Which School?

I’m at that life stage when the no. 1 question asked of me as a parent is, “Where are you sending your son next year?”

Yep, my son is going to Primary One next year. And no, I haven’t decided where I’m sending him; I haven’t done any parent volunteerism in any school (and understand it’s too late to even try that now); I haven’t pulled any strings; I haven’t a clue when exactly primary school registration for next year starts; I don’t fully comprehend the complex system of the different phases of queuing and balloting for a place in a choice school, and so the recent news that the Ministry of Education will now give Singaporeans full priority over Permanent Residents in primary school registration hasn’t made a dent on me.

I can hear your gasp of utter disbelief and shock. Perhaps even disgust, “Such a terrible mother!”

“I’m sure you could use your position at Focus on the Family to get him into a good school.”

“Why don’t you offer to conduct family life talks and workshops for free for X-branded school? I’m sure they’ll let your son in then.”

“You should sign up to be a member of Y organization so you can get bumped up the queue.”

Well-intended words of comfort and advice.

The fact is, I don’t actually mind sending my child to the nearest neighbourhood school, if that is the only school with a vacancy for him. I’ve been trying to convince my husband that there could be hidden benefits in a school that isn’t over-crowded like the rest of Singapore, and where the teacher-student ratio could be smaller and allow my son more individualized attention. The irony is that I have attended “branded schools” all my student life and my husband the very opposite.

Okay, I’m sure you’re wondering why I don’t just enrol my son then in my alumni “branded” primary school. The reason is simple – it’s too far from home.

Let me qualify that I have given some thought to my child’s schooling:

  • Proximity of school to home. I do not wish for my son to spend 2 hours a day travelling to and from school, having either to wake up really early or come home really late. Those hours could be better spent doing fun stuff.
  • Proximity of school to workplace. I’d like to still have the opportunity to send and fetch my son to and from school as much as my flexi-work allows. I find those times invaluable in catching my son at a time when he would typically want to share about his day, before the distractions of life take over.
  • Environment in school. Like it or not, we adopt the culture of the place we’re at. Chances are, my child won’t lack stimulation or challenge. What I need to guard against is probably my child striving to achieve something that is always just beyond his reach or pegged to his self-worth. Environment is also shaped by who my child hangs out with and the parents of the kids he hangs out with, who inevitably impart their values through their child and to mine. Experience in my line of work has taught me that good parents aren’t found only in certain schools.
  • Nurturing teachers. It has long been debated whether good schools have better teachers, and if the teacher determines how well the students perform. My son’s first experience with formal learning was very much aided by his nurturing teachers, who are not of a “branded” kindergarten.
  • Match between the school and my child. I need to know how my child is wired. What pace of learning suits him best? What kind of environment would enable him to excel and fully develop as a holistic person? Which place would best shape his character and hone his natural talents?
  • Direct investment in my child. To be honest, I did consider becoming a parent volunteer. But with time being an already scarce commodity, it occurred to me that I’d rather spend my free time bonding with my son. Research after all indicates a link between a strong parent-child relationship and a child’s academic success!
  • School is about learning and not mere achieving. Learning character and values must take priority. I love Theodore Roosevelt’s quote: To educate a person in the mind but not in morals is to educate a menace to society. With the current spate of news highlighting brilliant scholars who’ve gone off the track, it seems that branded schools don’t have it all.
  • The bigger picture. I am reassured that primary school education is compulsory in Singapore. By that vein, my son has to be allowed into some school. More important than the school my son attends is the fact that I’m as involved in his life as I can be. And more important than the grades he produces is the person he becomes.

The primary school registration exercise is a great life lesson and test of us as parents. Like any other parent, we want the best for our child. But what defines “the best”? Is it the exposure to better and multiple opportunities that branded schools promise? Are “branded” families one-up on “neighborhood” families?

At the end of the day, I’ve come to realize that I have more control over my child’s schooling than I’d probably care to admit – in providing the kind of home environment that would far outweigh or complement the influence of whichever school he ends up in. That is not just encouraging, but empowering!

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