Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Why being able to cope is not enough

I often hear this question from parents when they're considering whether to send their kids to a top school: "Can my child cope?" Not too long ago, I was one of those parents.

As Singaporean parents, this question is asked so often that we don't even think about it anymore. But it recently dawned on me that the question is all wrong. You see, coping implies the ability to survive some difficult event. Why is it that we're not asking what the school can do for our kids but instead whether our kids can survive there?

The goal of any education system should be the nurturing of the whole person, not the clearing of a series of obstacles. What I'm suggesting is that our expectations of the education system have become warped in this competitive arena, that we're happy if our kids emerge in one piece, as long as they have a prestigious certificate to show for it.

In other words, coping is not the same as thriving. When we choose a school for our kids, we should look for one where they will thrive, not cope. A good school is one which will help our kids mature intellectually, socially and emotionally. Throwing in prestige of the school just confuses matters. Different kids thrive in different environments - some need the challenge of a competitive landscape, others require a nurturing and supportive culture, yet others need a lively, vibrant campus bustling with activity. There really is no one size fits all.

If what I've been hearing is to be believed, some schools appear to have forgotten that they have a responsibility to mould their students. Be wary of any school that cares more about its own glory and reputation than the well-being of its young protoges.

Education forms a very big part of the journey of life. For the first two decades of our lives, the bulk of our waking hours is spent at school. It is a long time to be miserable. Surely you don't want your kids to emerge from the process saying they "survived". Rather, you want them to feel that they have become better, more knowledgeable, more perceptive people, ready to enter the world of adulthood.

So consider your child's needs, strengths and weaknesses, and search for that school that can unleash his potential. Not merely one where he can cope.


Anonymous said...

You are so wise, Mon :)

Lilian said...

Some kids thrive in any school, some kids barely survive in any school.

But you're right, I would be wary of schools which focus incessantly and harp endlessly about all the golds and awards garnered. It's a rather narrow focus.

The mantra, Ask not what your school/country can do for you, but what you can do for your school/country, is not a bad thing...but it does not necessarily have to be in the form of tangible awards and accolades from competitions. I would much rather the school focuses on how the child can contribute to society and the world around him. Because that's what counts eventually. But that kind of thing, how to count towards the school's KPI?

monlim said...

And that's why I'm totally against educators who want to run schools like businesses. You can claim efficiency and results etc but at the end of the day, the whole focus of education shifts. Students become seen as "employees", meaning you contribute or you ship out. The original noble goal of education to shape minds and groom individuals is lost.

btw, what you said reminds me of this father of L-A's classmate who, after a talk by one of the top boys' schools harping on their endless achievements, said "si beh hao lian". Hehe :)

Lilian said...

LOL@L-A's classmate's father...I like him already! Must also add "si beh bo liao".

monlim said...

I know! So hilarious. There should be more parents like him. You know the best part? He's a teacher himself!! LOL!!

veena said...

hi monica,
it is really true, every word of what you have written.
I just hope that my kids can THRIVE well for the rest of their lives rather than just survive after the long years of education.
thanks for writing so well, i am glad that my kids are in a school that is nurturing them well.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mon
I agree with what you said here. It's true we need to find a school where the kid can thrive. BUT fiding that school is difficult. I do not know how to go about getting info and knowing how the school is other than being in it (which is not possible). It does not help when you child (esp if its a boy) does not tell you much of what happens in sch. I have that prob looking for a Pri sch and after having a boy in the sch for 2 yrs still cannot figure what the school is like except for snippets of it from programs they organise.
How do you guys do it?

monlim said...

Alice: Yup, can be tricky - usually you can get the informative details like programmes the school has from their websites and newsletters. But to truly get a feel of the school, I believe you need to actually visit the school, walk around, look at the noticeboards, observe the kids etc. I know most schools don't allow visitors but some schools have open houses, which are great opportunities to get to know a school. Hope that helps!

Nina said...

Dear Monica
We chanced upon your blog in our last minute attempt to learn more about GEP ('s that time of the year again). We want to applaud you on your efforts. Your writings have been clear, well thought out as well as thought provoking and enlightening on several fronts. We are still confused and undecided but then this is a big step in our daughter's life. We question whether GEP is the right program for her, whether it is worth the giving up of a school where we think the environment is holistic(catering to the higher ability with a special class) as well as Christian (which is important to us). Nina

monlim said...

Nina: Yup, it's a big decision. Personally, I feel it's a great programme if your dd is truly gifted but I understand there are other considerations of course, esp if you have to change school. All the best!

Anonymous said...

Hi Monica,
Came to know of your blog thru the Jan 2010 YP magazine recently. Have been quietly reading your blog ever since. Since the start of this year, I've been stressing my 5y.o. out and stressing myself out in trying to prepare her for P1 next year in 2011. Also, stressing out over which school to register her in. Found your articles truely interesting and giving another insight on what style of parenting and education I want to adopt. Thanks.

monlim said...

YM: Thanks for reading! Sometimes we just need to step back and find a style that can truly help our kids grow, and not just academically. Hope you can find a good balance and all the best to you!

Brenda said...

Hi Monica,
To answer your friend Alice, has she tried looking at North Vista Primary School in Sengkang? My friend runs the school on Reggio Emilia principles, and it's a whole lot different from the usual mainstream school track.

Sadly, the school keeps having to protect the kids and make a stand from some parents who invariably gets the usual kia-su virus and harp on the not-enough-worksheets mentality to the school.

I feel that parents like that could easily just transfer to many other schools, while like-minded parents who want more for their kids to enrol in the school in their place. ;)

It's unfortunate for me that NVPS is a great distance away from where I live, otherwise my kids will be enrolled there. Nonetheless, who knows? Perhaps Alice might be living near it. :)

monlim said...

Brenda: Thanks for the advice! It's great to know there are schools who are truly interested in nurturing kids. I don't know Alice personally so I can't contact her and her comment was written 3 years ago :) Hopefully she would have resolved those issue by now.

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