Tag Archives: School

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!


Pressing on towards Graduation

Studying is getting more and more tedious. By this second semester of my third year, I am sooooooooooo ready for this all to be over.  Yet, I have 7 more essays, 3 final exams, and 2 presentations in these last 5 weeks before the academic year is done.  School is one place where you’d definitely learn some form of resilience. Just having to get up at 6am every morning for 6 years of primary school is probably enough to give you some idea of what discipline is like.

By now, with the content of some classes being so repetitive, I have come to realize that I’m not in school for the content but for the important life skills I am acquiring. If someone says something, ask really? On the other hand, if the statement is a fact, just accept it e.g. it takes 100 degrees celsius to reach boiling point. It would be rather futile to challenge that.

School’s not just about memorizing everything then regurgitating it during exams (though that is sometimes necessary). More importantly, it is about learning how to think. Things are a lot more exciting when you get to try out your own ideas and have them honed with constructive critique from peers and instructors.

Knowing how to think is important in this rapidly changing world. Especially now, when post-modernist ideas may tell you to dump certain “traditional” ways of thinking e.g. religious beliefs or that morals and values are just social constructs. But if we just went along with that flow, are we not thinking and simply following again? Not all that sounds “right” and feels “free” is right or free. We’ve got to really think about these ideas and what their consequences may be. Would the result really be Utopia?

See, when you believe that school is not all about preparing for exams/assignments, but perhaps about answering bigger questions, it would be more interesting. Work becomes easier to bear, even where there’s a full load ahead. All we can do as students can do is to plod on and know that there will be an end sometime. I can see it now at least. One year to graduation! …and then probably a WHOLE LOT more work ahead, I mean “real” work. In the mean time, I get to practice expressing my opinions and thoughts in a “safer” environment where mistakes may be less costly and more tolerable.  Graduation is my light at the end of the tunnel. J For those in the same predicament, hang in there too!

Me, a kiasu Parent?

Before I had children, I would frown upon kiasu parents who vied for top schools for their children. I was confident (too confident) that I would take the road less traveled and not conform. Several years later, now a mom to an 8-year-old school-going daughter and a 20-month-old tot, I found my own beliefs challenged recently. And it was a sobering experience because I was forced to re-evaluate my family’s values system.

My daughter goes to an all-girls school but not one of the top in Singapore. When she got her end-of-the-year results recently, she did well enough to be placed in the top class of her cohort for Primary 3 next year. I learned that one of her classmates applied for a transfer to a top girls’ school. So, the thought of doing the same for my daughter crossed my mind. And the whole saga began……

I started to ask my friends whose children are in that school, I checked out the school and called the admin staff to ask about the procedure. I was elated to learn that though the application had closed, the school was willing to let us submit our application within the same day. Ah… that was when I started to dream (fantasize, actually) of how well my daughter would do academically like sweeping prize awards every year, being the top student in school and better still, clinching a scholarship that will pay for her university education!

I was more than happy to remain in that fantasy until my dear husband posed me a few questions and knocked some good sense into me. He said to me: “Don’t just ask which school the child needs to be in to excel. We also need to mull over whether the school she’s in needs her.” For a few seconds, I looked at him and thought to myself, “What kind of question is that?” Then he went on to explain that some mission schools, like the one our daughter attends, take in students of a wide range of academic abilities, while others accept only the top band of students. The former find it hard to retain their brighter students because the environment in the school is “less stimulating” than that of the latter. But if the brightest and the best think only of what’s best for themselves and leave for academically stronger schools, then the schools that take in average students will struggle to find student leaders of sufficient caliber to lead and inspire their peers. Being in a top school does not necessarily elevate her confidence in life. That was a revelation and paradigm shift for me.

My husband himself was from a mission boys’ school that was (and is) not academically the top in Singapore. He did very well in his studies and CCAs but opted to go to the Junior College (JC) affiliated with his secondary school out of a sense of loyalty and a desire for continuity. Very few people understood his decision, including his parents. They thought he was throwing away his chances for success at the ‘A’ levels, but things turned out otherwise.

Their proudest moment was when he emerged as top student in his JC and he clinched a government scholarship to study at a top UK University. Ironically, when he went there, he confessed that his self-confidence took a great knock as he found himself feeling small even stupid in comparison to those around him who, in his words, “had brains the size of planets”!

Hence, his words carry more weight and I, the “not-so-wise” other half, must take heed! So, I have abandoned the idea of submitting the application to that top school (for now ;-)).

Who am I?

I certainly didn’t think much about it while in junior college. I thought I had it all: sports achievements, decent grades, shoes that look better than my uniform… basically everything and anything a teenager wanted or needed to feel good. But then I started university, and everything was different. It was huge new world where I didn’t have anything: my friends were dispersed, I was no longer in a sports team, I didn’t belong anywhere… I just felt lost. Nobody knew me, and I didn’t know anyone either.

As uncomfortable as that felt, the “lostness” forced me to realize that that was more to me – more to anyone – than what they have done or what they had. As I got to know people and form new friendships, two things struck me:

  1. It’s cliché, but people are who they are on the inside, and this shines through in how they approach life. It also means that people can see who you really are based on how they see you react to things. Are you considerate of others? Do you give them the respect they deserve?
  2. Knowing what you value helps. For me, it was the usual myriad of values such as love and loyalty. It was also the relationships with the people I loved and my aspirations to be a psychologist. Once I had my values clear, I realised how much I really had! I wasn’t nobody. There are so many other things that define me.

I have since made many new friends, each more unique and beautiful than the ones before. They know who they are. How? They know what they value and stick by what they believe in. And it is that easy self-confidence that speaks far louder than any title.

I’m a Tiger Mom

Over the weekend, the Straits Times featured the recent controversy over a book written on Chinese parenting styles, particularly on how Chinese-Singaporean moms tend to be strict, over-achieving and obsessed with academic excellence.

I’m a Tiger Mom – because I’m born in the year of tiger and I’m a mom.

Jokes aside, it is telling how (1) happiness is equated with achievements; and (2) kiasu-ism seems to be our Singaporean heritage.

I just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, in which he observes that Asians (particularly from rice-growing traditions) have an innate belief in hard work and a strong sense of the relationship between effort and reward. This seems to explain why we drive our children to succeed in terms of education and career, by ferrying them to one enrichment class after another and filling their schedules with programs and activities that would give them a head-start in life (albeit possibly losing their childhood). We seek to have an edge over others, and begin to fear if we perceived somehow that we were losing out in the rat-race or giving our children anything less than the best opportunities to excel.

My son just started kindergarten. Prior to this, each time we were asked which school he attends and we replied “none”, the responses were mostly a disapproving look or a voice marked by concern. One “memorable” encounter was when we decided that we should enrol him in Chinese class for lack of any Chinese-speaking person in his life, and so that he wouldn’t end up hating his mother-tongue simply because he struggled trying to catch up learning it in school. We enquired at one school about the most basic level class and were told that he should actually be in a higher-level class appropriate to his age. The counter staff then whipped out a book and began to show us the Chinese characters he would already need to be able to read and write. When we reiterated that he had only just learned his Chinese name and that’s why we wanted him in a beginner’s class, we were shot the icy stare that said it all, “What kind of parents are you?”

According to Gladwell, we are the inevitable products of our culture (amongst other things). It’s no wonder then that we are contending with the issue of a low birth rate. A scan of the ongoing debate on why – or why not – to have children would reveal that Singaporeans logically deem the result is not worth the effort. This is understandable given that it is difficult in the first place to quantify the rewards of bringing up a child. Thus, couples gravitate towards a relationship in which they can dictate the amount of commitment and work they wish to invest; perhaps marrying and bearing children later, or opting to be DINKS, ie, Double-Income-No-Kids. Our culture also explains why if we can’t give our child everything that will promise his success, we’d rather not even entertain the idea of having a baby.

My husband insists that the solution to our nation’s procreation problem would be to mandate a regular blackout during which there should be no other alternative activity after dark except for couples to reproduce. While there is no concrete scientific basis that this method works, it nonetheless serves to highlight a glaring fact that Singaporeans do work hard – and long – and simply have no time to make, or have, children.

Is this a cultural legacy we wish to retain – or history that needs to be reshaped and remade?

“Have you started thinking about which primary school you’ll be sending your son to?”

Unwittingly, we may be perpetuating the very thing we complain about. If I were to deliberately move house or carve out volunteer hours from my already limited time I have with my family, in order to get my child into a choice school, I would end up contributing towards the culture that we don’t seem to be satisfied with. I’m sure you’re thinking: “It’s all too easy to say that now; just wait till it’s your turn.” Perhaps; we’ll see what kind of Tiger Mom I am!

A Happy Start

Happy New Year! I’m starting this year in USA on a school exchange, where I embark on an exhilarating journey in a beautiful new place.  By the time you see this, my first week of school would be half over. But before the term started, my boyfriend, who has been studying in another part of the US, got to travel with my family and I!

We’ve been in a long-distance relationship for the past two years and one thing that I’ve realized, since the trip, is how valuable occasional breaks from the long distance can be, ie, being able to see each other in person! I know opportunities like these don’t come often, so I thoroughly enjoyed the time we had. It was a precious time of bonding and growth in the midst of shared activities.

Better yet, it was a chance for my family get to know him and for me to see him in the company of my loved ones. It was a joy to watch the interaction and the growing friendship. One of the best memories I took away from the whole trip was the dinner where my father told us that this holiday together was a way of showing my family’s acceptance of my boyfriend. To me, my father’s statement was a sign of affirmation from a person whom I deeply love and respect, and whose opinion I greatly value. 

So, no matter how it turns out between my boyfriend and I, I’m glad that at least for now, we’re getting one part right; the part where my parents have been kept in the loop about our relationship. Beyond that, I’m also glad that they know what goes on in my life and what’s important to me. And now, even though I’m away from them, having kept them in the loop about what goes on in my life means that I can turn to them for comfort or help any time.  That’s something I treasure very much.