Thursday, April 16, 2009

Education is a marathon, not a sprint

Lesley-Anne's math common test is today. This test is crucial because the grade will form part of the assessment for DSA. As you probably know by now, math is the subject I'm most concerned about for Lesley-Anne, not because she doesn't know her work but because she's so prone to careless mistakes.

We've been struggling with the same issue (notice I said "we"!) for three years now and it doesn't seem to have improved much. So I'd told myself that she just has to perform her best and whatever will be, will be. But then last week, I had a sudden irrational attack of kancheong-ness and decided to set her a few sums for revision because I figured if she did badly for the test, I'd be kicking myself for not doing more.

As a result, we had one of our classic Mum-Lesley-Anne blow ups. I had only set her a few sums but she managed to make several careless mistakes. Which led to screeching (me), tears (her), sulking (her) and head-on-wall banging (me). I'm at my wit's end because it seems like in her case, practice doesn't make perfect. In fact, that incident probably just made her more nervous. And I was thinking, this is only April and I'm already so tired. How to tahan until PSLE?

Then Lilian happened to mention that a friend's daughter, who is homeschooled and also taking her PSLE this year, is so stressed that the skin is peeling from her soles and she's having ulcers. You see? It's the system! Even homeschooler also not spared! I've talked to enough parents to know that if you're in the Singapore education system, you WILL be kancheong. Cannot escape.

A case in point: I have a friend who's the most laid-back parent I know. Before his son entered p1, he was the biggest critic of kiasu parents - his take was, why succumb to the pressure? There are more important things in childhood like learning how to fish and play soccer. Tuition is over-rated. And so on. By the time his son was halfway through p1, he was completely stressed out by calls from the teacher that his son could not keep up with the work. He quit his job, coached his son at home and sent him to Kumon for maths tuition. The last time we met, he told me that he had discovered a great method for explaining maths models and that his son had scored 94/100 for his maths test. You see? Cannot escape! I'm not very gracious, I did the "I told you so" routine.

But having said that, I've always maintained that the education journey is a marathon, not a sprint. What I mean is that our children's education will last anything from 12 to 18 years. Yet we don't often think beyond the next exam. Instead of focusing on study skills, we usually zoom in on last-minute cramming.

Of course it's easier said than done. When my kids do badly for a test, I can't help feeling disappointed. But I have to remind myself what I keep telling others - marathon, not sprint. Honestly, in 5 years' time, would you care that your kid didn't ace his math CA1 paper in p2? What's more important is that in 5 years, your child still enjoys learning and has not become so demoralised or disheartened that he totally hates school. This is very real - when I hear about parents putting extreme pressure or setting unrealistically ambitious targets for their kids ("must get 100 marks for every paper!"), I wonder whether they realise they are doing more harm than good.

Exams are important. But if we take a step back and think about it, no one single exam is EVERYTHING in the entire journey of life. Yes, even the PSLE. We all want our kids to be in the best schools, to be in the best class, to be in the best programme. But looking at the whole scheme of things, even if they didn't, it wouldn't be the end of the world. Really. If you look around, many of the adults we admire today never went to the top schools and probably had done badly in some exam or other.

At the end of the day, no one singular path can guarantee our success in life (however we define success) and certainly not one school or one programme. So I'm now reminding myself (again!) to get some perspective over the stress I'm facing with Lesley-Anne. Yesterday, she initiated revision for the test on her own and I'm comforted by that. I have to allow her to take responsibility for her own studies and to do the best she can, nothing more. Train our kids for the marathon, not the sprint. If you let push them to go too fast too soon, they will only run out of steam.


Anonymous said...

Yes I agree whole-heartedly. The current system is bad in that teachers do not hesitate to call when children appear weaker when benchmarked against the class. But as parents, IF and I say IF, because it is a difficult "if" to execute, we can look at what our children are not learning as a motivation rather than the marks they are not scoring, then perhaps the anxiety is correctly placed. Like for example, if my child is like L-A's case, if generally I have a good feel that she knows and understands her Math as in she can think and function well in that area in real life situations and is clear on the concepts, I would think she has mastered the subject. What she perhaps lack is taking the exam pressure for such a subject. So to me that is a psychological barrier. In terms of learning, I am assured that she is learning and I take comfort in that. If she cannot perform in exam due to carelessness, yes it is frustrating but my anxiety will only make her feel worse. So as a parent, I will be prepared to tell her, you are already well-versed or well-prepared for the subject, just go and give your best and the results is not going to make a difference to how I see your competency in the subject. I believe the psychological barrier needs to be removed. If my child knows that result is so critical, she may focus on the wrong things and pressure herself too much.

Of course when overcoming some difficulties some amount of self-pressure is not a bad thing too because that is like exercising willpower. However, if the outcome becomes obviously negative, we need to pull back the string and chart another course of action. So parenting to me is like flying a kite...., sometimes push, sometimes pull.

just my 2 cents worth.


monlim said...

QX: I love your analogy of the kite flying. It's very apt! I know by stressing L-A, she performs even worse, but when I don't push, sometimes her procrastinating self takes over. So it's an ongoing balancing act, the trick is to get it just right :)

Albert said...

For my daughter, she has few correction books. There are a lot of her mistakes or other defects in these books. It is good to let her review them before exam. They will help her reduce her mistakes again. Cheer up! They are growing up. They will know how to handle their matters.

Elan said...

Yes my son is having the same Math test today. This time I "decided" to take the almost hands-off approach, I am praying that it will work better than my previous approach which was to stand over him while he did assessment after assessment to prepare for a test. I just reminded him a few times about the coming test and asked him if he was revising.
Frankly it was also because I hadn't realised until this weekend that the test was coming! Talk about laid-back!
So rather than panic, I decided to just let it be. The teachers have been giving him lots of Math worksheets to do so I actually did not even have time to make him to any extra revision or assessment books, since by the time he finished them it was past his usual 9pm bedtime already and for a careless boy like him, enough sleep before a test is crucial.
He has been showing some responsibility and yesterday he actually got out the assessment books (something he hates and does very unwillingly if I am the one telling him to do so) and started revising his work on his own while I kept myself and noisy brother out of his way by cooking up a storm in the kitchen together.
So I think you are right: being kan cheong for the short term may turn the child off studying but trusting them to be responsible and to love learning in the long term seems to work better. Anyhow, I hope his results today will vindicate this theory.

Lilian said...

Great post. I too swing like a pendulum from being extremely relaxed to being extremely gancheong.

I agree with QX that as long as they've mastered the concepts, we should be satisfied. Bear in mind that Sg exams are designed to trip students, not test mastery. Which isn't right but what can we do? If they just tested mastery, maybe 75% of kids will get full marks. As it is, even with the best preparation, the best Math student can still trip on some of the crazy questions set in Sg exams.

And think about it, if an intelligent and conscientious girl like L-A is having trouble, how do you think other children would be faring? And not being sour grapes or anything, but for some of those who are robotically scoring 100%, there are physical consequences involved, such as migraine, tics, skin problems, these things aren't discussed much but they are happening.

Like you said, it's a marathon, the most important thing we parents have to watch out for is that the system doesn't kill our kids' love for learning.

L-A is sensible, hardworking and has a good attitude, that's more important than getting those extra marks in an exam no one cares about once you start work. I'm re-reading that last sentence to get my perspective right too about Brian. I think we can both be assured that our first-borns do have good attitudes, can't be so sure about our No2s!

monlim said...

It looks like quite a few parents here have kids sitting for that math test today! Lilian, I wonder if it's the same one Brian sat for last week.

Elan: Maybe by the time our kid hits p6, we realise there's not much we can do anymore, it's really up to them (and WE'RE the ones running out of steam, haha!) And you're right, the school does do a lot of preparation work with them, much more than we could ever do on our own.

Lilian: You reminded me again, praise the effort not the result. Thank you. I've heard of all those issues that arise because of stress, I think many of them are covered up but they're very real. And yes, we need to save our energies for our no.2s. Andre, as the live-for-the-day type, doesn't view education as a marathon - for him, it's a long series of mini sprints. Don't do anything for the whole year then try and chiong for the exam! Sigh... I don't know what I'll turn into when it's his turn for the PSLE!!

Jo said...

Your post comes at an opportune time and leaves much food for thought. As a parent new to the rigours of primary school education, I tend to be kancheong much of the time, although I try toconstantly remind myself that it is indeed a marathon and not a sprint.

Just the other day, while driving, my husband and I were discussing the hot topic of whether P1/P2 exams should be done away with. My husband said that in his view, tests /exams were not a bad thing IF it is used to indicate whether your child understands and can apply what has been taught, ie. if my child scores poorly in a test, it is good to know that so that one can take steps to help the child improve.

My husband added that as long as in subsequent tests, he sees some improvement, that is good enough for him. He then turned to me and said that tests/exams would be very stressful and not a good thing IF the parent expected the child to score 100% or near to that every time !

I am glad I have a significant other who constantly provides balance, support and advice...without which I would probably not be able to weather the S'pore education system.

Hmmm...and I probably need to stay away from the parents who love to mention their kids amazing abilities...100% marks in this n that...

Anonymous said...

Mon: There is obviously no Magic pill(M-pill) to all our children's issues, that makes our existence necessary for the children to do the other Monitor, to Moderate and to Move the needle eventually...:P

Lilian: Scoring full marks all the time in tests may not be a good thing as I am discovering slowly. It simply means those are the areas the kid has been exposed to. So call me a WEIRDO mom, for tests, sometimes I prefer to see some mistakes, then I know what is going on in my kid's mind. Just to quote an example, my kid knew odd and even numbers from tender age of 3+YO thru games but at that point, her exposure was single digit numbers. Recently I saw mistakes in one whole paper on odd and even numbers and teacher gently put "xxx,Please read your questions properly." because she typically scores well for basic topics. But on close scrutiny, I saw that she had mistaken odd/even number to be the FIRST DIGIT of any number and she was consistently "right" in all the questions. Even the teacher missed that and assumed she did not read properly. After explaining to my child, then she went.."Oh...I see...".. hahaha we had such a good laugh at my blur sotong who had derived concepts from games played in her early life, i.e. exposure.


Penny said...

Thanks for another great post, Monica! My daughter is only in K1 so not much pressure for exams now. By the way, not sure if you remember but I am the poster who mentioned Kumon to you a few posts back. I didn't mention then but I am actually a Kumon instructor :) I didn't want to say that in case you'd think I was trying to hard sell Kumon to you.

This post came at an opportune time as I am meeting parents this whole week and I keep hearing them complain that they are having a stressful time because of the exams. I am so going to tell them that the learning journey is a marathon, not a sprint. This is such an excellent analogy and one that I need to keep in mind when my daughter enters P1. Now I am like your friend since my daughter is not in primary school yet. And because she's been doing Kumon since she was 2 and a half, she's now reached P3 standards for both her Maths and English so I am not that worried. As long as she's mastered the important subjects, I am not going to sweat it when she cannot score well in Malay or silly subjects like Moral etc.

monlim said...

Jo: It's always great to at least have one parent who's able to see the big picture :) But the improve with each subsequent test goal might be difficult because the tests generally get harder and harder. Unless you're refering to understanding of concepts and not the actual score, then yes, that should be the goal.

QX: The odd/even concept was a big obstacle to Andre! I always thought it was so straightforward too, until I realised that he didn't understand how you could include even single digits in a number to create an odd number. Very complex!

Penny: Yes I remember you :) I think Kumon does work but it's probably not for everyone. My friend who sent his son to Kumon said it's great because it drills the kids so that the numbers become second nature to them and they can do mental additions, multiplication, etc easily. But for kids who dislike repetition and drills, it can be very tedious. Lilian's son Brian didn't enjoy Kumon at all. So I guess it depends from child to child.

Do keep us posted on your daughter's education journey! Would love to hear about it.

Alcovelet said...

Mon, thanks for the the very thoughtful post. We need people like you to keep reminding us what we're here for - to teach our kids that life is a long road, and that ultimately, it's up to them to achieve their own dreams. The last thing I want is to take over their dreams.


Albert said...

Memory is the treasure house of knowledge, with memory, intelligence to the continuous development of knowledge in order to continue to accumulate. Provided below to enhance early childhood memory, a few games.

1. In order to say the name of

The 6 things listed in the order in accordance with the table, let the children watch a few dozen seconds, and then cover the requirements from memory followed by the children say things that the name of 6.

2. Identify the color

Let the children close their eyes and tell you to wear shoes and socks what is the coat color. Close your eyes if you tell him to wear the colors of clothing and headgear and footwear, will cause the child to a greater interest in this game.

3. To find items

Child's face in front of the 8 different types of small items, respectively, after the possession of good, let the children will find these items one by one.

4. Read words

15 different elements to the picture, on the table and ask the children to see a moment, and then stamped. Asked the children to see the contents of the picture described it as accurately as possible.

5. "Aircraft landing"

Will be a large paper map as a paste on the wall, place a large piece of painted paper as a "plane wave. And then do a paper" aircraft ", the child's name written on the top, according to a pushpin on. Let the children stand a few steps away from the map or ten steps away, to tell him to look at the terrain, and then, blindfolded, so he approached the map, and "aircraft" just landed on the "wave on the plane.

6. Look at window

Suitable for the game to children when they go out. Walk past shop windows, the first close look at the child windows to display things. To leave after asking the children to say things just to see.

My daughter has used to train memory via 6th. She told us one shop light changed when I am driving along upper bukit timah road in this morning. So I asked her what shops there. She listed out over six shop names to us. My wife pointed out one tuition center there. Then my daughter told us what its name is. I drive along the road every workdays, but I just know few shops there. I asked my daughter why she remembers all names. She said it is the reason that we pass through here almost everyday. Actually,I liked to ask her shop names while she is just 4 years old. I like to ask her to remember the distinct shops or buildings. Now she is good street direct to me. She never loses her way. She always has confidence at her memory.Even if she is at GEP, she still is better one among of her classmates.

Anonymous said...

Hi Monica

How did LA fare in the paper yesterday?

Indeed, we have to constantly remind ourselves not to lose our perspective (make sure it is the right one!), when it comes to our kids' academic studies in this highly competitive world. I am saying this aloud for myself so I can 'internalize' it. If indeed things don't turn out the way we want, always remember that when God closes a door, He will open another one.

Hope you stay calm, and let someone else worry about DSA. (remember one of your earlier postings?)


monlim said...

LL: Thanks for the reminder! (It's funny you should quote my own words back to me, see how hard it is to live up to our own advice? :P) Don't know how she did, she just said the paper was "ok" (as usual). But I just realised there's another mid-year maths paper in 2 weeks' time! Aiyoh, I'm such a sotong...

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