An open letter to all principals

I applaud the MOE’s move to assign experienced principals to helm heartland schools. My 5 school-going children are in 4 different schools so I can see firsthand how a principal makes a difference. To begin with, I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to the principal of #4 and #5’s school (I will not disclose the school to protect their privacy). She is very approachable, always greeting parents with a smile, and she stands shoulder to shoulder with her teachers (even in the rain) to receive the students when they are dropped off in the mornings. When I stop her to have a quick word about some concerns I have, she is willing to listen and she does follow up with the problem.

However, to make ‘every school a good school’ I do believe that there are several other factors to consider besides the implementation of niche programs or other hardware. Let me just share with you some scenarios on the ground.

1) A friend’s child could not get into a popular primary school and was posted to a heartland school. She had no qualms about it and was very excited to journey with her child in her education. She decided to get involved and was on the parent support group. However, after 2 years in the school, she was greatly disappointed. In one instance, she asked the teacher why the one and only excursion in that year had to be cancelled and the teacher replied: “Do you know that it costs us $170 to charter a bus there and back? We don’t have that kind of money.” In some CCAs, they did not have adequate funding so they roped in willing parents with some basic skills to teach the children.

When her daughter got into the gifted program, she was transferred to a top school in P4. There, she saw a world of difference. Not only were there many more CCAs to choose from, but they could afford to hire the best coaches for their students. The ratio of coaches to students was much better and the kids could have more attention. There were also more opportunities for excursions and overseas trips. She can now see very clearly why parents are fighting to get into the best schools.

Issue: The allocation of funding should be balanced across the levels and programs so that all students will benefit, instead of having a bulk of the money channelled into niche programs or programs to raise the profile of the school.

2) Another friend shared with me her story. Her eldest son got into a SAP school in P1 and she was quite sure he was in safe hands. She did not give him any tuition, but at P6, she realised too late that the school only taught half, and expected parents to settle the other half of their education out of their own pocket. Her son scored 180 and went to a heartland school. She was fine about it. However, within a few months, she saw her son change drastically. He sat next to a boy whose parents were busy at work the whole day. The boy introduced her son to Lan gaming and he came home at 10pm every day, even during school days. They had so many family quarrels and she couldn’t control her son. She went into depression and had to seek help. She was desperate and heartbroken. Now with her 3rd child, she takes no chances and gives her daughter tuition, hoping that she will get into a much better school than her brother.

I am aware that such negative influences are also present in ‘top’ schools, but the prevalance is lower. I do believe that we as parents have the bulk of the responsibility in instilling the right values and morals in our children so that they would stand firm against negative peer influence. However, which parent wouldn’t prefer to leave their child in a good school environment so that they can have peace of mind while they go to work. I would think that I’m not far off the mark when I say that most parents do think that many heartland schools are good schools when it comes to having good programs and dedicated teachers coming up with innovative teaching methods etc. However, the concern lies in the friends the child is going to mix with.

Issue: Peer influence

3) #1 had a best friend in P6. She ended up scoring 240 while her classmate scored 190. They went to different schools. I took them out shortly after they entered Sec 1 and was very sad to hear the stories her friend shared. She was telling us how scary it was in school. She related an incident where they were in class having lessons, and suddenly a Sec 3 boy slammed through the doors and barged into her classroom. He went up to one of her classmate and punched him in the face. Her teacher tried to restrain the boys but the older boy was oblivious to the teacher and went on harassing the other boy, all the while spewing vulgarities. Both of them were then hauled to the disciplinary master. Apparently, the Sec 1 boy had stood on the toilet bowl and looked over to the other boy’s cubicle during recess. Besides such drama which probably petrified the class, there are other daily disruptions to lessons whereby the teacher is constantly wasting time dealing with some disciplinary matter or other.

Issue: Discipline and bad classroom environment.

4) During the final year exams in Sec 1, a friend called up to ask if her daughter could study with my daughter so that she could get some ‘good influence’. She said that her daughter did not want to study as it would seem uncool, and she would be labelled a ‘nerd’. It would take a strong child to stand up to this type of school culture. In comparison, I can see healthy competition going on amongst the students in my daughter’s class where they try to out-beat one another in their exams.

Issue: A student culture that does not promote studying

5) A teacher shared with me that it was a world of a difference coming from a heartland school and being transferred to a ‘top 10′ school. Before, her students never did her homework and she had to go around to the HDB block of flats after school to hunt for her students. She would find them at the playground and have to tell them to go home and do her homework and to revise. She even had to buy alarm clocks and go to her students’ homes and tell the parents to get their children to school on time. In the top school, she was surprised that most of her students already knew what was in the syllabus!

Just a suggestion: In situations like these where parents are too busy working to make ends meet to take charge of their children, perhaps the schools can step in. They could get a mentor program running where they provide rooms in school for these latchkey children and get the students who are doing well academically to mentor the weaker students under the supervision of a teacher. Instead of letting the negative influence prevail, have the other children provide a positive influence to their classmates. 

6)In #3’s school, we had a change of principal. This principal was highly acclaimed as she achieved a lot at her previous school. However, having been here for the past 6 years, she has left many parents disappointed on so many aspects. But I’ll just like to highlight one very simple incident. There was a case of HFMD going on in one of the classes (it was a P4 class). No information was provided to any of the parents in that class nor in any of the other P4 classes. Bear in mind that the students shuffle around for their banding subjects. Many days later, my daughter came down with HFMD. I did not even know anything about it until the day she got it. I asked her if any of her other classmates were absent. She told me yes, another 9 of them. I was shocked. I immediately called up the school and voiced my concern and asked what was the protocol for such contagious diseases? I never got a reply from the school, even after leaving an email for the principal. I heard from the parents of the class with the first case of HFMD that it had spread to more than half the class. The parents banded together and went to school to insist on a meeting with the principal. The principal’s stand was that the exams were round the corner and she would not shut down any class. In the end, my younger children caught HFMD. I’m sure many other siblings of those kids caught it too. We as parents could see where the principal’s priorities were, and it definitely was not the student’s or their family’s welfare. But what I was most disappointed in was that the school did not even have the decency to inform parents about it. We would have understood the school’s viewpoint to complete the syllabus and we could have made our own decisions whether to send our children to school or not. 

In contrast, in #5’s school, when one of his classmate came down with chickenpox, a doctor was called in immediately and all the students were screened. I had to go in and pick him up from school as he was suspected of having chicken pox. As it turned out, it was just some scratches, but they would rather err on the side of caution.

I could go on and on with other examples, but I think you get the point. If every school could someday really be good schools in all these other aspects, I can safely say that most parents would be comfortable sending their kids to any school. This would really alleviate a lot of the unnecessary competition going on at the PSLE level and a lot of unnecessary parental stress at the P1 registration exercise.

In my post 6 tips to choose a secondary school that is right for your child, I highlighted some very admirable principals who had dared to be different and implemented many out of the box strategies and programs for their students. 

I humbly appeal to all principals. You are not the head of a corporation. You are a leader, with the power to inspire and garner the energies of a legion of teachers under your wing. Who in turn have the power to influence and shape the lives of thousands of young people, who will go on to shape our country. Take good care of your teachers, even if it may mean a smaller bonus or less accolades for your school. Lead your teachers with integrity, courage and wisdom. After all, isn’t that what we are trying to teach our children? 

I had a cousin who was a principal. Sadly, she has left us. However, till today, when I meet parents who had children from Fairfield Methodist, they still remember her fondly. They tell me she was a principal with a heart. I sincerely hope that as you go about your challenging tasks ahead of you, you do it with a heart. 

To read about the Dialogue Session I was invited to at the MOE, click here.

 ~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Burning of PSLE books

This photo appeared in today’s Straits Times. It shows some children burning textbooks after the end of the PSLE. Comments abound, from parents setting a bad example, to the wastage of books which could be donated to the needy, to the barbaric nature of destroying books, to global warming. Of course this is terribly wrong, even if we acknowledge that they need an outlet to vent their stress.

However, 2 points sprung up in my mind when I saw this photo.

1) That our education system has surely failed in some ways if children believe that learning is just for passing some exams, and not for the sake of acquiring knowledge. 

2) That the children, and parents, must have been through so much stress that they resorted to use this method of literally burning their books, as compared to tearing them up or giving them away. It hints of releasing some form of oppression or perhaps anger or frustration at the system.

A few years back when #1 was in Primary 6, a friend organised a Chinese New Year gathering at her place. They were all from the same Kindergarten class, and had kept in contact until now. So the kids were all in their P6 year, in various schools. As the moms gathered, the conversation immediately centred on the PSLE. After the kids went off to play for a few hours, they came back down to get some refreshments. One boy commented, “You are all still talking about our PSLE? Don’t you have anything better to talk about?”

For those of you who have not had kids go through the PSLE, you will probably not understand how any parent can even condone such an act of burning books. I definitely do not condone this, but I have seen how the PSLE has taken over the lives of so many families. I even know of families who do not allow their child to leave the house during the entire PSLE year. They are supposed to stay at home to study and not be distracted by any outings or play. Daily family conversations revolve around schoolwork and tuition. And usually there is displeasure on the parents’ part, resulting in scolding or nagging. Can you imagine what the child gathers from all these? That my worth to my parents are in terms of my grades. That the exams take precedence over family activities. That these textbooks and assessment books are a hinderance to a happier family and a happier life for me.

Well, it’s easy for an MP to say that whatever the amount of stress faced, they still shouldn’t burn their books. Yes, we as parents all know that we should not burn books. Yes, I wholeheartedly agree that books are definitely a source of knowledge meant to educate a person. If our schools have taught the children well, would they feel this strongly about books and want to burn them? Or has schools inadvertently led the children to believe that books are a source of immense stress. That books have no relevance in our daily lives, besides being information that is needed to be memorised and reproduced in the exact way the examiner wants. That they have to be drilled every single day, for months, on these repetitive questions. Where is the joy in learning? Where is the appreciation of books? How can we sell our kids on the idea of lifelong learning if learning is such?

It’s sad. Very sad. We have indeed failed our children.

Related posts:

On how I prepare my kids for the PSLE, click here.

On how to choose a secondary school that is right for your child, click here. 

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Dialogue session at the Ministry of Education

A few bloggers and myself were invited to a dialogue session at the Ministry of Education. Before I attended the session, I was like most other parents. We had our opinions on what was wrong with the education system. The problems were crystal clear to us – Teachers are overworked. They are not doing a good job teaching our kids. The tuition problem is getting out of hand. The pressure is way too much for the kids to handle. They don’t have time for a decent childhood. Family life has taken a back seat due to the demands of the education system. Yet, why is the MOE not listening and not doing anything about it?

Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Education, had just delivered the Work Plan Seminar 2013 (Full Keynote Address) and we were there to discuss the new initiatives. To begin with, I was heartened to see that they were listening and jotting down notes more than they were speaking (or maybe it was because we bloggers have so much to say that they couldn’t get a word in edgewise!) They were not there to explain their stand for us to propagate. It was truly a roundtable discussion. That I think, is a very positive signal that they are sincerely interested to ascertain the differing points of views from various individuals, and to try and fix the problems. I did write an article 3 years ago, and I suggested that the MOE needed to engage the stakeholders to analyse the situation on the ground. And engage they did. They spent the last one year hearing the voices of 22,000 students, parents and teachers!

From there, they have crafted a very comprehensive strategy to drive our education forward for the next decade. They are going to move towards a student-centric and values-driven education model, recognising that every student is different. They are keen to provide opportunities for every student to pursue their various interests and to stretch them to their fullest potential. They are working toward providing a multi-dimensional education, beyond just academics. These directives are what I have wished for, but never dared to hold any hope for, to be accomplished in my children’s time.

The Ministry is aiming to create a colourful landscape of distinctive secondary schools with their own niches in every neighbourhood. More and more secondary schools are starting to be established in their niche programs, however, it does not seem to be provided across the board. If that becomes a reality for the entire school population, not just a select few, and if all schools manage to mitigate the behavioural problems by channeling students’ energies into their specific interests, then it will go a long way in lessening the competition to fight for the very last mark at PSLE to enter the ‘reputable’ schools. 

Mr Heng has indeed painted a very bold vision, worthy of even the harshest critic’s commendation. However, for the 3 of us parent bloggers, who are near to being permanently disillusioned with the system, our only scepticism lies in the implementation. Mr Heng himself foresees the challenges ahead in the implementation. He urges parents to change their mindsets in this partnership of educating our children.

As the discussion went on, I started to see how in many areas, their hands are tied. For example, we know that many teachers are scrambling to complete the syllabus before the exams. One obvious solution to us is to reduce the curriculum. However, MOE has to balance that with providing students with a proper foundation in all the subjects so that they are equipped to pursue whichever course in the higher institutions which they so choose in future.

Although I knew that it is not going to be an easy problem to fix, but I am now only beginning to grasp the enormity of the challenges facing them. Not only do they have to ensure that their vision filters down through every single educator, but they have to ensure that each and every teacher is on the same page, and that they all embody this holistic perspective of learning. Because if some educators are still hanging on to the old system, or to their own models of success, this will not work. And to implement such initiatives which are going to cater more specifically to each individual student, it will take a lot more time and effort as compared to traditional methods of teaching. How are they going to carve out more time when teachers are already pressed for time? What are they going to take out to enable these to be put in? And the other huge part of the equation is the parents. Perhaps surprising, but it seems that for every parent who wants to make education more meaningful, there are other parents who unfortunately still believe that pushing the child forward unrelentingly is the only way ahead.

Well, I am very excited about this new direction, to see the day the Ministry’s aim to give our students a broad and deep foundation for their lifelong journey is achieved. But being the ever pragmatic mom, as they are working towards attaining that, here is what I hope to see when my 6th child, Kate, enters Primary 1 in 5 years time: 

An education system

  • Where teachers are highly qualified and passionate about teaching, and spend most of their time involved in teaching.
  • Where class size is reduced to 30 students.
  • Where tuition is needed only for the minority of students who genuinely need the extra help to cope.
  • Where different modalities are used to teach, and lessons come alive and are made more relevant to the students.
  • Where no school bus pick the kids up before 7.30 am, so that kids can spend time with their parents in the evenings and still be well-rested for school the next day.
  • Where CCAs are conducted for the real purpose of learning team-work, building character and instilling values, not for the sake of competition.
And above all, where children come home and say they LOVE school!

If 80% of their plan can bear fruit by the time Kate enters Primary 1, I will be an extremely happy parent. Let us all take the first step by reading Mr Heng’s Keynote Speech, and aligning ourselves with his vision. We can then work together in whatever ways we can, whether it be a mindset change or in contributing our ideas or expertise, to propel it forward as quickly as possible. Every single one of our children will stand to benefit. With synergy we can see the changes we want to see. Let’s stop complaining and pointing fingers. Let’s work with the Ministry to get the ball rolling. Every cog has to move in sync with the entire system for this to succeed.

Feel free to paint your picture of the education system you envisage for your child in the comment box below. I’m sure the MOE is willing to hear our suggestions if we give them constructive ones.

To read another parent’s opinion on our education system, click this link: LittleBlueBottle-Tutored to Death

~   mummywee – parenting 6 kids in Singapore without going mad or broke  ~

A comment by a former teacher in the Straits Times forum page

Yesterday, I posted that 1 of the biggest problems in the education system is the way teachers are incentivised wrongly, leading to teaching being relegated to the back burner. This article in the Straits Times forum page today, contributed by Ms Anne Chia, a former teacher and HOD (head of department) of a Secondary school echoes this point.

She is urging the MOE to give teachers sufficient time to teach, mark, and provide feedback to the students. Only then will proper learning take place.

She also mentioned the second problem that I have unearthed. The Ministry is coming up with very good initiatives but the implementation is at best slip-shod, and I feel, at worst, skewed or manipulated beyond its real purpose.

If MOE can seriously tackle these 2 problems:

1) Let teachers focus on teaching (with the correct monetary benefits to reflect that)

2) Implementation of initiatives to be carried out properly (from principals, to teachers, to parents)

Then, we should be able see a huge difference in our education system within 5 years.

For “Why parents are forced to spend on tuition”, click here.

For 6 things to do in the PSLE year, click here.

For 6 tips to choose a secondary school that is right for your child, click here.

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Why parents are forced to spend on tuition

I wrote this article 3 years ago, which appeared in the Straits Times Forum page. This past week, the tuition issue is still raging on, especially after Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah said that tuition is unnecessary for most children in Singapore as the education system is more than sufficient to provide them with the tools and information that they require. I’m not sure about her family situation, but I can safely guess that she does not have a child currently in either a Primary or Secondary school. This is my experience with the education system:

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.

Tuition centres, on the other hand, are able to produce many students with As. Why is that so? The class size is about 10. The tutors are motivated to get the students to do well as there are incentives to do so. More than that, they are not bogged down with many other responsibilities that distract them from teaching. Many good tutors I spoke to are former teachers.

If we could give our teachers a good environment, and not burden them with umpteen other responsibilities, they would have more time and energy left to prepare well for lessons.

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.


That was my article published 3 years ago. I have since spoken to more teachers and tutors and I have identified the biggest problem. If we can solve this 1 problem, I think we are half-way there. 

The problem is the incentive of the teachers. Currently, all schools have an annual review by the MOE. The principal’s performance is pegged to this review. To get a better review, the principal has to show more initiatives and programs they have achieved that year, besides teaching. So in turn, the principal will push the teachers to be involved in more initiatives, activities and competitions to pump up the annual review. The teachers are willing to do this because the more extra initiatives they take on, the better their EPMS, the better their bonuses. So in fact, the whole system encourages teachers to spend time on other areas besides teaching. As a result, where is the motivation to teach well? In fact, teaching is considered low level work. Honestly, I couldn’t believe my ears when I first discovered that fact. How can teaching be considered low level work when teaching is the primary role of a teacher? Once I made that discovery, it all made sense to me why teachers were behaving the way they were behaving. They actually benefit monetarily by doing all this extra CCAs, competitions, sports festivals, etc. 

I am really curious about what MOE thinks. Do they know that it is already a full time job for teachers just to be teaching? Do they think it is really possible for a person to be handling so many other responsibilities yet be able to teach passionately and effectively? Can we instead, incentivise teachers who teach well? Peg the bonuses to the delivery of good lessons. I remember reading one article in the Straits Times about a history teacher in a secondary school. He even went to the trouble to dress like a Japanese soldier when he was doing a lesson on the Japanese occupation. He brought the lesson alive to his students and I think he even used role-play to get them involved. Ideas like that should be complimented and taken into consideration in their performance review. I think herein lies the crux of our solution. Raise teaching to High Level work with the subsequent monetary benefits and we will probably see a reduction in the need for tuition.

On a brighter note, I am very excited to read in today’s papers about the bold plans to move away from the single focus of exams to develop a more rounded education for our students. This is exactly what I have been saying in my past post. Education minister Heng Swee Keat announced that there will be an applied learning programme and a learning-for-life programme in all secondary schools by 2017. These programs will help students use what they learn to solve real-life problems and they will also discover their strengths and interests. I have also proposed this in my previous blog “so who’s smarter?” I think these 2 programmes are right on the mark. 

I am really keen to find out more about the details of these 2 schemes in the dialogue session which I am attending next week at the MOE. I just hope that the delivery and execution of these schemes will always retain the right focus and purpose. Somehow, our system seems to warp all the best plans and initiatives formulated by the Ministry. I don’t know if it’s the principals, the teachers or the parents who drive everything into a competition. 

Now that the Ministry is being so supportive in nurturing our children to find their individual strengths and talents, I hope all parents can take on this liberating mindset, that each and every child is different and we are not competing against one another. We should instead focus our energy in teaching our children to challenge themselves to be the best that they can be.

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

A chat with Ms Sim Ann about the education system

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

So who’s smarter?

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

Let’s see what the implications are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This really got me thinking.

1) So who actually IS smarter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Education changes? Please, we need real change

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

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

We need to go back to the basics.

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

2) Are they achieving it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~