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

My son had his first Edusave Award.

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

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

Let me explain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feedback from his P1 form teacher:

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

His perspective as a 7-year old:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About MummyWee

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

HBL is not for everyone

My son’s Math teacher has been texting me the past few days. Some days, she texts me multiple times. Mainly it’s about him not submitting his work on time. Or that she had asked him to go on a 1-1 video call to help him with his worksheets, but he doesn’t reply.

From what I understand, the role of the parent is to ensure they get online. We are not expected to take over the teaching.

However, I’ve found one other problem with HBL.

We, the parents, are expected to make sure they COMPLETE their work and submit it on time.

For Kate, at the P2 level, that is quite a hassle, but because we know teachers are doing their best to make this remote learning work, we try to do our part to cooperate, acknowledge and support them.

It’s also a steep learning curve for us, getting onto the different platforms, downloading / uploading assignments, to-ing and fro-ing with her teachers to overcome technical issues. She can handle most of her work independently, and where she is stuck, we are able to guide her and she is on top of all her work.

But for my teenage son, the type who belongs under the unmotivated category, various choke points prevent that from happening successfully.

When they are physically in school, teachers can find different ways to explain concepts to them, nag at them, make them stay back during recess or after school to complete their work.

Now that they are a screen away, when they can’t understand what is taught or can’t be bothered, they switch off (literally even). My teacher friends joke that they wish they could reach in through the screens and shake these teens.

But since they can’t do that, they have to politely rally the help of the parents.

So here’s how it plays out.

I’m working on my laptop and my phone keeps beeping. I wish Mdm Teacher could sort it out directly with my son. But no. He is not responding to her texts.

I storm into his room, demanding to know why his work was not submitted on time.

He shows me his SLS portal. So many items under the “in progress” column! With 8 subjects and various tasks tied to each, and some from the days before, it was a complete mess.

I went through each one, and there seemed to be all sorts of hurdles hindering completion.

But the problem that is HARDEST to deal with is this.

“I don’t know how to do it. And I also don’t feel like doing it.”

What do you do with an unmotivated HBL student?

From the experience of my other 4 kids during their secondary school years, among their 8 subjects, they would have a couple of favourite subjects as well as those they find boring, irrelevant or just plain difficult.

I feel bad that his teacher is trying so hard to help and to ensure that his work is up to speed, yet I’m at a loss at how to get him to complete his work. And I’m drained and frustrated from having to nag and yell at him daily about his homework.

Kate heard all of that noise and sprung into action.

After I left my son’s room, she said, “Mum, I have a surprise for you.”

She led me to the table.

“What’s this, Kate?”

Since I can’t make a real meal for you, I drew you my best meal to cheer you up! I know gor gor always makes you frustrated so I wanted to make you less stressed.

Haha, I burst out laughing! She’s such a darling indeed.

Kate’s surprise meal

I told Mdm Teacher that I absolutely appreciate her going out of her way to help him, but at this point in time, many of us are working round the clock, either in essential services or struggling to keep businesses afloat, figuring out how to move our businesses online, settling our foreign worker issues, supply chain problems and having younger children to manage. Chasing our teens to finish Math sums is the last thing on our minds right now.

We are not superhuman, and neither do we expect our teachers to be.

They are already overworked in a normal school year, and many of them have readily stepped up and have been working late into the night to get this out. It is a lot to ask of them to keep this momentum going for the rest of the month, especially for those who have their own young kids to take care of.

In a perfect world, every student is self-motivated, organised, and smart enough to understand everything that is taught. But alas!

I asked her to please give me the right email, and I wrote in to his school explaining how I was extremely grateful for such a dedicated teacher but there are a lot more pressing issues on our plates right now than him falling behind in 1 subject for this month and both he and I will take full responsibility for his incomplete work during HBL. After this episode, I will find him a tutor if need be.

So the daily texts have stopped, and I breathe a sigh of relief.

Let’s do what we can, but we have to adjust our expectations.

I really hope all the Mdm Teachers out there can stop worrying late into the night as they look aghast at the longer and longer rows of INCOMPLETE tasks flagged out on SLS. And instead, have some time to focus on their own families, providing them the needed stability and sanity to ride through this time.

I know it means a lot of catching up to do next time.

And yes, productivity and excellence are important.

But right now, the mental health of all of us, is most important.

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

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

 

About MummyWee

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





PSC Scholarship? Wow

When #2 told us she had received the PSC Provisional Scholarship we were truly surprised. Aiming for a scholarship has never crossed our minds and she had to google it! A quick search revealed that there are 4 or 5 President Scholars each year, and about 70 or so PSC Scholarships are given out. She discovered that her JC has never produced a scholar which on one hand meant that her chances are really slim, yet she mused, “It’ll be cool to be the first one from my school.”

Surely, we must throw a huge celebration then.

On hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t dismiss this option. After her Os, I was apprehensive about her decision to choose the JC route. I had heard that the stress levels have increased tremendously and weekends are spent catching up on sleep, homework and doing projects, which leaves hardly anytime for family or a balanced lifestyle. What is more worrying is the upward trend of depression and suicidal ideation which is worsened by the academic demands of the A levels.

However, she could not find any course in the polytechnics which deeply interested her and since she has a love for Literature and English, that made the choice easier. Besides, the 2 extra years may give her slightly more clarity in what she wants to pursue.

It turned out that JC life was even more gruelling than we had expected. Academically, it is very demanding as the timeline is short. But what compounded it was the extra activities that she took on. In JC, the students become a lot more involved and run all the events by themselves while the teachers play an advisory role.

She headed the committees to organise the investiture and Open House events and stayed in school till late, sometimes 9 or 10pm and by the time she took the bus home, had a bite and showered, it was close to midnight. That’s when she started on homework.

I was really worried at this unhealthy schedule, but when I met her home tutors after the first exam, they were very pleased with her and praised her ability to juggle both her studies and extra activities well. It seemed to be the norm that sleep has to be sacrificed because the workload was about to get heavier.

It was a whirlwind after that. She became President of her CCA and besides the three times per week practice sessions, it was her responsibility to ensure that everything was running smoothly. Most evenings, she was busy texting her core team and her teacher in charge. It became stressful when performances were approaching, because not only did she have to schedule in extra practice sessions, she had to ensure that her team was on top of their responsibilities, logistics was flawless, morale was kept high and unexpected situations were handled swiftly.

She was so busy she hardly had time to study. But guess what? She took on a second CCA! They were short of a guitarist and needed help. That meant early morning practice sessions. Some days she was in school from 7am to 9pm. She worked even longer hours than me.

I made her healthy and filling salads to take to school if not she would be too busy to eat, I listened when she aired her frustrations, but more often than not, I had to deal with her not wanting to talk much because she was just too tired after all that went on in school that day.

On top of that, there were assignment datelines, essays to write, loads of texts to memorise and it was not unusual to see her still studying at 1am. Not only was it mentally demanding, it was also physically and emotionally draining. She was fortunate to have a lovely, polite, caring bunch of friends, but it was also the teenage years where they are finding their identities and navigating many changes. 

I was really concerned and told her that something had to give, but she told me that as she had taken on the commitments, she had to see them through.

I happened to speak to her Secondary 4 teacher Ms Sandra and she laughed, “That’s good practice for her, and if she’s going to have 6 kids like you, she will have no problems juggling everything.”

Mums will always be mums. When you see your 17-year-old sleeping 4 or 5 hours a night and looking exhausted, you worry. And you want them to slow down. To take it easy.

As though all that wasn’t enough (for her poor mama’s heart), she participated in a slew of ad hoc activities. She signed up for a mission trip to Vietnam and got accepted. Ah, this was one which I whole-heartedly supported.

It was an eye-opener for them to see how the children lived and studied in the mountainous regions. She recounted how the weather suddenly plunged 20 degrees overnight and their toes were frost-bitten in their converse shoes. As they trekked up the mountain hand-in-hand with the children, these kids nimbly and happily made their way up to school despite being in slippers.

When she moved on to JC2, I assumed she would ease up on the activities and buckle down to some serious studying. How wrong was I. She took on even more!

On top of gearing up for their concert at the Esplanade, she was an Orientation leader for the incoming JC students. She missed a whole week of lessons and came home hoarse from all that shouting.

I was really curious and couldn’t understand why she was still taking on so much when she knows that she needs to focus on her studies this year.

“Mum, there are all these exciting things going on. Everyone signs up hoping for a chance. I so happened to pass all the interviews.” Anyhow, I told her that it was really quite enough and she shouldn’t take on anything more.

Kids don’t listen, do they?

She came back one day and told me excitedly that they had passed the auditions for the rock band competition. Music and singing have always been her passion and they had formed a girl band. They spent Sunday afternoons over at our place practicing their harmonies. Despite me shaking my head at this extra of extras, I must say it was really lovely to hear them jam.

Then came Project Work submission. I found out that it wasn’t projects they were working on. It was a compulsory subject called Project Work where they are assigned into groups of about 4 and there was both a written and an oral component. They worked on a real-life issue and I suppose it is to develop applicable life skills such as critical thinking, working collaboratively, inculcating creativity in application and focusing on the process.

Weekends were spent meeting up to discuss and work through it as a team. With any group work, frustrations with teammates are quite common. She was upset that some of her group mates turned up late for meetings or handed in their part past the deadlines with sloppy work. As she was aiming for an A, she put in many extra hours to edit their parts and rewrite the scripts. Her group mates were so thankful when results were released.

The last event of JC2 was Lit Nite. It was a big event for the Arts students. She ended up writing, directing and acting in it. Again, many late nights in school to prepare. A week before the performance, the senior literature teacher watched their play and asked her to rewrite half of it. She was really stressed at the short deadline. She worked late into the night to perfect it and spent that week with her team polishing up their play. It was wonderful that their efforts were rewarded with a win.

Finally, everything came to a halt a few weeks before Prelims. I asked her how was her preparations coming along and if she needed tuition as the syllabus was not easy and most of her classmates had tuition.

She is a really considerate child and said that she wouldn’t want to waste money unnecessarily if she could manage. She revised on her own and had some study sessions with her friends and they helped one another on concepts they missed out. She even offered to tutor her brother who was struggling with his PSLE.

I kept reminding her to have enough rest and the hubs and I reassured her that if it became too stressful, she could take an extra year and we are completely fine with it.

We knew that she had spent her 2 years gainfully and there was a lot to catch up on. Many of #1’s friends who went on to University said that the 2 years in JC were the toughest and some had to retain 1 extra year because they failed or by choice.

She put her mind into those final weeks before the Prelims, studied hard, and did really well for the exams. Phew. She was offered the provisional scholarship based on her excellent prelim results as well as her portfolio of activities (so glad all that counted for something!)

Many friends were curious to know how we did it. They know my chill education philosophy – no tuition, no assessment books, no ten-year series, no nagging.

What’s the secret?

I have always believed in making them self-motivated and self-initiated so that they take ownership of their own goals and efforts instead of me pushing them every step of the way.

Instead of drilling them academically, I have been giving them opportunities to develop skills such as getting organised, being able to plan their time, knowing what their priorities are, having the discipline to stick to it, trying different methods when things fail, learning not to give up but to persevere. All these are executive functioning skills which become increasingly important when the demands start to increase. The child needs to be able to manage themselves well to take on greater responsibilities and roles.

We have no idea how she will do for her actual A level exams because she is worried that she may have peaked during Prelims. The papers were tough and many were crying as they left the exam hall.

I’m just relieved that the 2 years have come to an end and I see her so much more now. She has time to pursue her creative interests like painting, writing novels and playing the drums.

Whether she receives a scholarship or not, we are already so proud of her. The skill sets she has developed and the challenges she has surmounted are invaluable experiences. So long as she keeps an open mind and a hunger for learning, she will keep progressing. She has a long way ahead of her, and this is just the beginning!

School Stories:

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

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

 

About MummyWee

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

Our education system is starting to get exciting!

I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel! Things are coming together nicely and more changes are in the pipeline.

16 years ago, #1 entered kindergarten. It was a popular school and many of the kids came from affluent families. Little did I know that we were in for a shock. Her English teacher made her stand in the corner when she couldn’t come up with a word that begins with the letter ‘S’.

Something was wrong.

Didn’t I send her to school to learn such things? Why was she being tested and punished for not knowing? That was the first inkling I had that our system was too skewed towards testing vis-a-vis learning.

Even more disturbing, one day she finally had the courage to tell me that her teacher had dragged her to the N2 class and got a boy to complete her worksheet in front of her. She felt dumb and humiliated. I pulled her out of the preschool and put her in a church-based kindergarten where the teachers were caring and they focused more on character development.

Since then, moving them through various preschools, primary and secondary schools, I have found that it is not accurate nor fair to generalise.

There will be good systems with teachers or principals who are not aligned. There will also be narrow systems with passionate teachers who go the extra mile to help our children learn.

It is wonderful to see that the early childhood scene has proliferated over the past 10 years as child development research continues to unravel how children learn best. I have found a holistic international preschool for Kate where they play outdoors twice a day and the kids are taught how to resolve conflicts by themselves and learning is fun and experiential.

Unfortunately, that comes to a halt the moment children enter Primary 1. These 6 & 7-year olds are expected to sit in a classroom with 30 other students to learn in a one-size-fits-all system. It’s great that there will be no more exams or weighted assessments for the P1s and 2s, and a foray into experiential learning has been introduced, but there is still much room for improving the way lessons are conducted.

While in University, I was curious to know why our classmates had markedly different strengths from us Singaporeans. We were good at researching but they were brilliant at presentations and thinking out of the box. My classmates shared that their lessons were very hands on. If the topic was on gravity, the teacher came into class and tossed balls around. What follows would be an in-depth discussion with questioning and prompts from the teacher to ignite their thinking, instead of spoonfeeding them with concepts and content.

Returning to Singapore and raising my kids with the mindset of an occupational therapist, I asked myself constantly, “what is the rationale behind this activity”? I questioned the purpose of education and looked ahead 20 years because that would be the future landscape my children would be stepping into.

As my 5 kids moved into the primary and secondary levels, I was disappointed that there wasn’t a significant difference from our generation. It was only in the past few years that I started seeing the changes gaining momentum.

I was worried that our education system was not equipping them with the right set of skills to get them ready for their future. Too much time was wasted on testing and learning how to answer questions with specific key words and drill methods.

We had to strike a balance with what the schools could not provide and to guide them in the other aspects of education myself.

To be curious thinkers, to dare to try, to fail and try again, to learn to work together, to be creative, to come up with their own opinions and substantiate them, to know that there are different ways to solve a problem, to believe in themselves.

Along the journey, there were times when I had to guard against letting school extinguish their love of learning. It seems that the objective of completing curriculum and pressures of exams which teachers have to accede to outweigh the silent need of the seeds of curiosity to be watered and tended to.

It’s good that there have been changes in the exam papers, reflecting MOE’s push towards application, but the problem with change at the testing level is that students need to be taught how to think.

It is not as simple as adding thinking questions into the comprehension or Science papers and expecting teachers to be able to draw it out of them. These type of skills we are trying to inculcate are best started even as early as the preschool years and built upon year after year as they move on to higher order thinking skills.

The roadmap drawn out in the School Work Plan looks fantastic on paper, however, to equip the whole teaching force to be well versed to teach children at this deeper level will not happen overnight.

It is not difficult to deliver content. But to get the class to be engaged, to ponder thinking questions and to steer them towards having a fruitful discussion on the topic at hand, the teacher has to be skilled and it takes up a lot more time.

A few months back, I was invited to a small group session with ex-Education Minister Ng Chee Meng and these other lovely ladies. We were discussing how important it was to develop 21st-century skills lest we have a generation of children who are ill-equipped to take on jobs of the future. I asked Minister roughly what percentage of our primary school curriculum is currently targetted at inquiry-based learning and developing such skills? He did not have the numbers but hazarded a guess at about 5%.

I was flabbergasted.

He explained that we have a good system that has been consistently producing strong results. So while they recognise the need for equipping our children with a new set of skills to meet the demands of the future, they need to figure out how to carve out more time without overloading our children further.

How do we free up more time?

Curriculum. Education Minister Ong Ye Kung explained at the Schools Work Plan Seminar 2018 that curriculum has been cut twice, by 30% in 1997 and by 20% in 2005 and is comparable to other countries and further reduction will risk under-teaching. Since curriculum is at its bare minimum, they have to look to other avenues to free up time.

Removing mid-year exams in the transition years of P3, P5, Sec 1 and Sec 3 will free up an extra 3 weeks every 2 years.

From the Work Plan 2018:

“I hope schools will use the time well, for example, to conduct applied and inquiry based learning. In applied and inquiry based learning, our students observe, investigate, reflect, and create knowledge. And that will naturally take up more time.”

I am extremely pleased to read this. That is how I have been teaching my children when it comes to any form of knowledge and how we have been educating children in my enrichment centre.

However, in reality, this approach to learning will take up much more time than an extra 10 days per year. Teachers need to brainstorm, create lesson plans, share best practices and implement. It is a good start nonetheless and we are moving in the right direction.

Assessment. Personally I feel that the PSLE should stay because we need a national exam to sort the children at the end of 6 years instead of moving them straight through for 10 years of education. In fact, I find that the 6 years of primary school is the most narrowly defined approach, and it gets better once they get sorted into secondary school and beyond.

Take the tiny sample size of my 5 kids who have finished their PSLE. There is a stark difference in their learning styles, aptitudes, interests and pen and paper academic abilities and it would not be equitable to them if they were all bundled together.

#2 is the most academically inclined of the lot, and placed in a class of 40 or even in a lecture hall of 150, she is capable of learning well. However, #5’s learning style is experiential and he has been doing much better this year in a class of 8 where their teachers try to adapt the lessons to suit them. I have observed how the 3 different secondary schools my girls went through offered different niche programmes, learning approaches and pace.

Having said that, the mechanics of the questions in the PSLE and what they hope to develop in our students have to be re-examined.

More importantly, the way the PSLE has evolved to become a stress-inducing high stakes exam has to be unwound and mindsets need to change.

I am all for removing the 2 mid-year exams in primary school and 2 in secondary school as there is an urgent need to carve out more time. There will no doubt be a push back from parents who are afraid they will have no certainty of knowing how their child is faring and it will take time for parents to align with the big scheme of things.

One gripe I have is that too much time is still spent on preparing students for the PSLE. In many schools, preparations start from P5 onwards, and the entire P6 year is geared towards tackling the PSLE by drilling them with an avalanche of past year papers. That is 2 years of precious time that could be used for real learning instead of preparing them to be exam ready. I hope to see the day when these 2 are congruent – where real learning leads them naturally to be exam ready.

Many kids tell me honestly that they study only for the exams, and don’t ask them any concepts after that because they have forgotten what they have learnt.

Is that true education? If we measure our education by the yardstick of applicable knowledge, we have failed in our objective, and we have failed our children.

Removing class and level positions. This is a change in line with PSLE scoring no longer being in relation to their peers from 2021. It sends a strong message and will hopefully shift the mindset of parents from competition to learning for learning’s sake and to work towards the aim of advancement.

But as Minister Ong said, “the report book should still contain some form of yardstick and information to allow students to judge their relative performance.”

This is very necessary because of the wide variation in the standard of examinations set, thus the mark on an exam paper is not indicative.

During #1’s P5 year end exam, she scored 50+ for her English and I was very concerned as English is her strong subject. At the PTM, I was told not to worry as she was one of the top scorers and most of the other students had failed.

If schools are able to set consistent standards, and parents can be assured that an A means a child is doing well, a B means there is room for improvement, a fail means he needs extra help or hasn’t put in much effort, and so forth, then we can make sense of their marks. But if a score of 58 placed her in the top 85% then we do need the percentile of the cohort as a gauge as it paints a clearer picture. 

Joy of learning. Minister Ong says “They must leave the education system still feeling curious and eager to learn, for the rest of their lives.”

This is a lofty goal. It is sad how children enter preschool bright-eyed and full of ideas, yet they leave P6 either as robots churning out good grades or with their zest for learning squelched.

Several reasons contribute to it. High parental expectations, an overload of school work plus tuition, non-inspiring curriculum in the upper primary years, and teachers. At the end of P5, #5’s Science teacher told me, “You need to get him to conform. Don’t ask so many questions. Leave all that for secondary school. It’s time to wake up and focus on the exams. He is a bright child with so much potential, but look at his grades.” The irony is that he loves Science, and has been doing well in it, except the year when he was in her class.

At the same discussion, his male form teacher agreed that the PSLE was important, but he assured me not to worry as he feels that #5 will go very far in future, with his innovative and creative flair, natural leadership ability and eagerness to help his peers. He asked if I would be sending him to an international school as that would suit him better.

With MOE trying to do what’s best for our children, parents also have a part to play in this equation. New initiatives are rolled out to resolve problems or to enable. We have a choice how we want to react and respond to new policies.

We need to shift from teaching to the test to focus on learning to learn.

In the coming years, there is bound to be more changes, and I will be worried if there isn’t! We need to take a broader overview instead of being myopic. It starts with us parents who need to be comfortable with change. The world is changing rapidly and we will be overtaken if we don’t stay relevant.

I’m reassured to see that MOE has been planning ahead instead of being complacent as we are consistently top of the charts in international rankings. I am certain that together, we can do it! We will refine our education system into a truly world class system, and educate a whole generation of resilient learners who are not afraid to chase their dreams and have the skills and ability to do so.

Equip them right and let them fly. I have never placed emphasis on their results, only on the process of learning and #2 is testimony that they haven’t been short-changed. We were overjoyed to hear that she did really well for her A level prelims. Her home tutor called her in for a meeting and her name has been sent up for a PSC scholarship as she has not only managed to achieve stellar results but has held a full spectrum of leadership roles over the past 2 years in JC.

By equipping her with the right skills, perseverance, and support, she is ready to go far. I’m sure the rest of them will find their strengths and purpose and soar in their own time.

Tertiary Education. I am not worried even for my kids who are the round pegs in this square system. There are so many exciting courses in the polytechnics and local universities that they are having difficulty choosing just 1. And they don’t have to. It will be a lifelong journey, and our role is to guide them with wisdom. So long as they continue to want to learn and to improve their skills, the world is their oyster.

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 ~

ECHA – The Mother of all Awards

I’m a proud mama. So very proud of #1 and #2.

All the prouder because they did it on their own.

We take them as they are and they know they never need to be top just to please us.

#2 mentioned being nominated for some award. I wasn’t exactly sure what it was until the letter came in the mail.

You have been awarded the Edusave Character Award (ECHA). The ECHA is given up to 2% of students who have demonstrated exemplary character and outstanding personal qualities through their behaviour and actions.

WOW. 2%! That was quite something.

Well done, kids!

Glad we had kids way before any of our friends and were never bombarded with smiling faces and awards floating around social media making us feel inadequate.

It was a good 5 years after #1 started primary school that we first heard of such awards given out by MOE. That same year, 2 of them received awards and we were thrilled!

One was for good results being the top 25% of her cohort. But what surprised us even more was that the other child also received an award. She has always been weak academically even though she is very bright.

She’s a kinesthetic learner and a curious questioner, which our education system is unable to develop and recognise. When she received a good progress reward, we all laughed, but it was wonderful that MOE gives out such a category to recognise the effort these children put in to further motivate them.

The kids turned it into a joke and quipped: next year, I will purposely do very badly for SA1 so that by SA2, I will have the greatest improvement!

Since that first award almost 10 years ago, they have received different awards for results, progress, leadership, Eagles, and the level of excitement has muted.

Until now.

We opened the letter with the MOE logo and #2 was overjoyed that she had clinched the ECHA award in JC1.

Now that is something else altogether. Not only is it accorded to the top 2% of the cohort, but hearing about the stringent selection process made me immensely proud of her.

First, she had to be nominated by her classmates and also her CCA mates. Crossing the peer hurdle is already a big deal when you are a teenager! Next, the nomination has to be approved by her own teachers and CCA teachers which says a lot as they are in class with you on a daily basis and everything from work attitude to conduct to punctuality is taken into consideration. Thereafter, she had to write not one, but two 500-word reflections on her education experience. Only then was she selected for a face to face interview with the panel of school leaders.

AND SHE MADE IT!! (I’m sure you can tell I’m still elated.)

Before our excitement abated, #1 came home beaming and showed us her cert. She has been placed on the Director’s list! What better way to wrap up her 3 years in poly.

For her, the journey was tough. Over the course of the diploma, she realised that this was not her area of interest and some days she really couldn’t sit through one more boring lecture. Yet she trudged on as I told her that no matter what, there is something to learn in any field and she should still put in good effort.

She has made it through her first diploma and I’m excited to see how the next few years unfold for her as we guide her to explore and narrow down her career choices.

For now, it’s all smiles around here 🙂

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

PSLE Results: Good or Bad, what do you say?

2017 PSLE results will be released tomorrow. I was asked for my views for a CNA article, and what poured out was enough to write a whole post after going through this 4 times!

As the PSLE is the first major exam they face, we, as parents have an important role to frame this experience for them. How we guide them to view failure and success is crucial. Our children need to know that one failure does not define them; they can get up, dust themselves and try harder next year. If they have the resilience and tenacity, they will go far despite early failures.

Thus whether they do well or not, it is a window of opportunity to start talking to them about how they themselves feel about their achievements and what they did to get there. The discussion about the process is even more important than the end result of the grade.

I remember the day I collected my PSLE even though it was so long ago. My parents were not well educated and left us to handle our school life. They did not know when our exams were nor gave us any tuition or assessment books.

The day before the results were released, my dad who had never said much relating to school told me this: “No matter what, just come home. It’s ok.”

I didn’t really know what he meant until the next day.

When we received our results, there were exuberant friends, crying friends and parents with grim faces.

My results were average, better in some subjects, worse in others. I didn’t know what to feel, as there were friends who did much better and friends who did much worse.

What stuck with me the most, was that the aggregate itself didn’t matter.

What mattered was that I could go home, not having to hang my head down or having to face the wrath of my parents. I knew they loved and cared about me, regardless of what was written on that paper in my hands. I felt safe. Several of my friends dreaded to go home, afraid of what their parents would say.

When I showed my parents my results, they acknowledged the good and the bad and told me simply to work harder next time.

These days, it is as much a PSLE mummy’s journey as the child’s, or perhaps there is even more at stake for mum. The time and money poured into sending them for tuition, having to face friends and neighbours who may be judging us or worries about our child going into an “undesirable” school.

But try to resist the urge to compare them to their siblings, label them as “lazy” or take it as an opportunity to unleash your pent-up emotions on them. I’ll admit that I have done all of the above at various times with my 4 older kids. It’s hard, but we have to restrain ourselves and not say things in the heat of the moment we might regret.

So what advice can I give to parents?

If your child has done badly, all the more, it is crucial for you to provide them with emotional support at a time when they are probably feeling lousy about themselves. They may have worked really hard, and are disappointed in their own grades. Or their close friends may have done well and are all celebrating and discussing exciting plans and looking forward to entering the schools of their choice. They may have cousins in the same year and relatives are patting them on the shoulder, telling them how smart they are or how wonderful they have done. It is not easy for a 12-year-old to experience and process all that is going on.

When one of my kids did badly for the PSLE, I had to bite my tongue. I wanted to scold her, “Watch some more TV la! Sleep late and don’t concentrate in class!” My mind darted around, looking for things to blame – Our education system for being ridiculous in expecting all 12-year olds to be suitable for this narrow examination model, her teachers for focusing on quantity instead of quality, resulting in many of her classmates scoring between 180-210, the hubs for allowing her to watch Chinese drama with him and wasting precious time, our dog for her incessant barking, affecting her concentration. I had to exercise tremendous self-control and not rub salt into the wound as I knew she was already feeling awful.

There is no point in giving them a long “I told you so” lecture the day they get their results. Instead, take them out individually for a meal or an activity to show them that above all, you love them and value them, despite their result. Try to refrain from talking about the PSLE (I know it’s hard!) unless they raise it. Then, when they open the conversation, go in for the kill! (just kidding). Talk to them about what they are thinking and feeling. They may be afraid of going to a new school all alone, especially if their group of friends all made it into the affiliated school. They may feel embarrassed, ashamed or upset that they have disappointed you.

Just imagine what they have gone through for the past year. All that stress, late nights studying, and expectations from parents and teachers, culminating in these 3 digits. Give them time and space to process their emotions. When they have come to terms with their results, you can move on to discuss how they can learn from this experience. What strategies worked for them and what did not, what are their areas of strengths and weaknesses.

For children who do well, it is also an opportunity to guide them. Acknowledge and celebrate with them if they had run the race and emerged triumphant! But instead of congratulating them as being a smart girl or boy, praise the specific effort and strategies which helped them to excel. #1 went from failing all 4 subjects at the end of P5 to scoring straight As in her PSLE. By putting in sustained effort and persevering despite the odds, it showed in her results. She was self-motivated and did 4 hours of Math practice almost daily, and went to her aunt’s house every weekend to practice her Chinese Oral, going from being shy and having a limited vocabulary to being more confident about the language.

On the other hand, there are children who are able to ace our exams year after year either because their intelligence fits our education model or because they have been highly tutored. The danger comes when they move into higher education. Some children have never tasted failure, and when they do so, it could be at the A levels or University and they are unable to bounce back. Worse, they may go into depression or even attempt suicide because of self-imposed shame or despair as they are no more seen as being smart.

I was surprised but many bright kids I spoke to regret not putting in more effort and felt they were too complacent. Don’t compare them to others saying things like, “Wow you did so much better than so and so.” Instead, hold them to higher standards because they are capable of more. Tell them that you expect great things from them, and they should still strive to put in their best effort and achieve what you know they are capable of.

The PSLE may be over, but it is not the last exam or challenge they will have to face. It is in our hands to support and empower them to ready them for the next stage and beyond.

It’s not going to be easy, but see it as an opportunity to help them take ownership of both their successes or failures. Good luck parents!

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 ~

My BEST Parent Teacher Meeting EVER

I dreaded to attend #5’s PTM. Every year, his teachers complain about the same things. He doesn’t pay attention in class, blurts out irrelevant things while the teacher is talking, is always fiddling with something, does not hand in his work on time and can’t file his worksheets properly.

They have tried everything – the soft approach (talking to him nicely), the hard approach (scolding him), punishing him by making him stay back during recess to finish his work, but nothing works.

In their eyes, he is a mischevious and problematic student.

While walking into school, I seriously contemplated turning back. I don’t have to subject myself to another round of complaints from his teachers, exhorting the same problems. I can already hear it coming… “He talks too much, is distracted, likes to do his own things.”

But I took a deep breath and as the PSLE is next year, I wanted to keep tabs on what he’s been up to in school.

I entered the classroom with trepidation. Finally, it was my turn.

Mrs Lim, his Science teacher sighed and said, “You are xx’s mum…” (yes, she did let out an audible, resigned sigh. I’m sure I wasn’t dreaming it).

I looked at her pleadingly like ok, give it to me straight.. what else am I going to hear this time. Let’s get it over and done with.

She started with the same old. “He doesn’t pay attention and is always busy fiddling with his pencil case and I have to confiscate his things.”

I probed further. “What do you mean by not paying attention?”

Now I’m almost an expert on attention issues, having seen all permutations of kids who come to my enrichment centre because they are bright but not reaching their potential.

Sitting across his teachers trying to figure out his learning behaviour made me realise how much firsthand experience I have gained in this one year by being the bridge between hearing from parents and seeing the changes in the kids by isolating their problems instead of seeing them as being “naughty”, “lazy” or “distracted”.

I wanted to get to the root of the problem so that we could work together to help him.

Mrs Lim elaborated. “Halfway through my lesson, he will stop listening and do his own things. Thus when it comes to doing the worksheets, he does not know what to do because he has stopped listening.”

Ah, he had the same problem last year and his Math teacher discovered exactly what was happening. She said that the first time she introduces a new concept, he is interested and will be listening attentively. But when she repeats herself the second or third time to cater to those who did not fully understand, that is when he will switch off and start fiddling in his pencil case to create something. She realised that he understands concepts easily and gets bored when the lesson is moving too slowly.

So his Math teacher decided that she would let him fold his origami quietly if she has to repeat herself for the other students. This is better than him turning to his friends to start chatting. So long as he is not disturbing anyone, it was a reasonable solution.

However, because he has switched off, he would miss important information and thus would not be able to complete his homework. She would then call his attention before issuing instructions. It took her many months, but she finally figured him out. In a class of 40, it is not easy to move everyone along at the same pace, thus it is inevitable that some students fall through the cracks.

#5’s tinker corner
Mr Tan, his form teacher, had been listening quietly as I chatted with Mrs Lim and he finally chipped in. This is the first time #5 has a male teacher and I was keen to get his perspective.

I asked him directly. “Is he naughty in school?”

“He is not naughty. Yes, he is playful and very active and tends to talk loudly. But he is not what I’d call naughty. In fact, he has a caring side. When classmates do not understand their work, he will explain to them.”

Music to my ears! Finally. A teacher who could see past his challenging behaviour, and in turn, he probably behaves himself better in Mr Tan’s class.

He asked me what he does at home and I described how he likes to while away his after school hours tinkering with engineering concepts.

He starts by looking at the manual, but would toss it aside and freely create what he envisions in his mind. He would spend hours cooped up in his room and has no problems being able to focus on a single activity for several hours.

He built this structure and allowed Kate to place the little balls at the top and watch them drop into the collection cup he fashioned. He patiently problem-solved and shortened or lengthened the various threads and added or removed segments of the track to align it at the precise height for the ball to turn smoothly. He must have adjusted it a few hundred times! Such perseverance.

He explained to me that it should not roll too fast (or it will fly off course) nor too slow (as it will come to a halt). After playing with the same structure for a few days, he will dismantle it and start dreaming up something new.

Mr Tan said simply. “#5 is a bright boy. He is creative and inventive. He has lots of ideas and can lead others. The unfortunate thing is, he will perhaps not thrive in our local system, but I think you don’t have to be worried. I am certain he will have a bright future. Are you considering sending him overseas?”

I asked him, as his English teacher, how can he tell that he is intelligent? He explained that when they discuss open ended questions, it is usually #5 who can come up with a fresh idea and he is able to back it up with a logical reasoning.

Mrs Lim, on the other hand, was concerned that this term, he has become even more inattentive. As we discussed further, she said that they are spending time covering answering techniques.

That explains it. She said that #5 is attentive when she is teaching a new Science topic. But when she teaches them how to answer the questions using the correct key words, he is not interested in listening.

Can I fault him? Should our exams even be thus? Nothing more than drilling and regurgitating, and giving the examiner the correct key words they are looking for?

As for his other ‘bad’ behaviour like blurting out in class, not filing his worksheets in the correct order and not handing in his homework on time, these are weaknesses in his executive function and that is a whole different set of skills altogether that is hard to address adequately in school.

I was never able to pin point them until now, and am actually relieved to discover that he is not just being lazy. He has poor verbal impulse control, lacks time management and organising skills and is weak at task initiation. Really need to work on these with him.

It was a rather strange PTM. 3 seated at the same table, coming from 3 different standpoints.

Mrs Lim was very worried and stressed that the PSLE is next year, yet he is so “unteachable”.

Mr Tan who didn’t quite know what to say to this parent, as he seemed stuck between a rock and a hard place. He is a part of this system, a system which is glaringly inadequate to support these mavericks, yet he recognises the different learning styles and needs of the students.

And me. A parent who wishes our education system was more progressive. I have thought long and hard about it and have made peace with the situation. We live in this country we call home, with family and friends around us, and we will stay put. It’s a pity that our education system is evolving at such a snail’s pace and our children are wasting too much time learning to ace exams.

It is something I have never conformed to and have decided that I will not subject #5 to it, at the risk of dampening his love of Science and of learning.

I will not force my round peg into a square hole. It is not worth it. I am prepared for whatever score he might get for his PSLE and I know it is not a reflection of his abilities nor intelligence.

I will be sure to let him know that too.

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 ~

What makes a good Teacher?

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

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

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

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

I can bake!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Together, we prayed a beautiful prayer for teachers,

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

1. Someone who is patient.

2. Someone with the ability to make lessons interesting.

3. Someone who is understanding.

4. Someone who is fair to all.

5. Someone who is approachable.

6. Someone who is helpful.

7. Someone who is kind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAPPY TEACHERS’ DAY!


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