We are getting 2 new acting ministers for Education

I read with great sadness that Mr Heng Swee Keat is no more our Education Minister and has been appointed as the new Finance Minister.

Great sadness for 2 reasons.

One, because he has been student-centric and we are starting to see the fruits of his labour and two, because 4 years is simply too short to see real changes as the education cogwheel is so complex. Another term helmed by Mr Heng would have been good.

Source: Channel News Asia

After reading the article MOE to get two new acting ministers in today’s Straits Times, I feel even worse.

“PM Lee had said two years ago that the Primary School Leaving Examination would be revamped, but no details have been released since.”

I raised this issue with Mr Heng about a year ago when I had a chance to speak with him at a dinner. I shared with him some sentiments on the ground. I told him that after it was announced that the PSLE aggregate score would be scraped, kiasu parents have been scrambling to sign their kids up for more enrichment classes in the creative arts to boost their portfolios, in the void of further information on how all the A students are going to be differentiated.

Just when we thought things are moving forwards, would it be back to the drawing board? Besides the PSLE aggregate problem, there are many more issues at hand.

When I attended a dialogue session at the MOE 2 years ago, they shared with us that with some policies, it is one step forwards, two steps back. Many a time, it is the parents who need convincing.

I totally agree that the ministry can’t work alone and that parents play a huge role.

However, to build a good relationship, doesn’t it take time and trust?

Over the past 4 years, we have come to like and respect Mr Heng and his views, and parents are more open to the directives coming from his office.

There’s another aspect of the re-shuffling which unsettled me.

Mr Lee said yesterday that he has known Mr Ng and Mr Ong before they joined politics and that they “have potential but need the exposure and experience. I’m able to supervise and oversee and mentor them.”

Commentator Ho Kwon Ping described the education portfolio as “one of the most important ones and is usually a prerequisite for someone en route to being a PM”.

Why do I get the sense that it’s politics before people?

I thought it strange that some teachers who had been teaching for decades had this to say about the Education portfolio, but now I understand their acquiescence.

“We are like a ball. Always passed around.”

Finance needs Mr Heng but we need him too!

I can only hope that the 2 new ministers work fast to get a feel of the situation on the ground and address the pressing problems facing our children, as the education situation from pre-school to tertiary not only affects their future, but also has a direct impact on the lives of families in the here and now.

On a brighter note, something to cheer about is having two new acting ministers.

Mr Ng Chee Meng will oversee pre-schools, primary and secondary schools, and Junior Colleges. He has served for three decades in the Singapore Armed Forces, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed as to his direction.

Mr Ong Ye Kung, who has served as Mr Lee’s principal private secretary and was NTUC deputy secretary-general, will be in charge of ITEs, polytechnics, universities, private education, and continuing education and training.

We wish Mr Heng Swee Keat all the best in his new appointment, and warmly welcome Mr Ng and Mr Ong in their new positions and hope that this change in leadership will bear much fruit for Singapore in the coming years.

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

A letter from a 16-year old who has never had tuition

I wrote a post “Is Tuition your first line of attack” about how children should try their very best before even asking for tuition. I received an email written by a 16-year old student, and she impressed me so much that I have to share it with you.

Hi Michelle,

I thought your latest article on tuition was thought provoking – and the conversation you had highly amusing. As someone who has not had tuition in her life nor felt the need for it, and whose parents strongly oppose tuition, I suppose I’m a sort of rare breed in Singapore.

Most of my peers are enrolled in tuition. It is easy also to find students who really enjoy tuition, up to the point where they don’t quit even when they excel in that particular field. While parents definitely remain a driving force in this tuition mentality, I wholeheartedly agree with your point on how some students themselves seem to view it as the “norm”.

Your viewpoint on how students should not be over reliant on tuition is, I feel, very relevant in our current society, for we are cultivating a generation of learners that require spoon-feeding. However, perhaps I can offer alternative viewpoints to some of the other points you made.

You mentioned that our education system is not able to prepare our children for national examinations without any external help. Perhaps that may be true for children sitting for their PSLE at 12, but I feel it becomes less so for teens aged 16 or 18. At that age, the main driving force should be themselves, and not the system they are in.

In addition, while Singapore’s syllabus is definitely challenging compared to say, Britain’s, that doesn’t mean the system is unable to prepare children for national examinations either. I believe that both the student and the system are equally important.

Lastly, you mentioned that you see tuition as a means of catching up when one is lagging behind. While I do not dispute that tuition may be an effective method, I believe that work should have a continuous standard of consistency – and tuition should not be used as a desperate measure. If used that way, the risks of the student expecting tuition, not putting in sufficient effort, and not being able to face adversity will increase.

Being able to produce work at a consistent and commendable standard is definitely no easy feat, but I believe that that is the true key to excelling academically. If one starts early and builds up the foundations from lower secondary, the chances of floundering months away from major examinations drops. Furthermore, persisting and learning how to overcome challenges in their academic life will never do a student any harm – especially when the real world is so much harsher, and when there isn’t “tuition” that can salvage damages they incur when they grow up.

Thank you for reading this email ; I like the viewpoints you offer about various academic processes!

Best wishes,

Hear, hear.

Straight from the mouth of a 16-year old.

Her parents have done such a remarkable job bringing her up – instilling independence, self-motivation, and perseverance in their child. I should get my kids to hang out with her ūüėČ

Here’s an excerpt of my reply:

A few things impressed me. The fact that you have no tuition at all, you embody the learning style of what every parent hopes their child would achieve (independent and consistent learning), and that you are able to put forth your differing opinions in such a pleasant and straightforward way without sounding antagonistic. Very rare for this generation of students.

Let me elaborate on the point of our education system not being able to prepare the majority of students for the exams.

When my eldest took her Os, she discovered that friends in other schools had very detailed notes which helped tremendously in their revision, which her teachers did not provide. Furthermore, some of her teachers were not able to impart skills in tackling the papers, which she only picked up in the last few weeks from her older cousins. There are many more examples, which led us to the conclusion that the standards of getting the students prepared for the Os differ drastically depending on the teachers and the school.

I totally agree with you that the right way is not to give our kids tuition as a desperate measure and they should study the way you do. However, the reality is different for many students, and as a parent, when you see your child still not making the mark months before the Os, you become desperate!

Could you elaborate on why your parents are opposed to tuition? Nice to hear from parents who hold this view.

Claudia’s reply:

Reading your elaboration of the education system, I totally agree with the points you made. Certainly, there will be effective teachers as there will be ineffective ones. When I encounter such teachers, I try to source my own notes from other platforms, rather than sit around waiting for good teaching that I know will never happen.

From young, I never possessed the mentality that all my unsolved problems could wait till tuition – I attempted it myself, and asked my parents as a last resort. This possibly bred a more independent and self-responsible style of learning, which my parents hoped to cultivate. They absolutely hated it when I wanted answers for something I had not yet attempted.

Secondly, there was also time, or lack thereof. My parents thought I should be spending time on other enrichments and lessons, or things that I actually liked, rather than go to tuition and get overloaded with yet more homework. They thought I already had enough of that in school!

Another reason is also, as you mentioned, finances. When I was younger, I was shuttled to a variety of lessons, none of which I regret taking, I must add. All those lessons must have snipped away a huge chunk of income – but those were what my parents consciously chose to enroll me in, rather than tuition.

The broad reasoning, however, is definitely difference in mentality, and what skills or passions they hoped I would cultivate in the long run.

I must really meet her parents. Not easy to find like-minded parents in today’s world, and they sound like they have succeeded in what I am still attempting to achieve with my kids! And for Claudia to assimilate the ideals, live it, and expound it at the age of 16, I really take my hats off to her parents.

Finally, I asked if she could share how she sources for better notes or help when the teaching is not adequate, as it would be insightful for all of us, especially those with children in secondary school.

And here are her tips:

I’m not clear how the situation is in other schools, but in mine, a plethora of platforms with different notes by different teachers are usually available. These notes are not printed by our teachers, but sometimes turn out to be more helpful in revision. Downloading such notes can be useful compared with your own – especially if the language used to explain concepts differs between both.

Getting hand-me-down notes from seniors is a good option as well. Between different years, there is likely to be certain variations made between the notes, like different graphics used, different explanation formats etc. These can really supplement conceptual knowledge and ensure no part of the notes is left uncovered, especially since there is the possibility of unspecific or unclear notes.

In terms of actively asking for help, I find that approaching a subject teacher individually might be more helpful. With 30 or more students in class, the teacher might adjust the teaching pace to suit the general needs of the class and not the individual. Going for a short one-to-one consultation, or group consultations might allow the student better clarification time. That being said, I feel these consultations will only be effective if the student has put in effort and hard work but still has unanswered questions.

I was surprised that notes from different teachers are available on her school’s website as that is not the case for my girls in their secondary schools. Sounds like a cheap and viable solution for inadequate notes, which would make revision for the Os more comprehensive.

Such an enlightening and motivating exchange I had with this very intelligent student. Many parents dream of moulding this kind of child, but few succeed and thus succumb to tuition, at one stage or another.

Thank you dear Claudia, you are indeed a beacon of light not only to us parents, but to fellow students, as testament that it can be done, and that we should not waver in our quest to develop resourceful, self-motivated children, but allow them the opportunity to find their own independent feet and taste the sweetness of achievement by their own efforts.

Related post:

6 tips to choose the secondary school for your child

6 things to do in the PSLE year

School Stories:

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

#11 – How #2 topped her level in English
#12 – DSA. Yet another initiative parents have warped
#13 – Is tuition your first line of defence

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

School Stories #13:Tuition – First line of attack?

I had the most amusing conversation with #2’s classmate, C. She has been asking #2 to enrol in her Math tuition but #2 told her that I’m not allowing it at the moment, but will consider it next year when they are in Secondary 4.

C called me to try and convince me herself. She spoke with such urgency and¬†couldn’t believe how a parent would not¬†immediately sign their child up for tuition if they could afford it.

These were her arguments:

  • CA2 is coming up very soon. She is only scoring around 50-60 marks. What are we waiting for?
  • Another classmate who just joined managed to pull up her grade from C to B. The tutor is very good and we will¬†definitely see improvement.
  • She needs to get her foundation strong if not it will be very difficult next year to catch up and get an A.
  • They have 8 subjects to concentrate on next year, and it would be too stressful if many subjects are weak.

I found the conversation highly amusing because the roles were reversed! A child was trying to convince a classmate’s mother of the necessity of tuition.

Beyond that, I was struck by C’s genuine concern for my daughter. What a good friend she was! I told #2 that it is hard to find such caring friends these days as kids seem to have a ‘better for you, worse for me’ mentality.

However, I was somewhat perturbed that tuition was seen by most children in Singapore as a norm, an expected part of school life, the right of a student.

I replied that I whole-heartedly agreed with all her points. However, I explained that tuition should not be seen as an easy way out.

Not doing well? Tuition!

Tuition is a privilege, not a given.

The given is that the child puts in her best effort to listen in class, finish all the requisite homework, approach the¬†teacher for help if she doesn’t understand, and keep practicing.

And if after all these, she is still not performing, then, and only then, should tuition be considered.

Knowing her, #2 must have been either daydreaming, or was not motivated to put in enough effort for her Math. If she was able to score A* for Math in PSLE without any tuition, I am sure she is capable of achieving better results, and should not be allowed to be spoon-fed by tuition at this stage.

I also explained to C that there are sacrifices and priorities that go behind a decision to allow for tuition, especially in a big family like ours.

As the location is rather inconvenient, I have to send her, wait around for 2 hours, and pick her back. That means I will not be able to spend the time doing something more productive with Kate or the other kids, not to mention the stress of driving in peak hour traffic.

I quipped that since the tutor was so amazing, I’m sure #2 would be able to score an A if I signed her up 6 months prior to the O levels. They felt I was pushing it, but I recounted the story of how I went from an F9 to an A1 for my O level Math with 5 days of tuition. Yes, I had a pretty astounding tutor. Who happened to be my best friend’s mum. Who offered me the tuition free¬†because she felt sorry for me.

Besides time and effort, there is also the financial consideration. Could the money spent be put to better use? #2 really wants to go to Canada to visit her good friend and I told her that if she achieves the goal I set for her, I would take her there.

I would much rather use the money for a nice trip together than spend it on tuition, as I want the children to learn that money is finite and the way we spend it should reflect our beliefs and priorities.

There was a pause on the other end. C was dumbfounded. It never occurred to her what went behind parents providing tuition for their children.

In secondary school, before throwing them the life-line of tutors, I encourage them to study with their classmates and help one another to revise, so that those strong in certain subjects can teach the others and vice versa.

Our home is always open to them, and they have learnt that cooperation is better and way more fun than competition. Besides, by teaching their peers, it helps to reinforce what they have learnt. It really is a win-win situation. The kids also learn that everyone is gifted differently and no one should feel inferior or superior to others.

Besides, I don’t want them to be reliant on tuition because when they enter¬†polytechnic or university, no one is going to sit by their side and spoon feed them.

The big question remains: Is 1 year enough to chase up? Well, maybe not. But I have to draw the line somewhere.

If I was wiling to pump money, time and effort to send her all over the place for tuition from the time she was in Sec 1, I would definitely expect her to churn out the As. The expectations would escalate, and so would the stress.

It’s just unfortunate that even though we have a world class education, it is still not able to prepare the majority of our children adequately for the national exams without external help.

I have accepted that reality and factored it into my overall strategy.

I am not willing to let¬†tuition run amok in our lives because it is all too easy to be sucked in to this whole ‘better not lose out’ mentality and be blinded to the¬†opportunity cost and toil it will take on the children and our family.

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

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

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

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

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

MOE website

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great. Thanks for making the choice easier for us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Am I thankful the MOE came up with DSA?

You bet I am.

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

Save tip: Sometimes we make parenting way more stressful and expensive than it should be. I am quite certain that when the MOE mapped out this initiative, they never intended it to benefit the sports vendors, but our children.
PSLE results: Good or bad, what do you say?
6 tips to choose a secondary school that is right for your child
My teen in a neighbourhood school
PSC Scholarship? Wow
What the PSLE is really aboutWho is behind MOE
PSLE results: A test of the parents more than the child

ECHA – The mother of all awards

School Stories:

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

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


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


Inspiring youths – Life of a blogger

I spent a lovely evening with a group of 14-year olds, sharing with them what the job of a blogger entails. This is part of their school’s leadership program, to allow the students an opportunity to chat with a working adult about their career.

It is heartening to discover that schools take the initiative to plan and organise such relevant enriching sessions for their students and I was more than happy to volunteer my time.

Sec 2 students
It was nice to see teenagers sitting through 2 hours of a meal, asking pertinent questions and listening attentively. These were some of the things they wanted to know about blogging:

How do you gain readers?

You have to write things that people would want to read, that they would find value in. Be it informative, interesting, thought-provoking, humorous or sharing the ‘in thing‘. As friends start to support and spread your posts via social media, it will grow from there.

There are many blogs around, so it is important that you find your niche. (I went round the table asking them about their interests and gave suggestions from there.)

Do you run out of things to write about?

I don’t! Probably because I love to talk so much that I have lots of things I want to say and share. And the fact that I have 6 kids ranging from 2 to 16, gives me lots to write about – from discipline, to fun activities, to tackling our education system and much more. In fact, I was so busy replying texts from friends asking all sorts of questions with regards to their children that they suggested I put it all down in a blog, and that was how I got started.

However, I’ve heard that bloggers, like other writers, do get into a rut and run out of things to write about. If you are passionate about an area, you will naturally want to read, explore and discover more about it and the more you get into it, the more angles you have to talk about. And to constantly get inspired through reading other people’s writing to ponder and come up with refreshing ideas.

Are your husband and children supportive of your blogging?

Initially the hubs was sceptical, wondering what sort of a job that was, but now he is supportive and also provides me with photos I can use (as my photography skills leave a lot to be desired!) As for my kids, they are totally behind me in this because of the free things we are sponsored and the wonderful opportunities we get invited to like media launches. When my previous domain name disappeared and I was considering if I should stop blogging, it was the children who encouraged me to carry on.

Do you do vlog? (I had to clarify this, and they asked if I walk around my house videoing my kids and putting it up on my blog)

Definitely not. I am vigilant in maintaining their privacy as there may be stalkers out there. As all of you are young, you should also be wary of maintaining your privacy, as what you put up on social media will stay there forever and who knows what people could do with your personal information or photos.

If we don’t like the service or product we are reviewing, are we supposed to lie?

I shared with them that such issues on morals and what we stand for will surface not only as bloggers, but also in other jobs as well, and it is important that we uphold our integrity and reputation. What I do is to be direct with my clients and usually they are understanding enough to respect my stand as a blogger with integrity. If I am uncomfortable with a client who wants me to write things which I don’t believe to be true, I would rather drop the collaboration.

As we rounded up the discussion, I asked them if there were other careers besides blogging that they were considering and one said, “My parents want me to be a doctor. For my future.”

Ah, typical. I shared with them my 101 Paths to Success series and told them that in today’s career landscape, there are many other viable paths for young people to pursue, and they should start asking themselves what they enjoy and what they are good at, and not be limited only by the “doctor/lawyer/engineer” mindset.

Before you think I have anything against these professions, I better clarify that I do not, and am in fact going to include them in my success series. I just feel that it is sad if parents don’t do enough research and and are not open to the endless opportunities out there for our current generation of children and simply dictate their career choices based on outmoded notions. How many times have I seen people who finally quit their professions and “do what they have always wanted to do”.

I guess they could sense my enthusiasm about this series and commented that “you are so kind to want to help other people, why do you spend so much time doing it”. I shared with them that when you reach a certain age, your focus changes and you tend to find joy in giving back. And when you find things which excite you, it will spur you into taking action.

At the end of the dinner, they asked if I was going to blog about the event, and I said I wasn’t intending to. Then I realized that they were keen for me to do so. Such dears.

It is very refreshing to speak with young people and hear their viewpoints. Their energy and vigour also rubs off on you and I feel years younger! ūüėČ

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

{Interview #2} Jeremiah Choy – Creative Director

Jeremiah Choy, 52, is the Creative Director of Sing50, a concert to be held at the National Stadium to commemorate Singapore’s 50th Jubilee celebrations. In 2015, he was also creative director for May Day Rally, Singapore Day (Shanghai) and Spotlight Singapore, a platform in cultural diplomacy in Mexico City. He will be directing ChildAid 2015 in December this year. He was an Adjunct Lecture with the Singapore Management University and was the President of the Association of Singapore Actors. He founded the Orangedot Group of Companies comprising Productions, Entertainment, Management and Talents.

This initiative is part of our 101 Paths to Success series of interviews to gain insight into how successful people came to do what they are doing, and enlighten parents that there is a vast array of occupations for our children to discover. Hopefully it might spark an interest in our children and youths to start their journey of discerning their life’s path.

Your qualifications

LLB (Hons) NUS, Singapore

Describe your job

I am now a creative director, producer and curator. 

In my younger days, I used to be an actor, dancer, choreographer and writer. Oh, I used to be a lawyer too. 

My present job is to think of ways to help my clients ‚Äúsell‚ÄĚ a message, create an experience, or simply curate a series of happenings.

The greatest pleasure in my job is that there is no real definition of what I do. I can be directing a show in theatre one moment, auditioning for a concert the next, or writing for an exhibition. I can be going around to shop for costumes, meeting like-minded people to brainstorm ideas, be alone to dream of concepts or travel the world to do yet another production. The freedom of creativity is what keeps me going.

Tell us about your career path

When I was in primary school, I had wanted to be a doctor. That was because everyone told me that it would be a good choice. Besides, I have terrible handwriting ‚Äď the sort of squiggles you see when you consult your doctor (no offence to the doctors out there).

Then came secondary school, where I had dreamed to be a violinist. But that was quickly crushed when my squealing violin playing was declaimed by the people around me.

In Junior College, I had wanted to be a doctor again. But dissecting a guinea pig with four foetuses within her made me realise for the second time, that this is one profession I was not meant to be.

So after my A level results, I decided to be a psychologist or psychiatrist. But there was no such course in NUS, so I was prepared to take up Sociology. However on my way to submit my application, a good friend persuaded me to go to Law School. He said that there were a lot of creative people in Law School. Needless to say, I was persuaded. My inner performance cells needed no convincing. 

So after National Service, I went to Law School and stayed in Kent Ridge Hall. I started dancing, singing and participated in Hall activities that allowed my creative juices to run amok. But I studied hard enough to graduate as a Law student, and eventually became a lawyer. 

Came 1988, the first production that changed my life. That was Beauty World, the musical. My first professional theatre that made me sing, dance and act (even as a chorus). I was smitten by the theatre. 

In the 10 years that followed, I co-existed as a lawyer by day and performer by night. It was exhausting but at the same time exhilarating. I was involved in many ground breaking productions by TheatreWorks and Asia-in-Theatre Research Circus.

Then came 1997, the second production that changed my life again. That was Lear, a six country, multi-disciplinary performance that toured Asia and Europe. I gave up my legal career to be in it. At first I thought, I would try going full time as a performer for 2 years. That 2 years have become 18 years.

Over the years, I have gravitated towards Events and Theatre. 

I am fortunate to be one of those people who can truly claim that I love what I do and do what I love. The best thing is getting paid for that. 

How did you find your passion?

I think the passion is inbuilt in me since young. I have always been interested in performing arts since young. Participating in drama, choirs, etc in my schools. 

Which aspect of your job gives you the most satisfaction?

Meeting and working with like-minded people. Getting inspired by the immense talent around me. Having the opportunity to dream, and to make my dreams come true. That is satisfaction. Guaranteed. 

You must be incredibly busy. How do you avoid being burned out?

I always remember to stop and have my me-time every now and then. Me-time can simply mean having a little quiet moment in the middle of all the hustle and bustle around me, just switching off the phone, computer, and all things electronic and indulge in a little garden-gazing with a cup of coffee in my hands. Or just taking a moment to literally re-connect with the inner-me. 

What does success mean to you?

Success is not about being famous and making money. Success is about being happy and enjoying what you do for a living. 

Are you involved in any charity work?

I have my once a year ChildAid Concert, which raises money for the School Pocket Money Fund and the Business Times Budding Artist Fund. I really enjoy doing this concert where I meet many gifted and talented children. They are being provided a platform where they can contribute back to society through their talents.

But more importantly, it gives me the opportunity to share with them some very important qualities of being a professional artiste. That is, the constant reminder to be ‚ÄúHIP‚ÄĚ –  to have Humility and Integrity and to be Professional.

No matter how great a talent the young children have, they must be able to share the stage, onstage and behind the scenes, with the cast and crew. Everyone contributes to the success of a concert. 

What does it take for young people to succeed in the Arts?

First, you must truly love the arts and believe in the power of the arts. You must have something to say. Say what you mean and mean what you say. If you think that being in the arts is about being rich and famous, then you are in for a huge surprise. People in the arts work very hard. Beauty and fame can only take you so far. It is the passion and conviction that will carry you further. 

One advice to parents

You may think your child is talented. But sometimes, it is your projection on your child. Give your child the space to explore his or her own talent. Sometimes, pushing your child too hard will create the burnout sooner. I have seen many talented 4 to 6 year olds burn out by the time they turn 15 or 16. 

If your child is truly talented, he or she will find the right way of expressing it. As parents, you can help to provide the platform. But by pushing your child beyond what is necessary, then the talent is like a flower that is over watered, which will wilt in due course, choked by the over-attention given. 

One advice to teens

It is alright to explore. You are young. You have dreams. You have a lot of time to decide what you want to do. But do not waste the talent given to you. Do not squander it away. Talent alone does not guarantee you the satisfaction of success. It is a lot of hard work.

To be a good creative director, it takes someone… who believes in himself/herself. Never doubt your own dream or vision. It takes a look of hard work to be ahead of the curve. But the satisfaction comes when you are riding the waves.

{Interviews} 101 Paths to Success

#1 – Dr Karen Crasta Scientist Associate Prof at the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine

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

{Interview #1} Associate Professor Karen Crasta – Scientist

Associate Professor Karen Crasta, 38, is a Scientist researching basic mechanisms of cancer. She is officially an Associate Prof at the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine and Joint Principal Investigator at A*STAR Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology. She heads a team researching mechanisms of cancer biology and therapy. She also teaches Medical and Biological Sciences undergraduates at NTU.

This initiative is part of our 101 Paths to Success series of interviews to gain insight into how successful people came to do what they are doing, and enlighten parents that there is a vast array of occupations for our children to discover. Hopefully it might spark an interest in our children and youths to start their journey of discerning their life’s path.

Your qualifications

B.Sc (Honours) in Microbiology from NUS
PhD in Cell Cycle Regulation from NUS

Postdoctoral Training in Cancer Biology from Harvard Medical School, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

Associate Professor Karen Crasta

Describe your job

I love my job! There is no typical day.  It consists of training, guiding my team of postdoctoral fellows, Phd Students and research assistants. I hold weekly group meetings with the team members so we have discussions as a team on how to best solve problems and learn from one another.  I may also have to review journal manuscripts and grant proposals. I occasionally teach and set student assignments and examination questions, and mark them. And of course, there are plenty of meetings to keep me busy!

As I am a National Research Foundation Fellow, my focus is more on the research aspect although I do find the teaching aspect gratifying. I try to find time to carry out my own research at the bench and make time everyday to read journal articles to keep up with the latest discoveries in the field.

Tell us about your career path

I didn’t always know that I wanted to be a scientist. However over time, it became apparent that my favourite topic was Biology. Additionally, my parents were a big influence. My mum, who stayed at home when me and my twin-sister were younger, taught us about nature and science in a fascinating way. My dad was passionate about his job as an Engineer and influenced our thinking process and the way we see the world.

I did well in CJC in Biology and decided to undertake Microbiology as a major at NUS. I was selected to the Honours Year where we were assessed on independently-carried out research projects and advanced course work. It was at this stage that I first encountered the appeal of research work. The independence of it, thinking about things, planning the steps to your next experiment, reading, discussing, trouble-shooting, making a hypothesis and predictions, testing them, failing or getting it right…. the lure of the experimentation process was exciting.

I worked for two years as a research assistant and ended up as a first-author in a reputable journal called Bacteriology! By then my interest in science was sealed and I decided to do a PhD at the then only premier research institute in Singapore called the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMB). In my final months of PhD, I went to a conference in Melbourne to present my graduate work on Cell Cycle research. At the conference, I met a Professor from Harvard whom I knew had a project in an area I was looking to pursue. He interviewed me in Melbourne and accepted me on the spot!

I packed my bags for Boston in July 2008 to start my post-doctoral training at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School. I was awarded the A*STAR International Fellowship in 2009. In 2012 I returned to Singapore and joined IMCB, now under A*STAR, as a Senior Research Fellow.

In 2013, I was awarded the National Research Foundation Fellowship from the Prime Minister‚Äôs Office which came with 3 million dollars in funding over 5 years. This allowed me to start my own lab in Sept 2013 and I’m now leading a team of like-minded people who share the same vision in solving the major problems my lab is addressing, namely toxicity and resistance of chemotherapy drugs.

My mothers’ role:

I love my Mum! My mother, Stella Crasta, nurtured my love for science and the 3 of us siblings would not have come to where we are (us twins as successful scientists and my younger sister as a lawyer) without her example, dedication, sacrifice, encouragement, and unconditional love. She imparted good Christian values to us, and most importantly, kept us constantly in her prayers.

She has a double degree in Botany and Zoology, and also in Education. When my twin sister and I were born, she stayed home until we were 16 years old. Home was a loving environment as my mum was always there to turn to for advice and Dad came home promptly at 6.15pm everyday.

I am glad my mum was a stay-at-home-mum in our growing up years. She was up early to make breakfast and prepare our lunchbox. She went through our homework and taught us different subjects in inspiring ways. She particularly had a twinkle in her eyes when teaching us Science.

Not only did she take a keen interest in our academic work, she also made sure we were self-reliant. We had to do simple household chores to learn independence and help out as a family. My parents ensured we had a well-rounded education and encouraged us to play badminton, swim to relax, and learn to play the piano. Amidst all that, she made sure we had fun as well!

My mum is now the Principal of St. Francis of Assisi Kindergarten, and it was really inspiring to see her working so hard – working during the day, going for classes at night, and staying up to finish assignments. Although she was the oldest in class, she achieved top marks for all her assignments and it was obvious that her professors and classmates loved her! It was my wise dad who encouraged her to take up teaching as he said it is always important to have other interests besides family lest anything happens to him when we’re all grown up. He passed away 3 years ago from cancer and on hindsight, it was good that she has her own interests and work to keep her busy as my Dad is no longer around as her companion.

How did you find your passion / area of interest?

It was more by trial and error. It was obvious that I did better in Biology than all the other subjects so it was natural that I gravitated towards it. Having an interest in cancer cells came from studying the controls of cell division during my phD. Understanding how cells turn cancerous became somewhat of an obsession and that intense curiosity about wanting to know more got me hooked on this path, in the hope of coming up with improved cancer therapies.
Which aspect of your job gives you the most  satisfaction?

When I see the joy of discovery on the face of someone in my team!

What does success mean to you?

Success at work is the ability to do my best every day in mentoring the younger generation so that they can become good scientists and good people. I try to always remember that any talent we have is from God and we must use it to the best of our ability.

Are you involved in any voluntary work?

I am involved in a church group that organizes activities to help the less fortunate, the elderly and the sick.

I am also an UN Women in Science Ambassador and open my lab twice a year to interested secondary school girls in the hope of inspiring and motivating them to see how fun and exciting making scientific discoveries can be!

To know more about the Girls2Pioneers program, you can visit this website – http://www.girls2pioneers.org/
One advice to parents

Support your children in pursuing dreams that make them happy; do not impinge your aspirations on them.

One advice to teens

Work hard with passion, determination and confidence to achieve your goals. You can do anything you set your mind to!

To be a good scientist, it takes someone… who is truly Passionate about science since it can be fraught with failures. Having said that, you need to be able to learn from the failures and have the ability to troubleshoot and design key experiments. You will also need to be curious about nature and how things work. Finally you need self-motivation, drive and hard work to pursue it.

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

        School Stories #9: I didn’t even know my child was being bullied,until…

        You would have heard about the ex-RGS girl suing her alma mater for her¬†suffering while studying there. Enough¬†talk has been going around, but what surprised me was the narrow definition of bullying which the school adopted. The “school policy defines bullying as involving hurting, frightening or intimidating others using power of strength while cyber bullying includes the sending of hateful messages.”

        I am glad that my daughter’s school held a broader definition of bullying and the teachers were vigilent in dealing with such cases.

        When she was in P4, she was the victim of bullying but I didn’t recognize it. I associated bullying with being physically attacked or extorted from.¬†Only after this incident did I learn that bullying can take on different forms, including verbal, emotional, sexual and cyber. Some of these can be just as, or more damaging to the victim, and usually harder to detect. I asked if she was ok with me sharing her story and she said yes.

        In P4, she was streamed into a new class and started forming a close friendship with 3 other girls. Amongst them was a more domineering girl (let’s call her D) who became the ‘leader’. After a month or so, D started to ostracise her and the other 3 followed suit. They would gang up against her and talk behind her back. It got to an extent where D told the entire class not to let her join any of their groups, be it during PE or in class project work. She was treated like an outcast.¬†

        I listened to her tales and offered some suggestions on how to handle the situation. I guess none of them worked and it seemed D was adamant on making life miserable for her. I encouraged her to be strong and to be understanding. I explained to her that it was possible that her behaviour stemmed from her insecurities as D has a slight physical deformity. It dragged on for several weeks and she¬†became more reticent. I thought it would blow over as it was common for girls to have such ‘friendship’ issues, but instead it got progressively worse.

        Thankfully, I met her form¬†teacher during the parents-teacher’s meeting and the topic happened to be raised. Her teacher was saying how quiet she was, and I mentioned that she doesn’t have anyone to talk to and the story unravelled. She got very alarmed and told me that it was a case of bullying and D was wrong to incite the entire class to alienate her.
        Her teacher took it very seriously and¬†dealt with it immediately. She had a talk with the 4 of them, with D individually, and with the class. She also told them that they were to welcome her into their groups. It was the boys who quickly included her and they¬†couldn’t even recall how it came about that they joined in to exclude her.

        I shudder to think how much damage could have been wrecked on her emotionally if the issue had failed to be recognised or resolved. Being the victim of bullying can lead children and teenagers into depression and even the contemplation of suicide.

        As parents, we can help by having constant communication with our children and to take their concerns seriously. Some kids may not be willing to open up which makes it more difficult to address. We can only try and be on the look out for clues such as changes in their behaviour, frequent physical malaise like stomachaches / headaches, or a sudden reluctance to go to school. I am really thankful that her teacher handled the situation in a tactful, caring, and professional manner.

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

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

        ECHA – The mother of all awards

        School Stories:

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

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


        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.


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