Monday, April 5, 2010

How to fit a boy into an education system made for girls

Last week, I received a call from Andre's teacher telling me that Andre had been playing with his pens when he was supposed to be doing his math corrections.

Perhaps I should first paint the background. Every year without fail, I would receive calls from Andre's teachers telling me that Andre had been talking in class/not doing his homework/not bringing his books. I begin every school year ever so hopeful, praying that the year would be different but this dream has so far remained a pipedream.

The complaint call I mentioned above was the third this year (and we're barely into April!) It has gotten to a point where I can feel my blood pressure rising just hearing the teacher's voice. I appreciate that she's being conscientious and concerned but honestly, I feel that teachers are getting slightly too gung-ho about calling parents. I don't want to trivialise the matter but if playing with pens in class warrants a call to parents, she might as well put me on speed dial right now because I can guarantee I'll be hearing from her a lot more.

One of my friends previously remarked, "the Singapore education system is designed for girls." Of course it's a generalisation but it pretty much hits the nail on the head. Our system stresses compliance, following of detailed instructions and neat, structured work. Guess which gender tends to thrive better in such an environment.

Before all you mums of angelic boys and wayward girls protest, let me stress again: it's a generalisation. Much as I dislike gender stereotypes, having spoken to many mothers, I've discovered that for the most part, the kids who struggle to cope in our school system tend to be boys. The most apparent difference comes from parents who have both sons and daughters. Most of the time, the girls fit in better than the boys. My own personal experience attests to this - in all of Lesley-Anne's six years in primary school, I never received a single complaint call from any of her teachers.

I remember last year, Andre recounted to me most indignantly, "the teacher let the girls go for recess first AGAIN!"

"Why was that?"

"She said they were quieter."

"Is it true?"

"Yeeesss... but STILL!!"

My frustration arises from the fact that when teachers call me to complain, I feel helpless because there's a limit to what I can do. I've tried persuading, scolding, counselling, screeching, even pleading. Each time, Andre seems remorseful and repentant, and he accepts his punishment like a man, without whining or complaining. But I know the effects are temporary because it's like trying to tie a squirrel down. For him, having to spend hours at a go, quietly doing focused seat work, is challenging. It's too much to hope that there won't be a lapse every now and then. I can only keep praying that the lapses will be fewer and further in between.

Meanwhile, I'm tempted to tell the teacher, if you're waiting for Andre to turn into a good little girl, don't hold your breath.

I didn't want to turn this post into a whine so on the upside, I'm so thankful Andre discovered badminton. He attends badminton training with his good friend Paul, who's very similar in temperament to Andre. Last week as Paul's mum was observing them, she commented, "they're happiest when they're on the court."

It's true - when they're playing badminton, you can see their joy and utter abandonment. No matter how stressful it gets, our kids have this outlet a few times a week to release the tension from the constant grind of studying and help them recharge. That's truly something to be grateful for.


Anonymous said...

The lesson here therefore, is not to send your boys to co-ed schools :P There won't be angels to make them look bad :))

Sigh, I have 2 boys ... and I'm bracing myself for calls from teachers when they go to P1 next year.


monlim said...

PeaTH: Hahaha, so I'm assuming yours will be going to a boys' school? And twins too, from the sound of it! Good luck!!

Anonymous said...

Yes, Monica, a boys' school. And I hear they do really silly things when it's only boys around. I surely need lots of luck, grace and bp pills!!


Anonymous said...

Having one girl and one boy myself too, I can fully understand your frustrations. Put ourselves in the shoes of teachers - of course, it's an easier job to teach obedient kids who do not talk or "give trouble". Times have changed (though teachers have not). We do not want our kids to grow up like our generation - obedient agreeing goody-2-shoes who have no opinion nor own thinking. Let boys be boys. Too much inhibition may backfire. Further, guess who are the ones who do not have to try hard and yet get good honours in uni plus become scholars at the end of the education race? haha. So, hope to encourage you to look at Andre's good points, give him plenty of praise and keep our fingers crossed till they go secondary school - hopefully by then, they will "bloom". Meanwhile, just "tahan" the well-meaning teachers. If it's too much a struggle with the teachers, I agree with the point that boys school may be an alternative.


monlim said...

SL: Agree that our generation was brought up to be compliant conformists. Guess that has backfired since now they're struggling to get Singaporeans to think out of the box!

Thanks for the encouragement. Several parents have also told me boys will "bloom" later. Hope I won't have to wait too long for that to happen!

Lilian said...

I used to twist my pens all the time, to my teacher's consternation but my parents never got any calls :P Also read story books under my desk during lessons. Doodled so much my textbooks (borrowed) had to be frantically erased by end of school-year when they had to be returned. So this system of sit down and listen is mind-numbing not just for boys but for tomboys like me too!

By the way, the classes which I daydream/doodle/pen-twiddle the most are the ones which have the most boring teachers. And I second the suggestion on all-boys school...I've always had a preference for all-boys school in Singapore-type education system.

They say boys mature later. Andre will find something to be passionate about in class some day soon I'm sure. In the meantime, I know you'll continue to make sure he knows you know he's a good kid and a smart kid, and not to let anyone else make him think otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Actually I did a personality test by the company before and the result was far from compliant. Not sure if that had a positive or negative impact on my appraisal then. Despite a system, I too believe a child can have a breakthrough when the time is right.

As for complaints from school, don't irk too much over them as long as there are no abusive incidents reported. You know your child best and sometimes it is the teacher's way of saying "my plate is full, can you take over for a while, at least for your child?"


Anonymous said...

Oh, I have to add, it is also the compliant person who will park themselves 20 years in a job, my maximum limit was 10 years. So perhaps you understand why they want to train compliance?


monlim said...

Lilian: Yah, I used to read story books in class too but I think teachers back then didn't call parents except for serious disciplinary cases.

QX: I know what you mean! I think sometimes teachers call cos they are so busy they're want to pass the responsibility to parents. Well, I wish I could help but clearly I can't. As for training compliance, I'm sure that's why there are so many long-serving managers among Singaporeans in our generation (10 years is a lot to me! Mine was max 3 years :P) and so few entrepreneurs...

justpassingby said...

LOL... this is the very precise reason why I sent my children to single-sex schools. By our family standards, my son is active and noisy and has a hard time concentrating and staying on task. By his class' standards, he is organised and obedient and basically very much an angel. Of course, there is the fact that the child we see at home is sometimes/oftentimes different from the child we see in school, so....

My girl is the same... she would totally struggle in a co-ed school because the boys would be irritating her and holding her (and the class) back and so on...

So yes, no regrets sending them to two different schools, even though it means more work for me! :)

monlim said...

JPB: There's another advantage to single-sex schools but I think it's more at the secondary school level - it's so that there would be fewer "distractions" when the hormones kick in :P

MrsCheng said...

unlike you, i'd love to hear from the teachers telling me that my boy needs discipline. Instead, at every parent-teacher meeting, the first comment was he was too quiet. The teachers were not sure if he understood them. Now that there is more focus on oral, it really worries me. But I can't do much except to encourage him to speak up and ask when in doubt. I'm also looking forward to the day that he will bloom and surprise me.
OT:do you have recommendation or knows anyone who can recommend a very patient and encouraging CHinese tutor? I'm desperately looking for a new tutor as my son has been failing his tests despite 1-1 tuition and coaching from me. Thanks.
Mrs Cheng

monlim said...

Mrs Cheng: Isn't it funny that we always wish for what we don't have! I would love to exchange "lack of discipline" for "quiet", if only just for a few months :P

Sorry to hear about your son's Chinese woes. My kids' tutor has become much more impatient over the past few years, I guess even tutors get jaded! Hope you find a good one soon.

Anonymous said...

Hi Monica
I like this post! My mom, a retired teacher, used to tell me that during her teaching days in a primary co-ed school, the teachers then always arranged girls 'strategically' i.e. - girls were used as 'human walls' to separate boys. Girls are always the stabilizing factor in the class, isn't it true? But, I can imagine it must be frustrating for the girls sometimes, or maybe all the time?


monlim said...

LL: I think it must be frustrating for both genders, L-A used to tell me all the scrapes the boys in her class would get into that would totally irritate the girls! Part of education is probably to learn to balance each other out :P

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