will have on their parents and family. The almost nonchalant response of peers towards a life lost is chilling.

We all need to take a step back and look at the big picture. How can we bring the stress levels down? No one can fix this problem alone. Not MOE, not the parents, not the schools, nor the counsellors.

The only solution is if we can come to a consensus that making mental health a priority cannot be compromised, and that underpins everything else.

I try to support my children where I can and keep a lookout for their breaking points. We want them to do their best and not waste their potential, but not at the expense of their mental health.

Success to me means that they are always willing to try, to keep going forward, to learn from their mistakes, lend a hand to others, be a good person, develop other interests, enjoy the journey, and know when to push forward and when to rest.

this sweet child made me my fave biscoff cake once her exams were over

Being in law school is no joke. The amount of content they have to pore over can be overwhelming and they study long hours. She relaxes by baking and is getting quite good at it! We joke that if the day comes, when she becomes jaded by the profession or of having no work-life balance, she can do the trendy thing and become a home baker.

Kate will sit for her PSLE in 3 years’ time.

I am unperturbed by the new changes because nothing very much has changed fundamentally. Not the curriculum, not the exam questions, nor the number of places in each school. Yes, it all sounds rather confusing and we have to get used to the new numbers, but I view it as being similar to the O level system.

Will I re-strategise and do anything different from my 5 older kids?

The answer is no.

I will just be more careful in choosing her 1st choice school, and ensuring that it will be within the COP based on the past years because there will be a much larger number of students in that same band, vis a vis vying with students with the same aggregate in the old system.

I am indeed heartened to see some parents staying calm and level headed and not adding to the noise surrounding this change.

Ultimately, we don’t want our kids to be just book smart but to acquire all-round skills and the resilience to help them navigate life and the future workplace.

About MummyWee

Michelle Choy is an Occupational Therapist by day and mum of 6 by night. Besides the already very demanding job of managing 5 teenagers and one 7-turning-17 tween, she is also co-Founder of The Little Executive, a nurturing centre to develop children in areas like resilience and executive function. She is a Parent Coach and her signature Mummy Wee: Parenting Secrets courses help parents navigate this challenging journey. She is an Award winning blogger at Mummy Wee Blog and has been regularly featured on national TV, radio and print media.

Executive Function skills for PSLE students

We ran a series of Executive Function workshops for Primary 6 students to get them ready for the PSLE and it was clear that this is a missing piece of the puzzle in their exam prep.

The months leading up to the PSLE is crucial, and they need to be able to manage themselves, not get distracted by other things and to focus on their revision. Parents who have gone through this milestone with their older kids realised that it is getting the kids to start on their revision and to stay focused are the hardest part! It is not easy for 12-year olds to get organised, draw up a plan and stick to their revision schedule.

These are all Executive Function skills, and children need to be taught these skills explicitly. Over the years, we have noticed how our own TLE kids who work on these skills weekly are way ahead of their peers when they join us at our P1 Prep camp.

We asked the P6 students how they were feeling about the PSLE and almost all said they were stressed. Either because they felt that the workload was too much and the work itself was too difficult, or that it was hard to focus on revision when they would rather be on social media or play games on their gadgets. Some were stressed because they were afraid that their parents would scold them if they did not do well.

We helped them to gain the awareness that they could be in control of their own thoughts and actions. This was a powerful realisation for them! They realised that while their impulse may be to check their notifications on their phone, they could make a decision if they wanted to give in to their impulses, or use new strategies to stay focused on their work instead of constantly being distracted.

The students were very honest and admitted that they spent long hours playing on their devices especially when their parents were at work. It was heartening that by the end of the workshop, they were motivated to try harder.

We introduced them to an interesting activity using plasticine, and it helped them to think of all the things that they needed to exercise more self-control in.

Parents with P6 kids know that by this age, it is futile to keep nagging and forcing them to do what we want them to. They need to want to achieve it themselves, and that internal drive is what will spur them to push on despite the challenges they will face.

We guided them to see the strengths they had, to encourage them and show them that they can do it! Some of them shared that their parents only nag or scold them, and that there’s no point in studying because even if they improve a little, their parents will still not be satisfied.

Parents need to play a part too! It is a long and demanding year for our P6 kids, try to affirm and celebrate their small wins. If they come home with a 10% increase in their marks, give them a pat on the back and tell them how proud you are for the effort they have put in. The next step will be to aim for another 10% gain for the next test, and the next.

They were given hands-on challenges to develop their Growth Mindset. It was not easy to build the tallest tower and many faced failure when the tower collapsed and they wanted to give up. I heard many versions of “Ms Michelle, it’s too hard. I don’t want to try anymore.”

I kept encouraging them, and asked those who were successful in building it up very high to share their strategies. One boy explained: “You need to start with a strong base, then at the parts when it is weak and starts falling, you reinforce with more plasticine. Settle that part first before moving higher.”

That was such great advice which his classmates could learn from, and it ignited a fresh wave of motivation in the kids who gave up. Sometimes, when the project seems too huge and daunting, we need to break it down into more manageable chunks.

Isn’t that helpful when we are learning something new as well? Get the foundations strong, don’t neglect the weak links, and keep pushing forward. I loved how simply he put it.

They learnt that to tackle the PSLE they need to have that same resilience, to persevere even when the work is hard or when they face all sorts of other challenges. To aim towards daily improvement and keep moving towards their goals.

By the end of the workshops, they felt more encouraged and empowered knowing that they could control their minds and that the outcome is in their hands, and they were excited to put into action all the new strategies they have learnt.

My hope is that one day, Executive Function skills will be a part of every school’s curriculum because not all students are fortunate enough to have parents who can afford to send them for enrichment classes.

Many of my TLE parents who are MOE teachers themselves see the change in their own children and have been trying to raise awareness with their HODs and Principal because they have witnessed that if kids don’t pick up these skills in the primary school years, the gap just keeps getting bigger by the time they reach secondary school.

My amazing Executive Team

While we continue our mission to help as many children as we can to develop this strong foundation, the good news is, if you have a child taking PSLE this year, we have launched this same programme at The Little Executive so that all Primary 6 kids can have access to it.

It runs as a 2 day camp during the June school holidays, 10 & 11 June, 9am-5pm, $620. For my Mummy Wee readers, mention that you got to know about this camp from my blog and you’ll get a 5% discount! Hope to meet some of you soon ūüôā More details and to register: https://www.thelittleexecutive.asia/holiday-camps

About MummyWee

Michelle Choy is an Occupational Therapist by day and mum of 6 by night. Besides the already very demanding job of managing 5 teenagers and one 7-turning-17 tween, she is also co-Founder of The Little Executive, a nurturing centre to develop children in areas like resilience and executive function. She is a Parent Coach and her signature Mummy Wee: Parenting Secrets courses help parents navigate this challenging journey. She is an Award winning blogger at Mummy Wee Blog and has been regularly featured on national TV, radio and print media.

Let’s not hide behind the convenient “late bloomer” narrative

My son had his first Edusave Award.

Many would call him a “late bloomer”. However, I feel we should not use the “late bloomer” label loosely, because it blind sides us to the potential we could have provided for him.

Being a “late bloomer” suggests that either a child finally “wakes up” and studies hard in secondary school, polytechnic, or University, or a child’s “intelligence” kicks in at a later age. Both of which are not true in his case.

Let me explain.

My son has a learning profile that does not match our current education system. He was a very active preschooler, outspoken, curious, and the type of child who thinks out of the box and always asks “Why?” and “Why not?”

He does not do that out of defiance, but because that’s how his mind operates. He genuinely wants to know the reason why something is the way it is, or why something can’t be done. Can we find a way to get around it? Has it been proven? Only after he has tried all sorts of ways to get around it without success will he conclude that he hasn’t managed to find a way yet. Many a times, he stumbles upon new discoveries while figuring things out.

However, this does not sit well with formal education as teachers have a syllabus to get on with, and they can’t manage a class of 40 with random kids piping up constantly, even if their questions or observations are legitimate. I understand, because I am an educator myself.

From the time he was young, we could tell that he is a bright child. He had never-ending questions, all logical, but it took a lot of patience to answer them! He easily picked up the rules of games quicker than his older siblings, and was doing advanced puzzles which he found around the house.

At 4, I sent him to Act 3 for a week of speech and drama holiday camp and the teacher said that he could memorize all his lines as well as the lines of every other child in the play in one morning.

When it was time to enrol him in preschool, I was in a dilemma. Having peeked into the kindergarten classrooms of my 4 girls which were of the traditional model, I was certain that my son needed an environment that was more hands-on and developmentally appropriate. Despite the logistics hassle, I decided to put him in a school with an experiential learning philosophy with a lot more outdoor time.

As expected, his preschool teachers commented that he talked a lot, moved non-stop, had lots of big ideas, was a natural leader, was curious how things worked (yes, a nightmare for most teachers) and was very creative. His creations and designs were very complex, always symmetrical, and had detachable parts that could “fly out”. Only when he was creating could he sit for long periods, fully focused, and he had the patience to dig through the entire box to find the pieces that he needed. He could conceptualise things easily in his mind, and could visualise them vividly before they take form.

They understood his learning style, and could accommodate them without compromising the curriculum outcome.

However, once he entered Primary school, all I heard was complaints from his teachers. His education journey went downhill from there. I had a lot of calls and texts from his form teacher.

Feedback from his P1 form teacher:

He talks a lot and asks too many questions when he should just listen to the instructions and obey them. He’s unable to sit still at his desk and pay attention and gets easily distracted and ends up distracting his classmates.

His perspective as a 7-year old:

When I questioned him about his “bad behaviour” that his teacher kept complaining to me about, he was surprised. He said that she kept repeating herself and taught the same concept 3 times so he tuned out and was thinking of his own stuff. The lesson was boring so he chatted with his friend next to him. It was hard for him to stay put on the chair and listen to her talk. He wanted to walk around the classroom and find something interesting to work on.

This kind of “out-of-the-norm” classroom behaviour earned him a reputation of being a “naughty” boy, and it became a self-perpetuating prophecy.

His P6 science teacher even told me at the PTM that he should save all his questions for when he goes to secondary school. Right now, just keep quiet, conform and focus on the PSLE and regurgitate the “key phrases”.

The one and only teacher who told me that he was not a naughty boy like everyone made it out to be was a male teacher. He shared that my son was actually a sweet boy when you spent time to get to know him and to hear him out, and he admitted that an international school would have suited him much better.

With the wisdom of hindsight, of my 6 kids, this child should have been homeschooled so that he could reach his potential and not feel like a misfit.

The turn around finally came when he entered an all-boys school in Secondary One. For the first time, he didn’t feel judged or labelled, and the teachers were more accepting of their different learning styles.

Not surprisingly, his favourite subjects in school is Design & Technology and Art. The other subjects with a content-heavy curriculum are still not ideal for his learning profile, and I’m looking forward to checking out the options in Polytechnic, where it is practical based and industry relevant, which would suit him much better.

There are indeed many more pathways now after the O levels. MOE has done a lot to widen the options at the tertiary level and I love asking my kids’ friends what courses they are in! The most unexpected one I’ve heard so far is a perfumery and cosmetic science course, and other interesting poly courses include game design, sports coaching, vet science, animation and film production. More importantly, the opportunities for our children to enter University via other routes besides the A levels or IB path are also increasing.

All of that is excellent, as we nurture life long learners, but what about the precious first 10 years of their formal education?

If my son’s primary school education was of a different model, one of exploration and experiential hands-on classroom activities, he would certainly not be a “late bloomer”.

It is too late for him to turn back the clock, but not too late for us to look ahead and take this group of children seriously.

These are the mavericks who have the potential to chart new horizons for the future of Singapore in a progressively disrupted world. Let’s not systematically kill the spirit of such kids but let their unconventional genius find root and take shape.

The sad thing is, my son is now very quiet, school is uninspiring and uninteresting, and his only creative outlet is in digital games, where strategy, creativity, and innovation is called for.

I can’t wait for him to finish his secondary education and to move on to something more relevant which sparks his interest, and where he can finally bloom.

Why a co-ed school was wrong for my son, and more school stories.

About MummyWee

Michelle Choy is an Occupational Therapist by day and mum of 6 by night. Besides the already very demanding job of managing 5 teenagers and one 7-turning-17 tween, she is also co-Founder of The Little Executive, a nurturing centre to develop children in areas like resilience and executive function. She is a Parent Coach and her signature Mummy Wee: Parenting Secrets courses help parents navigate this challenging journey. She is an Award winning blogger of Mummy Wee Blog and has been regularly featured on national TV, radio and print media.

PSLE results: A test of the parents, more than the child

We think that tomorrow is a big day for the child, with the release of the PSLE results.

Actually, the role of the child in this whole PSLE business is over.

It ended with the taking of the exam paper.

The real test of the child was if they had managed to persevere despite it being tedious to study for the exams. If they had risen to the challenge, and displayed a positive attitude throughout. If they had shown resilience, and surmounted difficult family circumstances and continued to press on. If they had overcome the curveballs thrown at them over this unpredictable year.

If my child had put in their best effort, I would be happy. Because I see the PSLE for what it is.

Having had 5 kids go through the PSLE, and the oldest two now in University, I am aware that it is only testing a narrow band of a child’s overall abilities.

With a tiny sample size of 6 kids, I have observed that some children have a natural advantage in this particular testing model, while others, a disadvantage through no fault of theirs.

Furthermore, it does not test their creativity, innovation, sporting abilities, artistic talents, entrepreneur spirit, nor skills sets or character traits like adaptability, resilience, teamwork, empathy, integrity, loyalty or kindness, which would paint a more holistic picture of a child’s abilities and aptitude.

The stark truth is, ALL CHILDREN DO NOT START THIS RACE AT THE SAME STARTING POINT. So it should never be seen as a race, competition, or point of comparison. It should be taken as a sorting mechanism, for the good of our children.

Take the pressure off your child. They are only 12!

A child may wonder what is wrong with him if he scored 190 while his cousin scored 260. He may erroneously conclude that he is “stupid” or “inferior”, when his strengths lie beyond the scope of this testing mechanism.

And woe to us as a society if we dim the lights of this wonderful and varied talent pool of our young generation.

Take for example my 6 kids. They are born with different academic abilities.

Let’s use the analogy of cars. One has the speed capabilities of a sports car while another is more like a family MPV. Even if they put in the same amount of effort, the sports car will always go further and faster. But, not to say that the MPV doesn’t have lots of other advantages.

If tomorrow our child comes back with a low score, it takes courage to reflect on why we may be feeling disappointed.

Are we disappointed that we can’t brag to our friends about our child’s achievement?

Are we disappointed that this transaction which we paid for and put in so much effort over the past 6 years in sending them for extra tuition did not yield the returns we thought it would?

Or are we disappointed that our children did not put in their best efforts? If your child was not bothered, had a poor learning attitude and did not study as hard as he should have, it should have been addressed in the run up to the exams. Not now. They are already feeling the sting, and they need your assurance and love.

Even if my child came back with an excellent score, we must also be mindful of what we are praising, especially if there are siblings around. Because there are sports cars who win the race without even trying. And that is not an attitude we want to applaud or encourage.

We need to root our children in the fundamentals of what is important as they step into the future. Strong fundaments of resilience, drive, purpose, hard work, adaptability and discipline.

If we say that we love them unconditionally, our response should be no different if they get 210 or 250, if they had tried their level best.

I will ensure that the child who scored 210 knows that I see her effort, witnessed her resilience, and applaud her for her determination.

I have had 18-year olds ask me, in all seriousness. “Does my mum think I’m a grades machine?” She is only happy when I come home with a good grade.

Tomorrow, the spotlight is on you, parents.

When your child shows you those 3 digits, and they are upset because it is the lowest amongst their circle of friends. Are you able to sincerely support your child? Knowing that he tried his best?

How are you going to frame your child’s results for him? Whether he did “well” or “badly”?

The lesson and the message that a child gets from his parents during moments like this is what shapes his thinking and view of success and achievement.

I remember to this day, that my parents said to me when I went to collect our PSLE results, “What matters is you tried your best, and know that we are behind you always.”

Those words of unconditional love and unwavering support was what kept me strong despite all the daunting challenges I faced in my adult life.

Can your child say with confidence that “My parents love me for who I am.”

If they can, I say, you have passed the test with flying colours. And remember, this is just the beginning. Let their light shine!


PSC Scholarship? Wow

What the PSLE is really about

PSLE results: Good or bad, what do you say?

6 tips to really prepare your child for P1

6 tips to choose a Primary School

6 things to do in the PSLE year

6 tips to choose the right Preschool

6 tips to choose a Secondary School that is right for your child

Who is behind MOE

School Stories:

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

School Stories #4 – Things teachers say
School Stories #5 – Lessons learnt from #1’s ‘O’s

School Stories #6 – My son. There’s hope yet.
School Stories #7 – Who has an obsession with tuition?
School Stories #8 – Paying tutors $250 an hour to do assignments?
School Stories #9 – I didn’t even know my child was being bullied, until…
School Stories #10 – How I got my son to do his homework without nagging

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

School Stories #22 – My Best Parent Teacher Meeting EVER
School Stories #23 – My daughter created a winning exam strategy

School Stories #24 – Our education system is starting to get exciting!

School Stories #25 – ECHA, the mother of all awards

School Stories #26 – My teen in a neighbourhood school

School Stories #27 – Let’s not hide behind the convenient “late bloomer” narrative

About MummyWee

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

How to choose the BEST secondary school for your child

“Every school, a good school.”

Personally, I think a more apt slogan should be “Every school is unique.”

It is precisely because children are unique, with different aptitudes, learning styles and interests that we need different schools to suit them.

Every child is different¬†and I’m glad we don’t have a system where they stay in the same school right through to 16 because the learning differences are already quite stark at 12 or 13 and most schools don’t have the resources to cater to this full range of abilities.

My 5 older children went to 4 different secondary schools collectively and their experiences have been quite different.

Basically, different schools have different values, different CCAs, slightly different modes of learning, different niche programmes, different options for streaming (very important) and different opportunities for overseas trips. Read more in 6 tips to choose a secondary school.

Besides these differences, there are other factors to consider in choosing a suitable school for your child.

Big fish in a small pond?

Amongst my 6 children, one¬†is academically inclined and her intelligence suits our education system. Whether she sits in a class of 40 or in a lecture theatre of 200, she has no problems grasping concepts quickly. It doesn’t matter which teacher she gets as she is able to read between the lines and figure things out on her own even if she gets an inexperienced teacher for a particular subject. If she doesn’t understand what her teacher has just taught, she will approach a classmate whom she can relate better to or she reads up on the notes.

For kids who score well academically, your consideration would be whether to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond. By being a big fish in a small pond, the opportunities would be more as there are fewer of the same calibre fighting for the leadership positions and various openings and you are more likely to be able to build a good portfolio.

If you choose an elite school, being in an environment with peers of a similar high ability, there is a rich platform for discussion and healthy competition. Although I have heard from counsellors that the stress levels have become quite unhealthy, with rising depression, anxiety and even suicide cases.

Parents have to be ever vigilant during this period of time from secondary school to JC where our teenagers are facing a lot of pressure.

Another aspect of choosing an elite school is whether a child can fit in socially.¬†A friend was sharing how her 2 boys had very different experiences going to an elite school. One settled in very well, but the other had certain issues which cropped up. Her son said that group meetings were held at Starbucks or at cafes which went over his weekly budget. Some kids may feel inferior that their family is “not wealthy enough” for them to blend in or afford the expensive CCAs or overseas experiences.

Experiential Learner

I have another child who learns experientially. She is a bright child but doesn’t like rote learning. Pages of black and white notes bore her and she has to touch things to discover it for herself. She has a quick mind and asks never-ending questions as that is how she gets to the bottom of things.

She went to a “mid-range” secondary school and that suited her really well. Her teachers explained that because the students find it hard to learn the traditional way of listening to a teacher lecture at the front, they have come up with more creative approaches to present lessons. There was even a teacher who was so understanding and open that she encouraged them to make up songs about her chemistry concepts and to sing them in class.

Her school was big on students’ welfare and every week, the teachers would take a walk with their students one by one, and they could chat about any topic under the sun. The teenage years are tumultuous to say the least, and a supportive adult with a listening ear serves as an anchor for some of these kids who are struggling with life, family issues or school pressures.

Neighbourhood schools have their plus points

I have another child who is not academically inclined, but has great artistic talent. She struggles with school work and finds it hard to understand concepts and only certain teachers are able to break down and explain things in such a way that she is able to grasp. The slower pace in her secondary school is helpful, and I notice that her teachers are extremely caring and concerned about her grades.

After spending 3 years in a neighbourhood school, I have found 4 advantages: 

1. With the proximity, she can wake up at 6.40am as compared to her siblings who had to wake up an hour earlier. It gets harder and harder for teens to go to bed early and the extra hour really helps! She’s also the only one lucky enough to have daddy sending her to school everyday as her school is close by.

2. It has been an eye-opener as she is exposed to friends from different backgrounds and family circumstances and she has become a more appreciative and considerate child. I’ve shared her experiences in My teen in a neighbourhood school.

3. At the end of Sec 2, she was amongst the top in her level and that meant that all the different subject combinations were open to her. In contrast, #1 who was at the bottom of a higher COP school was caught in a situation at Sec 2 streaming where she was unable to get the combination for subjects she was strong in, which affected her O level grades.

4. Teachers take it on themselves to teach well because they are aware that not all students are able to afford tuition.

Do some research about the schools around your neighbourhood before making your selection. Some schools have exciting niche programmes such as aerospace, robotics or social entrepreneurship. I asked my teacher friends for their input, spoke to neighbours and attended Open Houses before making a decision together with my child.

One BIG CHANGE that is happening from 2020 is SUBJECT BASED BANDING (SBB).

This is GREAT NEWS for children like my son. Some kids have very narrowly defined strengths, which isn’t a bad thing at all, and they shouldn’t be penalised in those subjects they can excel at. In fact, it is easier to plan a pathway for him, than another child with average grades but no clear indication of strengths and interests.

His strengths have been clear from the time he was in preschool. A creative child with interesting ideas, his teachers used to marvel at how his creations were always symmetrical in shape and colour and he had the most complex and unique designs amongst his peers.

If our education system was radically changed to one of innovation and invention with a more hands on mode of learning, this child would shine!

After a year in secondary school, his favourite subject is Design & Technology, Art and Science. He has this to say about Literature: “Strange how it is English, but it just doesn’t make any sense to me.” He isn’t excited about Geography nor History, and Chinese is still a perennial struggle.


What SBB aims to do is to RECOGNISE their STRENGTHS in INDIVIDUAL SUBJECTS and to GIVE them A SECOND CHANCE.

Subject based banding (SBB) was first introduced in 12 secondary schools in 2014, but only limited to English, Mother Tongue, Math and Science. If a child was in Normal (academic) but is strong in say Mother Tongue or Math, they can take those subjects together with their peers in the Express stream.

Next year, in 2020, FULL SBB will be piloted in 28 secondary schools, and in 2022, it will be implemented in all schools. If your child is streamed into Normal (Academic) or Normal (Technical), he might want to select one of these 28 schools as he would have a chance to take subjects at the Express level, not only for the 4 core subjects, but humanities as well, if he has the ability.

These are the 28 secondary schools piloting full SBB from 2020:

1. Ang Mo Kio
2. Assumption English
3. Bedok Green
4. Bowen
5. Clementi Town
6. Deyi
7. Edgefield
8. Evergreen
9. Gan Eng Seng
10. Greendale
11. Jurong
12. Jurong West
13. Mayflower
14. Montfort
15. Paya Lebar Methodist Girls’ School
16. Pei Hwa
17. Ping Yi
18. Queenstown
19. Riverside
20. St. Andrew’s
21. St. Anthony’s Canossian¬†
22. St. Patrick’s
23. Swiss Cottage
24. Temasek
25. West Spring
26. Whitley
27. Yuying
28. Zhenghua


I am really heartened to see that schools have taken it upon themselves to innovate and create an appropriate environment to cater to the students that they receive.

With the different perspectives that I have shared, don’t be afraid to ask questions when you visit the Open House so that you can get a better overall picture of the school.

All the best in your hunt for the most suitable school for your child!


PSLE results: Good or bad, what do you say?
6 tips to choose a secondary school that is right for your child
My teen in a neighbourhood school
PSC Scholarship? Wow
What the PSLE is really aboutWho is behind MOEPSLE results: A test of the parents more than the child

ECHA – The mother of all awards

School Stories:

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

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

 

About MummyWee

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

Who is behind MOE?

Every time I give a talk on education and what it takes for children to be successful in this new era, parents will raise the issue of our stressful education system.

It seems to be an “us” against “the MOE” divide, and it’s¬†easy to put the blame on this faceless system called THE MOE.

I go on to ask parents…

Do you think there are these people going to work every morning, sitting behind their desks thinking, hmm, what new policies should we come up with to make the lives of parents and kids miserable?

It never fails to break the ice and they laugh at this rather absurd imagery.

Those were my sentiments too, a long time ago.

My eldest is already 21 and back then, I was afraid that our education system had not evolved with the times. I wondered if what was being taught in school would be able to prepare them adequately for their future when they left school approximately 15 years later.

Then we experienced the PSLE, and I thought… something is very wrong.

I wrote in to The Straits Times Forum page about why I had no choice but to give my daughter tuition for all subjects at her P6 year because she had failed everything.

This was published in 2010.

Why parents are forced to spend on tuition

My three older children are in Primary 6, Primary 4 and Primary 2 in a Special Assistance Plan (SAP) school. Having put them in such a well sought-after school, I thought they would be in good hands.

All three of them were getting average grades. However, to my utter shock and dismay, my eldest came home with red marks in all her subjects for her Primary 5 year-end exams, and she was the last in class. Her concerned form teacher called me to find out what happened. She told me that my daughter was attentive in class and was, in fact, chosen as the role model student for that year.

After speaking to me, the teacher was surprised that she had no tuition and that I did not coach her myself. She was even more surprised that I had not bought any 10-year series or guidebooks for her. (As she was my eldest, I didn’t know that just sending her to school and buying all the requisite textbooks were not enough to get by). I, in turn, asked her what was happening. She was the one teaching my daughter 3 out of the 4 subjects in school, so I should be querying her about her poor grades, not the other way around! She then explained to me that due to time constraints, teachers could only cover the basics, so the child needed to do a lot more extra work at home or to get tuition.

That seems to be the reality, as I have found out from parents of children in other schools as well. She was put into a different class in her P6 year. Subsequently, I enrolled her for tuition for all four subjects and for her mid-year exam, she achieved the first position in her class. In the end, thanks to tuition, she managed to get 4As for her PSLE. (I shudder to think what her grades would be like if I had not sent her for tuition in her P6 year). I can now understand why the majority of parents are willing to spend so much money on tuition. The system is just not delivering.

The sad truth is that parents are focusing all their energies on academic achievement, thereby neglecting more important matters like character building and family bonding, which are so crucial in today’s fast-paced and changing world. It may be a good idea to set up a forum with parents, students, teachers, tutors and the Ministry of Education to analyse the situation. Singapore has a world-class education system. Perhaps, that is in part due to a world-class tuition system.

This was the situation we found ourselves in 10 years ago when my first child sat for her PSLE.

Yes, I was THAT naive.

I was barely surviving having to deal with 5 little kids & had no time to go around kay-pohing or comparing what’s going on with other children.

We saw neighbours’ kids diligently going for tuition on weekends but assumed it was them being too kiasu.¬†My kids were averaging above 75 for their exams and I didn’t see a need to panic. I kept the faith that their teachers would be able to teach them well enough.

Until the shock at the end of P5. (Years later, I heard that some schools deliberately set very tough P5 exam papers to “scare” the students.)

Oh, I’d better clarify that it was my husband’s very dedicated cousin who tutored #1 in Math, Science and Chinese and she helped her pull up her failing grades to straight As (if not I’ll be inundated with emails asking me which tuition centre was that!).

I started investigating, speaking to every parent I came across and it seemed like the system (aka MOE) was the problem. Of course, now I know better¬†and understand why the PSLE papers have risen to such a high standard. It’s a vicious cycle and parents have a big part in it.

I’ve been on a mission to piece the puzzle together and hopefully be able to do something about it. I must have spoken to hundreds of teachers, parents, students, researchers and a handful of principals in a bid to get a clear picture. Complaining, blaming or thinking that I have no choice is futile. I’d rather find a solution or at least know that I have done my part, no matter how small.

What I didn’t expect was the magnitude of the problem and the deep-seated mindsets of parents. 5 of my children have completed their PSLE and it is only now in Kate’s time that the speed of change is picking up.

I managed to speak with Mr Heng Swee Keat before he relinquished his post as Education Minister about sentiments on the ground and I was extremely surprised that he did get someone to follow up. I was sad to see him move on as his tenure signaled the start towards a more balanced education with the emphasis on maximising the potential of every child.

In 2013, I was humbled to be invited to MOE HQ for a dialogue session chaired by Ms Sim Ann, then Minister of State for Ministry of Education and Ministry of Communications and Information.

Since then, I have met with several key personnel from the Communications and Engagement group and I can assure you, there are REAL PEOPLE behind MOE.

It was through these sessions that I started to understand the bigger picture and what a mammoth task it is to steer this gigantic ship in a new direction.

One of the earliest lunches I was invited to was with Diana Ser, hosted by Ms Genevieve Chye, ex-principal of Montfort Junior School, currently Divisional Director of Engagement and Research Division.

What struck me was that they were not there to interrogate us nor to get us to propagate anything (I accepted the invite without thinking too much like “why would someone from MOE be asking me for lunch?!”) She was sincere in having a chat with us to find out our concerns and to hear our personal stories about our kids’ educational journey.

They shared with us links to the MOE microsites about the changes. It is important for parents to get access to accurate information instead of fueling unwarranted concerns with hearsay.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ms Tan Wai Lan, ex-principal of St Nicholas Girls’ school. I was struck by how approachable she was. Over lunch, she even shared an anecdote that when she was first appointed, one of the things she had to learn was to hug the girls! She is currently Coordinating Divisional Director of Communications and Engagement group.

Despite holding such high posts, they are willing to hear from ordinary parents. Last year, I was trying to navigate the options for university courses for my daughter and when I met her at a parent engagement session, she was kind enough to share her wisdom and advice as she has 3 daughters who are slightly older than mine.

The gentleman on the right is Saravenan Tanapal, Director of Engagement branch and he has been a familiar face through the years of dialogue sessions. He has twin boys who are currently in primary school.

Besides these small group “no holds barred” chats, their team has also been organising larger seminars to engage parents and ignite ground-up initiatives.

I can assure you, they are not cooking up anything sinister behind their walls to spring onto parents. At every encounter, I have found them to be transparent and forthcoming with answers to our questions.

It was indeed a treat when we were invited to tea with ex-Education Minister Ng Chee Meng. We had an animated conversation over bingsu and toast, with Tjin Lee (Life Beyond Grades), Jane Ng (Straits Times) and June Yong (Channel News Asia).

My concern then was whether with a change in Minister, would it derail plans?¬†I remember one teacher who has taught for 30 years lamenting, “Every time a new minister takes over the education portfolio, it’s back to the drawing board.”

Ms Genevieve Chye reassured us that they would continue with the blueprint and go in-depth with execution.

We had a fruitful discussion and I love Minister’s style. He went straight to the point and encouraged us to voice our concerns which we did!

He walked us through the issues from a macro point of view and I came to understand that it was a lot about trying to strike a balance.

Take for example the bugbear of Mother Tongue exams which I raised. The majority of children come from English-speaking families and it is unfair to expect them to score well, given the limited number of hours to learn chinese in school. As such, chinese tuition has become an expected household expenditure, not to mention the disdain of most of our children in learning this “very difficult” language.

Mr Ng gave us numbers: around 70% of children come from English-speaking backgrounds. However, MOE’s worry¬†is that once Chinese is removed as a compulsory subject, the standard will slide. We concurred that it was important that our children had a good grasp of the language, but wished there were ways to make the learning more fun and the reliance on tuition less.

These open discussions helped us see things not just from our own point of view but to understand the bigger picture as well as the constraints. I began to appreciate the bits and pieces in the cogwheel and how everything had an impact on another and it wasn’t just a simple matter of abolishing something.

After Education Minister Ong Ye Kung took over the full portfolio, a session was organised by Life Beyond Grades, with Steven Chia (Talking Point) as host. It was a very respectful dialogue session, and Minister was all ears as the vocal crowd was forthcoming with their concerns and opinions.

It is not easy to please parents as there will always be differing camps no matter what policies are being rolled out. And sometimes, unhappiness about the system could be a case of “broken telephone” via our children and by the time it reaches parents’ ears, everything gets lumped together and it’s the MOE’s fault!

Early this year, I had the privilege to meet Ms Liew Wei Li, Deputy Director-General of Education (Schools) and Director of Schools, with fellow mums Esther Foong and Elizabeth Wu. Ms Liew is the ex-principal of Xinmin Secondary and mother of 2 children.

While I am excited about the move from a results-focused, product-centric model to a more holistic, process-based model, I was curious about implementation. There would have to be re-training and shifting of mindsets across the board. I hear from teachers at my children’s PTM that some teachers themselves are resisting the changes, (change is hard, isn’t it!), directives are not clear, while some feel they are inadequately trained to guide and assess in this more broad-based manner.

Ms Liew explained that with a teaching force of more than 30,000 educators, it would take time to move the whole system to align with the new direction.

All this is to be expected and parents need to be patient as we are moving from our cushy old ways of traditional education to something more dynamic and relevant.

Let’s not contribute to rumours going around, but equip ourselves with accurate information. And if you have valuable feedback and legitimate concerns, I am certain they are more than willing to hear from you.

Most recently, we were invited to lunch hosted by Ms Melissa Khoo, Deputy Secretary (Policy wing). She herself has a child in primary school. Joining us this round was Sher-Li Torrey (Mums@Work). I look forward to these sessions as I hear from different sides on the ground; parents, teachers, counsellors, employers and it is a great platform to clarify our doubts and queries.

Almost everyone I’ve met from the MOE are parents themselves, with children currently in our education system.¬†

WHY WOULDN’T they be invested?

We need everyone to be on the SAME PAGE.

While the Education Minister rotates, there is a whole team working tirelessly behind the scenes.

To each and¬†everyone¬†of them, I wish to say…

Thank you for pushing on despite the negative comments and never-ending complaints from parents, the courage to implement change, even the unpopular ones for the long term benefit of our children, and for making the effort to keep the conversation going with all stakeholders.

I have waited almost 2 decades to see change and am delighted that the tide is starting to turn. We cannot rely on our old model of education while the world transforms around us.

The truth is, we can’t afford to do nothing about it.

The stress levels of our children are getting unhealthy and by doing nothing, we are shortchanging our children as a generation.

Our ship has been sailing strong in the high seas to bring us to where we are today. A world-class education system.

But now the horizon has shifted and the seas are choppy with change. MOE has cast its sights on a new horizon, fully aware that the definition of success and education has been redefined.

I was on¬†the “us” side of the fence once¬†upon a time. But now I realise¬†THERE ARE NO SIDES. We are in this big ship together.

Let us forge ahead with one mind to craft a more meaningful and applicable education for our children and grandchildren.

Education is a key cornerstone of Singapore’s future.

Let them get on with it, and I’m sure an occasional word of¬†encouragement would be nice, wouldn’t it?

About MummyWee

Michelle is an Occupational Therapist by day and mum of 6 by night. Besides the already very demanding job of managing 5 teenagers and one 6-turning-16 tween, she is also Founder of The Little Executive, a nurturing centre to develop children in their 4Qs to survive today’s volatile world. She also makes time to volunteer with children and the elderly in her community.

PSC Scholarship? Wow

PSLE results: A test of the parents more than the child

What the PSLE is really about

PSLE results: Good or bad, what do you say?

Who is behind MOE

School Stories:

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

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

School Stories #25 – ECHA, the mother of all awards
School Stories #26 – My teen in a neighbourhood school

What the PSLE is REALLY about

It’s the aftermath of the PSLE season, and once again, amidst the relief, rejoicing, tears and disappointments, the tough Math paper is in the spotlight.

Reminds me of similar scenes over the past decade, where we were in the thick of things with 5 kids having gone through their PSLE.

Their classmates cried and complained about how it is so unfair, how their teachers or tutors did not teach them well enough. My kids, on the other hand, were unfazed. Not because they nailed it, but because they expected that in an exam paper. Questions they could do, and questions they couldn’t. Nothing unusual, nothing to cry about.

When results were released, it was all much ado about nothing as the T score was based on a bell curve. In fact, the tough papers favoured those at the top end. During the years where the papers were not that extreme, the next band of kids were also able to score well, and the differentiation becomes blunted.

However, what has changed over the past decade is not so much the fluctuations in the difficulty of the PSLE papers but how the actual questions easily surfaced on the internet and how the response of parents is amplified via social media.

It is not necessarily a bad thing, because this does help to open up dialogue; parents and experts can weigh in on the issues, which helps everyone to ponder and make sense of where we are, especially at this juncture of our education system where things can no longer remain status quo.

I can definitely see why some parents are upset at the unreasonably tough few questions.

Parents and children have invested a huge amount of time, effort and money to ace the exams and they expect to be duly rewarded.

One of my kids went to a top primary school. She was baffled how a friend consistently scored 100/100 for Math even right up till the prelims and assumed he was extremely smart. When they finally asked him, he replied, “I have Math tuition twice a week and my mum makes me do 5 hours of Math¬†every single day. I’ve seen all the questions.”

Jaw drop.

I MADE my kids go to the playground every single day. Yes, even during their P6 year.

It wasn’t just him. There was a whole bunch of kids trailing close, scoring 90+ for Math at the P6 level.

It’s a chicken and egg situation.

Certainly, the standard of the PSLE wasn’t so tough in our time. Many of us adults aren’t able to solve today’s PSLE questions. What happened between then and now?

Tuition happened.

Today’s PSLE is essentially testing 2 things:

1. The child’s academic ability

2. The family’s resources and priorities

Parents who have spent exorbitant amounts such as paying $200 an hour for premium tutors are up in arms with the twist in the exam papers.

Because when the goal post shifts, you cry foul. Understandably.

But the BIGGER question is…

Is it STILL, in 2019, the right thing to have only a singular focus, which is to direct all our energies and resources into pushing our children towards getting perfect scores by rote learning and repetition?

Or do we need to rethink the purpose of education in today’s climate?

IT IS TIME that the GOAL POST HAS TO SHIFT.

I suppose MOE is trying to throw these highly tutored kids off a little, in an attempt to suss out kids who have flexibility of mind vis a vis a robot like regurgitation of concepts without the ability to apply to new situations.

MOE is taking baby steps towards gearing our curriculum and testing methods to be more aligned with what is needed in the 21st century, including skills like problem solving, creativity, adaptability and resilience.

But many parents are confounded, “Why set such killer exam papers to begin with? It is demoralising to our children.¬†Shouldn’t we be testing what they have been taught?”

Let’s¬†imagine a hypothetical situation where the PSLE¬†were¬†to test what they have been taught and there are no unexpected tough questions. If every student emerges with As, we¬†wouldn’t be able to get a clear indication of the strength of each child.

But why is there a need to distinguish one child from another?

Truth is, we need to sort them to provide for them better.

The reality is this. If you take a¬†snapshot¬†of any primary school in Singapore on the day the PSLE results are released, it could have kids ranging anywhere from 150 to 280. Yes, even the top schools. That is a huge range, and on a practical level, a school wouldn’t have the bandwidth to cater adequately to every student.

We need to roughly sort each cohort of approximately 40,000 students without stigmatising them with labels. And allow fluidity in the system for a child to level up if he decides to put in the effort, to accommodate late bloomers and level the playing field.


We have a world-class education system, and the goal post has been stuck in a spot that has served us well until now.

We need to recognise that it will be a grave disservice to our children if we keep resisting change and refuse to shift the goal post simply because that was the only way we knew how to play the game.

THE GAME IS CHANGING, like it or not.

As we celebrate our bicentennial year, it is an apt reminder that while we have achieved so much, we cannot afford to take all that for granted and to stagnate. We need to step up to prepare our children for their future.

The world is changing rapidly around us. We do not have the luxury to rest on our past successes. We have come so far as a country because of the foresight and resilience of our founding fathers and a shared vision of a better future.

We are at the top of our game internationally, but our success didn’t happen overnight. Similarly, if we do not adapt to change, the slide will happen too quickly and we wouldn’t know what had hit us.

My 2 older girls are already in university. I have waited with bated breath (until my face turned blue) to witness the change in our education system to one that is more relevant and applicable as the global landscape continues to evolve at breakneck speed.

It has taken MOE almost a decade with behind the scenes work to get to the beginning of real change which we are starting to see.

Honestly, I am very excited to be a part of this new phase of education reforms (ok, more like gradual steps) and walk with Kate on her journey.

I can feel the tide shifting. A few years ago, when parents find out about my “tuition as the last resort” stand, they pat me on the back and say, “Wow, I wish I could be courageous like you and give them a carefree childhood but it’s quite impossible.”

Today, more parents are telling me that they believe in equipping their children with the right skills and the right attitude, and tuition can come much later.

The comical refrain I hear at my talks is, “If other parents are not going to give their kids tuition, I won’t either!” And everyone laughs.

We need to take a step back and look at the big picture.

Are we preparing our children only for the PSLE or for life?

In real life, you can prepare all you want for a pitch. But at the crucial presentation, you may be thrown a curveball. How do you handle it?

Panic? Focus on how unfair it is? Complain?

Or are you able to stay calm, keep trying and not give up?

As parents, we have a lot of control in how we are shaping our children’s outlook on life.

We can guide our children to reflect that if they have prepared well, have done the exam to the best of their ability, then both parent and child should be satisfied.

I know I’ll be overjoyed if every single one of my kids can do that for every single exam or task they attempt! Such a great attitude.

And whatever the results or failings, learn from it and move on.

We cannot afford to be myopic because by the time it is stark in our faces, the landscape would have shifted so radically that we are lagging behind on the world stage.

We have come so far. We have a good work ethic, rigour and discipline.

Where our children fall short at are skills like analytical thinking, critical thinking, problem solving, adaptability, communication, having the confidence to pitch their ideas, having initiative, an innovative and entrepreneur spirit, being able to learn independently, yet able to collaborate and work as a team and lead others.

I am glad MOE is casting its sights firmly on the horizon, and slowly but surely moving their ginormous ship in that direction.


It’s time for principals, teachers, parents and students to be aligned. We are all sailing that same ship.

The PSLE should be a check-point, to roughly allocate our children to the right secondary schools which suit their learning aptitude and interests.

In our zeal to push our children ahead of the game, have we unwittingly magnified and distorted the meaning and impact of the PSLE into something so unnecessarily frightening for our children?

It has turned into a monster of a high stakes exam. Let’s slay this monster, together.

The chill parents can’t do it alone. Neither can MOE (they say it’s one step forward, two steps back. No prizes for guessing who is pushing back!) Seriously, everyone¬†needs to come on board.

If we don’t let up, something will. And woe to us if it’s the mental health of our children. At a national level, the anxiety, depression and suicide rates are something that should be a concern of every stakeholder involved.

Are we raising a strawberry generation or do we want to raise a generation of resilient children who are able to define and chart their own successes?

Let us not miss the forest for the trees.


About MummyWee

Michelle is an Occupational Therapist by day and mum of 6 by night. Besides the already very demanding job of managing 5 teenagers and one 6-turning-16 tween, she is also Founder of The Little Executive, a nurturing centre to develop children in their 4Qs to survive today’s volatile world. She also makes time to volunteer with children and the elderly in her community.

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My teen in a neighbourhood school
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What the PSLE is really aboutWho is behind MOEPSLE results: A test of the parents more than the child

ECHA – The mother of all awards

School Stories:

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

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