Diary of a PSLE mum: Targets and Action Plan

People have been asking what’s my strategy on handling my kids during their PSLE year.

How I can stay calm and relaxed, yet manage to bring their dismal scores to straight As, with the kids enjoying the ride. Sounds like a tall order, doesn’t it?

I’ve decided to chronicle #4’s P6 year, which would also serve as a beautiful journal for her last year in primary school.

I believe that the first step is their mentality. If they are motivated and willing to work hard, half the battle is won.

#4 is all psyched up and excited to embark on this final year, where the scores do matter to a great extent.

There’s a sense like finally, now it’s my turn!


She had spent the December holidays getting her room in order, personalising stationery and making sure everything is neat and tidy and conducive for studying.

PSLE diary

So where does she stand?

She scored 74 for English, 44 for Chinese and 61 for both Math and Science.

Yup, lots of room for improvement, especially Chinese.

My expectations for her are to get an A for all 4 subjects and here’s why.

English:

She has always been reasonably strong in English and I hope that she can get a high A to help pull up her overall aggregate. She has never had an interest in reading and the only thing she reads is my blog and some of #5’s books which I don’t really approve of.

Action: Encourage her to read daily, with a wider variety of genres. Their English tutor who handled the older 3 girls has agreed to teach #4 so that’s settled.

Chinese:

All my kids are weak in Chinese because we don’t speak the language at home so she needs to put in a lot of effort this year. She has dropped to lower Chinese and hopefully in this banded class, she is able to progress with students of her similar ability instead of struggling with higher Chinese last year.

Action: She definitely needs Chinese tuition asap to brush up on her oral skills, composition and comprehension. Their aunt has done an amazing job tutoring the older 3 and managed to pull up their grades from borderline passes to As, so I’m hopeful #4 is able to achieve it as well.

Math:

She needs to keep pace with what is taught in school and not let her confusion with certain topics escalate. A lot more time has to be spent on drills to improve her accuracy and speed.

Action: Her aunt will be free to coach her once a week after Chinese new year and give her individual attention to spot her weak areas and explain concepts which she is unable to grasp in class.

Science:

From experience with the older 3 kids, I realise that to do well in the Science paper, not only do they need to understand the concepts but they have to be guided on the key words to use when answering the questions in order not to lose marks.

Action: I am keeping an eye out for a good Science tuition for her to recap the concepts learnt from primary 3 to 5 and to guide her in tackling the paper.

So far, the amount of homework given has been reasonable and she still manages to squeeze in 1 hour of playground time and get to bed by 8.30pm.

The year is going to move along very quickly and I hope her enthusiasm and stamina holds out!

Related posts:

6 things to do in the PSLE year

What I expect from a good tutor



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


No appealing if you miss PSLE cut-off point

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

So what exactly does that mean?

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

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

Photo source: The Straits Times online

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This time, I was wiser.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

So, what now, for #4?

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

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

However, I can already hear the buzz going on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More related posts on school & such.

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



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

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

I don’t get it.

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

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

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

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

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

#5 fashioned his own nest

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

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

This, we call education?

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

What if they end up in a lousy class?

All the better!

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

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

Building a lil’ nest for Kate to play with

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course I bought it for her.

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

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

School Stories #12: DSA. Yet another initiative parents have warped

The extent that parents would go to try and secure a place for their child in the school of their choice via DSA seems to have reached new heights. Some parents start serious training for their kids from the time they are in primary 1 while others sign their kids up for DSA-related enrichment courses to equip them with skills to ace the interviews.

I first heard about it 8 years ago when #1 was in P4. A group of us parents were sharing how worried we were that the cut-off aggregate for the schools we were keen on were out of reach for our kids with their mediocre grades.

A more experienced mum shed light on us ignorant newbie parents that there was this route called DSA which had recently been implemented. Our eyes lit up as this seemingly whole new opportunity opened up before us and we started to consider what sporting prowess our kids had.

MOE website


For the uninitiated, the Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme was introduced by MOE in 2004. The rationale being:

 
Schools with distinctive programmes can participate in the DSA-Sec Exercise, to admit up to 5% of their Secondary One intake on a discretionary basis to benefit students with strong interests or aptitude in these distinctive areas. This gives schools with distinctive programmes greater flexibility in student admission so as to allow a more diverse range of student achievements and talents to be recognised. It also gives due consideration to abilities not fully assessed in the PSLE.
 
Seemed like a fair initiative. However, as with most policies, kiasu parents manage to turn it the other way around. Got loophole to get into the school? Let’s go all out and try!
 
The group of us continued our very animated conversation and ‘helped’ one another to narrow down some possible CCAs. For #1, it seemed like squash would be her best bet. She has good ball sense, squash courts are available in our condo, the school that I was hoping she could get into offered squash via DSA, and their coach happened to be giving private lessons at our condo. 
 
Sounds like a plan!

I contacted the coach to arrange for a trial. He agreed that she had good ball sense and was agile. What she lacked was stamina, which could be built up. #1 enjoyed the game and looked forward to the weekly lessons.

After a few months, she improved by leaps and bounds and I asked the coach for his assessment. He said that she had the potential, and if we wanted a shot at DSA, she would need more intensive training and we would have to increase the lessons to 3 times a week, for 1.5 hours each. In addition, she had to run 2.4km on her own on the other non-training days. And that was for starters.

Was he trying to groom an Olympian? Not only did it sound like a financially draining plan, but where would she find time for all of that? There was so much more I wanted for them in their childhood years.

I gave the issue some serious thought. What were our priorities? Would we allow this to take precedence over other activities if things clash? Would the rest of the family have to work around her schedule? What about financial considerations? Is it justifiable? Would she be able to cope with both the academic and sporting demands during her P6 year? What do we do if she starts to crack under the pressure? Allow her to give it up?

So many questions came to mind and try as I did, I could not align myself with this strategy. I could foresee the possibility of reaching a stage where we would be at the mercy of this sport because of the effort and money which had been thrown behind it, and it would be too late. I didn’t want to embark on something I could not sustain comfortably for the whole family.

I am happy for our kids to pursue any interest with no strings attached, but I didn’t want to be held ransom to a choice I allowed to be made. With a big family, I had to be very focused on our priorities. I was also very aware of the underlying values being taught to the kids through our decisions. I didn’t think ‘spending excessive time and money through sport to gain entry into a school’ made the cut. If she was extremely gifted in it, that would be different.

Moreover, I didn’t want her to face a day where she would feel that she was a failure because she didn’t perform well enough to gain entry into the school. Because that is not what sport is about.

Before I decided to write this whole idea off, I wanted to get the complete picture. I called up the school we were eyeing on, and asked them how many places were they offering via squash DSA. The officer couldn’t give me an answer, but when I kept pressing her, she said probably 1 or 2.

Great. Thanks for making the choice easier for us.


Over the next 8 years, I watched as friends put their kids in competitive CCAs and ferried them around for extra ‘outside’ lessons and competitions to boost their skills.

The kids could sense that their parents are very stressed about their performance, and sometimes, it seems like all that matters to their parents are their achievements. If you hang around elite coaching centres, the atmosphere is tense.

It is no wonder that some kids start to feel that life seems to be one big competition. Everyone is fighting for limited opportunities. We have to win, win, win. Childhood is tough. Life is stressful.

Over the years, as I listen to some of my close mummy friends discuss the intricacies of DSA and plot their strategies, I did question if I was not trying hard enough to support my kids. However, what stops me from joining in the fray is that I have made my decisions based on our priorities and values.

I watched on as some of my friends’ kids managed to get into top schools via DSA. The stress doesn’t end there. In fact, it worsens. They find it hard to cope with the pressure and their self-esteem may be affected. It is not easy for students with an aggregate of 210 to keep up with classmates with aggregates of 260. They end up needing a lot of tuition to catch up, and with training days, there is not enough time to fit everything in. These poor kids are exhausted.

When friends ask me for advice if they should try the DSA route, I point out another angle which they usually miss. At the end of Secondary 2, the students have to choose their subject combinations (in almost all schools). If your child is at the bottom band, he may not be able to select the subjects he wants because those with better grades get first pick.

 
You would think the story ends here. But there’s a twist.

Never would I imagine a day where one of my kids would gain entry into a school via DSA.

But #3 did!
I wanted her to get into #2’s school as I like many things about the school. However, she missed the cut-off by 2 points and was posted to the school of her 2nd choice. We filled in an application for appeal, and as #3 has some background in sports, she was called in for the selection process for the school’s niche sport as they had vacancies under DSA. We were quite bewildered as #3 had never played the sport, but they were selecting based on general sporting abilities.

Before we went for the try-outs, we had a long discussion about whether she would enjoy the sport as she would have to participate in it for 4 years. She was hesitant as she had never tried it in primary school before, but I have always known that she would love team sports, given her sociable and cooperative nature. She also enjoys most ball games and my instincts told me that it would be a suitable sport for her.

I wasn’t too worried that she would have to stick to it for 4 years even if she didn’t like it because I knew from the older girls that things have changed and you are not allowed to change CCA for 4 years irregardless of DSA or not.

Both #1 and #2 chose CCAs which were new to them and have learnt to embrace and excel in it over the 4 years, so I was all for them persevering in one CCA. I also discovered that all CCAs have stand-down periods before the exams so I wasn’t too concerned about her having insufficient time for revision.

#3 got selected into the school’s niche sport and as I predicted, she loves it.

Do I think DSA is a good initiative? Yes, but not the way it has evolved.

Am I thankful the MOE came up with DSA?

You bet I am.


Sane tip: Once you get admitted into a school via DSA, a place has already been reserved for you and you can’t change your mind after the PSLE results are released. Your child is also NOT allowed to transfer to another school for the entire duration of the course.

Save tip: Sometimes we make parenting way more stressful and expensive than it should be. I am quite certain that when the MOE mapped out this initiative, they never intended it to benefit the sports vendors, but our children.
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 MOE
PSLE 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.

 

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

 

Parent Teacher Meetings – Tips from a mum of 6

As you can imagine, I have sat through numerous parent-teacher-meetings (PTMs) over the years. In the early days, I used to discuss the obvious. Their marks, their behaviour, if they were having or giving any problems. Some friends tell me they see no point in going for PTM after P1 or P2 because the teachers always say the same things. For me, I look forward to these sessions because in such a short time, issues get ironed out and I discover new insights about my child. Here are 6 tips to make the most of your PTM. (these tips are for primary school PTMs, but some are general and can be applied to secondary and kindergarten levels as well.)

1. Do your homework

You only have 15 minutes. Make every minute count. Be prepared. Know what grades your child got. Have a casual chat with your child beforehand to sniff out any issues she might be having, whether it is regarding her studies, friends or teachers. If there are any specific concerns, list them down so that you can immediately zoom in on them.

When #1 was in P4, she had some problems with her classmates and kept telling me about them. I listened, but thought of it as usual ‘friendship’ issues amongst girls. Luckily I mentioned it to her teacher and only then did I learn that it was a form of serious emotional bullying as #1 was being ostracised by the entire class as instigated by one girl. Her teacher took the matter very seriously and dealt swiftly with the class. Thankfully the problem was nipped in the bud and #1 was not emotionally scarred.

In some schools, you are only allowed to chat with the form teacher, whereas in other schools, you are free to speak with all the subject teachers. Find out from your child which teacher you will be seeing and how much face-to-face contact he or she has had with your child so that you have an idea of how much the teacher knows about your child.

For example in P1, #5’s form teacher taught him English and Math so she was able to give me a good picture of him in school. On the other hand, #4’s form teacher had just taken over the class because the previous teacher resigned, so his insight of her was limited. In such a case, I would look for a subject teacher to speak to if need be.

2. Set the tone

I can only imagine that it is very intense for the teacher to have to sit through a full day of discussion with parents and recall information on every child. If I ask surface questions, I get surface answers. I have discovered that by being open and approachable, the teacher would be more forth-coming with her insights. Being with the students everyday, the teacher is in a unique position to notice traits in them, which become all the more obvious when seen in the light of 40 other children. Many teachers have pointed out pertinent observations of my children, both good and bad, which I have failed to see.

Last time, when a teacher started to point out some negative feedback about my child, my natural response was to be defensive or I would try to explain my point of view. I have since learnt to bite my tongue and hear her through. I used to flinch when the teacher said, “I hope you don’t mind me being frank.” The teacher may have noticed some character traits in your child, but if it seems like you are unable to handle it or that you might be combative, the teacher will likely not tell you everything she might have wanted to.

Now, when I hear those words, I am calm about it because I know that however painful it may be to have to hear negative comments about my dear child, I will leave the room with a better understanding of her. With the nuggets of information I glean, I am able to address my child’s weaknesses and she would benefit as a result of it. It is also good training for the child to see that we can be critical of a behaviour without attacking her personally, and she will be more able to accept constructive criticism in future.

3. Discuss academic work 

I try to quickly find out what went wrong with the subjects that she fared badly at. Was it that she did not study hard enough? Did she not manage to pick up the skills and strategies to answer the questions in the way she needs to? Or has she not been paying attention, or gets easily distracted? Once we figure out the reasons, we can set targets and devise a simple action plan.


During #2’s P6 year she was hardly given any homework. I asked the teacher why that was so. He explained that as she was in one of the top classes, all the other kids had tuition for virtually every subject and most were over-stretched. Apparently in the previous year, there were kids who buckled under the pressure and their minds went blank during the PSLE. So they decided to reduce the stress by minimising homework from school. I told her teacher that she did not have any tuition besides Chinese and I was relying on the school teachers. He was surprised and agreed to give her individual homework, which worked out well.

Besides looking at the raw score of their marks, I always like to know the percentile across the whole level. That gives me a more accurate picture. A 60 in Chinese may seem ok, but if that was the lowest 20th percentile, then I’ll have to start worrying. Likewise, I have seen dismal scores of 55 for English, but later found out that because the paper was so tough, it was in the top 80th percentile.

These information are not meant for us to compare the child with others but simply to have a starting point to work towards improvement. The child might start off with being in the lowest 15th percentile in a weak subject, but so long as she is putting in her best effort and is gradually improving, it is enough.


4. Connect with the teacher

Teachers face a class of 40 students, and most have to handle a few classes. The PTM is a time for me to introduce myself to the teacher and for her to put a parent’s face to the child. When #3 was in P5, I spoke to her Math teacher and he had good things to say about her. Attentive, quick learner, spontaneous in answering questions. I thanked him for teaching her so well and he gave me his word that he would look out for her as she did not have a tutor to rely on.

After the mid-year exams, he called me to come in and meet with him in school. She had failed her Math paper and he was worried about her. He told me that she had stopped volunteering answers in class and was constantly doodling while he was teaching. We went through the paper together and figured out that there were chapters she could not grasp and was probably getting demoralised. I had a chat with her and she shared that Math was getting too difficult and she had given up. We worked out a plan and with Mr Tan’s help, she was able to get back on track.

Teachers are incredibly busy, so once the contact is made, it is easier for the teacher to communicate with the parent, and vice versa, either via email, a call or even a quick chat during school events. (Yes, I’m always doing that, to the point where now my kids will point their teacher out to me saying, “Mum, Mr Tan is there, do you want to go over and say hi?”)

5. Their teacher is your ally

It is very important for our children to know that we as parents are in alignment with their teachers. When #3 was in P6, they had a teacher who came from another school. This teacher had a no-nonsense style of discipline and she was very strict and expected them to give of their best. Naturally, #3 did not like her nor her style of teaching. She kept complaining to me about her harsh methods but never once did I simply agree with her nor put her teacher down. In fact, after hearing her daily rants of how ‘unreasonable’ and ‘mean’ she was, I told her that she sounds like an excellent teacher. When I finally got to meet Mrs L at the PTM, it was like meeting a like-minded friend. Mrs L shared with me that #3 was a tough nut to crack. She had quietly showed her disdain for her tough methods and was uncooperative.

At the PTM, I told her that I was in full support of her methods and would have a nice chat with #3. After that, Mrs L reported that her whole attitude changed and the fire in her turned from being a destructive force to a positive one and her grades soared as a result.

I hear from teachers that in the upper primary, some students think they know better and can thus be obstinate. I try never to undermine their teachers because it is akin to parenting. Both parties have to present a united front for the child to respect the teacher and to learn well. There were instances where my kids came home and complained about their teachers and I made comments such as “Aiyo, why your teacher so bad”, without realising that it impacted their view of the teacher. So now I don’t do that any more. And besides, I have come to the realisation that kids tend to exaggerate or obliterate facts to their advantage.

6. Show your appreciation

I had just attended #3’s PTM and was extremely heartened and humbled by her teacher’s genuine care and concern for her. Settling into Secondary 1 had been quite difficult for her. The subjects had doubled, she got home past 7pm most evenings and wasn’t getting enough sleep, and was disinterested in the new subjects. Her teachers found her to be uncooperative, but her co-form teacher took the trouble to take her aside to have a personal conversation with her. Only then did she see a different side of her and from there, she was able to address the problems easily. I have never seen any teacher have such great faith in a ‘challenging’ child, and her genuine concern for #3 touched me deeply. I wrote an email to thank her, and she replied that she was grateful for my words of encouragement as it is appreciation like that from parents which spur her on.

Save tip: By working hand-in-hand with their teachers, I have managed to hold out on tuition for my kids until the P5 or P6 year. Because sometimes, there are other factors which are impacting on their ability to learn and the sooner these problems are addressed, the better it is for the child.

Sane tip: Parents are allocated 15 minutes, but I have been to sessions where the wait ended up to be almost 2 hours long. You can imagine the mood of the parents and the stress of the teacher. Hardly conducive for a good discussion. Try to be concise and get to the root of the problem instead of telling stories and dwelling on one point in detail.

Educating a child is indeed a partnership between the home and the school. Hence, the more successful the partnership, the better it is for your child.


Related posts:

6 tips to really prepare your child for P1

6 things to do in the PSLE year


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

School Stories #7: Who has an obsession with TUITION?

I love our current Education minister. His new road map is truly visionary. He says that:

“Parents would have to give up their obsession with grades; employers would have to hire based on skills, not degrees; and teachers should strive for an all-round development of their students.”

And how does he propose we do that?

“One is to go beyond learning for grades to learning for mastery of skills.”

“Second, develop a lifelong learning habit among Singaporeans so that they are equipped for changing economic realities.”

“The third is to move from learning for work to learning for life, so that a student develops interests beyond work and a commitment to serve society.”

I am excited to see what his ministry is going to roll out to make these a reality. He is indeed courageous to take on this path which “no other country has travelled”. I am firmly behind you, Mr Heng!!

One area they are looking to tackle is THE TUITION PROBLEM. Mr Png Eng Huat (MP for Hougang) asked for a survey to get to the bottom of Singaporeans’ obsession with tuition, joining at least three other MPs in warning about over-reliance on tuition.

Obsession with tuition?

Why does it sound like we parents have nothing else better to do with our money?

Besides a small percentage of ‘tiger mum’ parents who are giving their kids tuition even though they are already scoring all As and A*s, for most of us, it is borne out of necessity.

Here’s how my kids ended up having tuition.


For my eldest, I did not know much about the whole primary school scene when she entered Primary 1. The hubs and I chose the closest primary school to our home and left her in the good hands of the school (or so we thought). I did not give her tuition from P1 to P5 as I expected her teachers to prepare her sufficiently for the exams. The only tuition she tried out was 6 months at Berries, a group tuition centre for Chinese, when she was in P4. As I did not see any improvement in her grades, I withdrew her.

I had a shock of my life when she failed her Math and Science at the end of P5. How was she ready for PSLE?

I scrambled to ask around for recommendations and realised that everyone we knew gave their kids tuition. We had no choice but to pay through our noses for private tuition to help her plug the gaps.

In a mere 8 months, she managed to soar from failing grades to score 4 As with an aggregate of 240 for her PSLE.

For #2, she has always been a very consistent student probably because she’s a very obedient child. From the time she was in P1, I told her that she had to pay attention to her teachers and listen in class. And that was what she did. This traditional method of teaching also suits her learning style so she had no problems with school work.


Since she was not failing any subjects I held out giving her any tuition. It was only after her P6 mid-year exams where she scored mostly Bs that I decided she needed some extra help to tackle the papers. I gave her tuition for all subjects but on hindsight, 4 months was too short for her to get used to her tutors’ style of teaching to really have an impact on her grades. In the end, she scored 230, which I felt was below her potential.

 
For #3, she is a visual learner and a hands-on approach suits her better. It was no surprise that she always did badly academically even though it is obvious to all of us that she is extremely bright.
 
I made the decision to start her on English and Chinese tuition from P5 because she was very weak in both subjects. Thank goodness I found tutors who were creative and managed to make the lessons fun and engaging. I added on Math and Science tuition for her in P6 because she barely managed to pass the exams.

As they were all one-to-one lessons, she picked up very quickly because the tutors could accommodate to her learning style. In the end, she enjoyed her lessons very much and managed to score 229. With such an aggregate, she is now in a school which suits her very well and she loves school. They use different modalities to learn, such as group discussions, project work and lively debates in class. If I had not given her tuition at all, she would likely have ended up in normal academic or normal technical which is a wrong fit for her.

What do these examples show?


That if we leave our kids to the education system, it may not be able to do justice to their capabilities.

Now that I am more aware of the limitations of our education system, I am keeping a finger on the pulse to monitor their progress. And if they are not learning what they are supposed to be learning, I have to supplement it with tuition.

The tuition industry has ballooned into a billion dollar industry, perhaps it’s time to acknowledge what it does right.

Most tuition centres have class sizes with a maximum of 12 to 15 students. 40 in a class is just too big a class for effective learning. If only we could shrink our classes to 25 or 30 students.

Tutors are paid to teach. Not to run events, chaperon kids to competitions, deal with parents’ complains or attend endless meetings. Perhaps a teacher’s main job should be to teach as well.


Such a radical road map is what Singapore needs at this crossroads. I just hope that it will be rolled out with urgency. If a new minister gets rotated for this portfolio, who knows what vision he might hold?

I certainly hope things will be shaken up. Currently I have no choice but to give my kids tuition in their P6 (or perhaps even P5) year. And it looks like they might also need tuition in certain subjects in the Sec 4 year, such as in ‘A’ Maths, Chemistry, Physics or Chinese.

Let us all – parents, teachers and employers rally together and embrace this new vision to move the next generation towards a more meaningful education to face the future.

I can’t wait to save money by eliminating the need for tuition.

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 MOE

PSLE 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.


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

6 tips to Really prepare your child for P1

You would have read many articles on how to get your child ready for the big transition from K2 to P1, about things like teaching them to take care of their belongings and buying food at the canteen. Besides those basics, let me share with you 6 essential tips to ensure mummy (that’s you) doesn’t break a sweat for the next 6 years.

1. Their school bag is their responsibility

When #1 started Primary 1 a decade ago, I bought her a school bag, handed her the whole stack of books and told her that she was in charge of it. I laid out all my expectations. She was to pack her own bag, finish her homework and listen attentively to her teachers. From the get-go, she had no problems handling all of it, and neither did her 3 younger sisters. I never had to nag them to do their homework nor help them to pack their bags. Don’t worry that they are too young to start managing on their own. When they are in P1, the teachers are more forgiving and it is the best time for them to make mistakes and learn the skills of being independent. #1 had a classmate who was so used to her mum packing her bag that when she went to Secondary 1, she exclaimed that she didn’t know how to pack her bag!

Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to work for #5. I gave him the same instructions but his homework never gets completed and bag never properly packed. I have to double check every night to make sure his things are in order. The first time I peered into his bag, I almost fainted. I expected a neat, organised school bag with books properly placed according to height (that’s how all my girls’ bags looked), but his bag was in a complete mess! Worksheets were stuffed into the crevices (some even balled up), books were folded in half top down (don’t ask me how that happened), and there were bits and pieces of erasers, paper, and other rubbish in his bag. No wonder my friends with boys keep complaining and can’t understand how I can stay relaxed with so many kids. Anyhow, it is still important to expect the same for boys, but be prepared to step in to provide more guidance. A LOT more, if your son is anything like mine.

#4’s P4 unseen dictation

2. Learning their spelling is also their responsibility

In this climate of very involved parents, I constantly hear friends saying they have to hurry home to test their kids spelling. With 6 kids, my chance of having a life would be zilch if I did this. They know my expectations and will learn their spelling themselves and test themselves. I don’t like to molly-coddle my kids but try to encourage them to find their inner tenacity.

During the exam period, #4 asked if I could sit with her to supervise her revision like all her friends’ mummies did. Before I could open my mouth, #3 told her: “Don’t you know what mummy is trying to teach us? To be independent and self-motivated so that even when she is not with us, we will know what to do. If you need to rely on mummy being next to you, then next time how?” Ah, proud mummy moment.

However, this didn’t work for #5, especially for his chinese spelling. Why am I even surprised. I have resorted to bribing him with 30 minutes of iPad time if he gets it all correct. Works beautifully.

3. Allowance

Initially with #1, I gave her a daily allowance for recess and encouraged her to save the rest. I realised that after a few months, she worked out her own brilliant plan by ‘saving’ on food and using the leftover money to shop at the bookshop. I thought about this whole allowance business very seriously and decided to separate the school recess money (which is for them to eat a proper meal) with allowance for toys and their other wants and came up with a simple but detailed system to teach them how to use their money wisely.

Instead of giving them a fixed amount for the 6 years, I checked out the prices at their canteen and found out that $1 can buy them a plate of chicken rice or a bowl of noodles. Since they bring their own water bottle to school, $1 is enough for them as they are not big eaters. My kids think I’m Mr Scrooge as most of their friends get around $2 per day. I asked them if they are going to eat $2 worth of food, and if not, then they don’t need $2. What I did instead was to give them an incremental allowance based on their age. They get $1 per day for P1 and P2, $1.50 for P3 and P4 and $2 for P5 and P6. It gives them something to look forward to!

4. No TV / electronic devices rule

I used to allow them 1 hour of TV but found that they protested more when it was time to turn it off than when I set a blanket ban on TV during school days. Now, it’s not just the TV, but their iPads, laptops, computers and iPhones which robs them of time. They end up not having enough time for their homework and also resulted in them sleeping later. Besides, it’s hard to monitor their gadget use if I’m not at home, so it’s easier just to take them all away during the school week. Every Sunday night, they have to turn in their gadgets and they get them back on the weekends. Yup, I have to run my household almost like a military operation. If you need more tips on how to control their gadget usage, read my 10 house rules for digital use.

5. Stationery

It amazes me how much correction tape kids go through. Or how many pencils and pens go missing in school. At one time, Popular bookstore became our regular shopping destination. One fine day, I had enough, and made a new rule. We would go stationery shopping for school supplies once in December and once during the June holidays. They were to purchase the necessary items to last them through 5 months of school. Anything extra they needed would be out of their own pockets. (Unless of course they require ad hoc purchases for projects). Overnight, their stationery requisition reduced dramatically. Not only that, it taught them to plan, budget, and stick to their allocation. When they know their correction tape refill is running low they will be more careful and stop using it with abandon.

6. Early Bedtime

I can’t fathom how kids can thrive with insufficient sleep. Many of their classmates sleep at 10pm and wake up at 6am. For us, their bedtime is at 7.30pm, and it moves incrementally to 8.30pm at P6. When they are well rested, it is much easier to wake them in the morning, not to mention they will be more attentive in class. Our helper just has to call their name once and they are out of bed. She prepares their breakfast and they are on auto-pilot and out the house at 6am. And me? Still in la la land…

Hope these tips will ease the transition into formal schooling for your child and keep you sane!



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 about

Who is behind MOE

PSLE 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.

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





PSLE score – what’s it to you?

This year was the first time I went to school to collect the PSLE results. #3 asked me to go because both of her best friends’ mums were going. Needless to say, the anticipation in the school hall was killing everyone. I don’t know who was more anxious, the students or the parents.

Ok, I’m sure all of you want to know what #3 got, since I did put #1 and #2’s score up on my blog previously. Some people are secretive about it, but to me, it doesn’t say very much. So here it is. She got 4 ‘A’s with an aggregate of 229. We are all very proud of her because even until P4, she was hyperactive and found it hard to sit for more than 15 minutes. She had always been in one of the last classes and was still failing some subjects at the beginning of P6. The fact that she took the exams very seriously, was motivated to do well and gave of her best efforts was already cause for celebration. She was jumping for joy and exclaiming “I got an A for Chinese!”

On the other hand, her best friend scored 246 and cried.

The whole day, my phone beeped non-stop with people asking me her results. I understand how anxious her tutors were to know if their hard work had paid off, and I understand the concern of family. But there were many other people who just wanted to know her score.

What is it about people wanting to know other people’s kids’ scores? So that they would feel better about themselves if their kid scored higher? Or that they could put a number to a child’s intelligence? Or make all sorts of judgements about the child and his family?

Poor kids. I really feel sorry for them when adults asked them their grades and they have to face their reactions, and worse, sometimes face expressions with a split second of “oh gosh, that’s bad” before the adults regain their composure and said something positive. And strangely the adults seemed only interested in knowing the aggregate without asking them if they felt they had done their best, if they had shown an improvement, or anything else about the child as a person.

So before you ask a child his or her PSLE score, please ask yourself why do you want to know it, and what is the message you would want to tell the child after you hear it. Because kids are shaped in part by society, and your reaction to the child might stay in his or her mind for a long time. Please spare a thought for these children who are grappling with what these 3 numbers mean. 

Related posts:

Why we went on vacation just before the PSLE

Countdown: 3 months to the PSLE

6 things to do in the PSLE year

School Stories:

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

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