Friday, November 18, 2011

Schools, national exams... and unconditional love

As academic year 2011 came to a close, we received good news: Andre managed to get 3rd in class!

For those of you who have been following my blog, you will probably understand why this is such a happy surprise for us. Academics has never been Andre's strength and this prize was all the more unexpected because we've been so busy moving house that I haven't been breathing down his throat as much for the final SA2. My friend Lilian pointed out that Andre seems to perform better when he's left to his own devices. Not sure if that's true but it certainly reduces the stress for both of us!

I'm unspeakably grateful for this prize, more so because I'm hoping it will motivate Andre to work harder next year - the dreaded PSLE year. I'm so not looking forward to it. If I could take a pill and fast forward time till after the exam, I would.

Recently, I ran into a friend, who's the father of Lesley-Anne's p6 classmate, Ryan. His younger son just finished the PSLE this year and he said it was probably the worst time in his life. Everyday leading up to the exam, the boy would bring home a thick wad of exam papers to be completed and both father and son would stare despairingly at the stack (father is expected to mark the papers - brings a sadistic twist to the phrase "partnering parents in education").

He said it was a nightmare, especially since his younger son is not half as motivated as his elder brother. In fact, he thought both Ryan and Lesley-Anne spoilt the market with their work ethic. As he was tearing his hair out, pleading with his second child, it dawned on him, "So THAT'S what PSLE preparation is really like!"

I sympathised with him and when he heard that Andre would be doing his PSLE next year, I'm sure he's sending sympathies my way.

We've all heard it before - the PSLE has become such a high stakes exam that the pressure to do well overwhelms everything else. No one can escape - the kids, the teachers, the parents. So intensive is the preparation for the PSLE that it leaves an indelible scar on everyone. I suspect part of the reason why IP schools are so popular is because we all remember vividly the horrors of the PSLE and want to avoid another national exam.

Ryan's dad told me that after the PSLE, he just had 2 goals for his son: to retain his self-esteem and love for learning. Coming from a school teacher, I appreciate the wisdom. It's so easy to lose both in our education system.

We were discussing how even some of the kids in the best schools, who are probably the top 2% of the cohort, still feel insecure about their own abilities. Eg, I've heard how kids from the Raffles schools feel inferior because they couldn't get into the Raffles Academy.

This is seriously screwed up. It seems like our education system constantly tells our kids that they're not good enough. I've said this before - some schools, particularly the branded ones, appear more interested in what the kids can do for the school, than vice versa. Consider this and ask yourself if this is what you really want for your child.

For a long time now, I've understood God's wisdom in giving me 2 kids with such contrasting abilities. If both my kids were intellectually gifted, I would never know what it's like to parent a child who can't always understand concepts immediately or remember things he'd just learnt. It's a lesson in humility - that our kids' giftedness is a blessing, not results of our own doing.

Please don't be mistaken, I know Andre is bright. But when you have another child who learns and absorbs ideas at the drop of a hat, it's easy to use that as a benchmark and forget that not everyone is the same.

I always take advice from parents with all gifted kids with a pinch of salt. I know they're well meaning but what works for gifted kids often doesn't work for regular kids. It's not just a simple case of reading more to improve their language, or teaching a certain method to improve their maths. It's a lot of repetition, a lot of simplification and a huge bucketload of patience - something I'm short of.

As Einstein said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

I don't quite agree with the everybody is a genius bit but I concur with the second sentence. Sometimes, I feel that Singapore and Singaporeans have such a narrow definition of success that anyone who can't climb a tree or climb it fast enough is made to feel stupid or inadequate.

Each child's needs are different - I can't emphasise this enough. I speak from experience (and mistakes) parenting 2 kids who are complete opposites of each other. While everyone else's kid may be aiming for the top 3 schools, yours may rejoice at getting into a tier 3 school.

What's important is not to let society or teachers or other parents bully you into thinking it's not ok. Because at the end of the day, some kids are fish. By constantly trying to teach them how to climb trees and scolding them for failing, we may be missing out on the fact that they are fantastic, natural-born swimmers.

I wonder about kids who say, "I must study hard so I don't let my parents down." I understand the sentiment but I think it smells of the implication that they are studying out of a sense of responsibility towards someone else and not because it is something valuable to be enjoyed. Are we a blessing to our kids or have we become a burden?

I don't know what I will be like next year. I keep telling myself that God has a place prepared somewhere for Andre, that I should not be overly kancheong. But I also know how easy it is to lose perspective when you're in the eye of the storm. If that happens, somebody nudge me, ok?

Even as we push our kids to achieve more, we need to show that we love them for who they are, not who we want them to be.

"Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him." - Psalm 127:3

PS We will be going on our family vacation so I won't be blogging here during that time. I will, however, try to blog about my holiday at my travel blog so do check in there!


Yve said...

Great post, Mon.

My daughter gets her PSLE results next week.

I read that Leslie-Anne appears to be really enjoying her secondary school. Would you please let me know which school this might be? I would like to keep all options open and am afraid I might have missed out on this one? Thanks.

monlim said...

Yve: Yes, L-A loves her school, it is a real blessing that God led us to it. Will email you.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mon, being a silent reader of your blog for the past months , I have enjoyed every juicy entry concocted with a cocktail of flamboyant vocab. In addition, I admire tat frank manner in voicing out even with controversial topics. Henceforth, I hope you might like to share your 2cents- worth on "Polytechnic Students & University Students having to pay the same transport fees as a regular adult." This issue has been raised even with an online petition (35,000 likes & on-going)through a social media platform but time and again, all efforts have proved to be futile. I will be most gratified for your response on this matter in the near future.

Anonymous said...

I miss reading your wise reflections! Such a nice change from all the stressed out parents I meet all the time. You remind me to love my children instead of nagging them every day. Thanks for a great post!


monlim said...

Anon: I think your language is more flamboyant than mine! Personally, I think poly and uni students should pay student fare but I haven't been following the issue enough to comment more than that.

YL: Aww... thanks for the compliment! Loving our kids is certainly more enjoyable than nagging them. I nag too much too!

Anonymous said...

This post is a great reminder for me as my son will be taking his PSLE next year. I know he should be ok but keep having this nagging feeling as to whether being ok is good enough. So you see, your post is timely to remind me to love my son as he is and not push him to the point where he is studying to please us parents instead of loving to learn. I am bookmarking this post so I can come back and read it from time to time next year. Thank you and good luck to you and Andre too for next year!


Anonymous said...

And I forgot to congratulate Andre on his great achievement this year! Well done, Andre!


monlim said...

TW: Thanks so much! Warms my heart to meet like-minded parents like you, instead of the kiasu ones. Maybe we can remind each other not to freak out next year :D

Anonymous said...

congrats to Andre and to you too :) I have 2 kids, elder one a girl (she is not a GEPper)is waiting for PSLE results and my younger one a boy has just been selected for GEP. My kids dont attend enrichment classes and sometimes I feel initimidated knowing that their classmates do, so sometimes i read your blog to get reassurance as I know you have a balanced view & 2 kids with different strengths. Thank you for blogging and sharing !

monlim said...

Anon: Glad to hear you're taking the chill mode too. I know it pays off in the long run, esp our relationship with our kids :)

Anonymous said...

Congrats Andre and Mon! :)


Anonymous said...

Gosh I miss your wise blog posting just like this one! Just want to share with you that I got rejected to apply as PV in your kids' primary school. Maybe I should not be too focus to get my children into top schools. I wonder if I am not a working parent will that increase my chance to be shortlisted. Anyway...I feel that your post comes in timely to knock the sense out of me. Else I would have take a longer period of time to lick my wound!

~ meeya

Anonymous said...

Hi Mon

Tks for the insightful post and timely reminder.

My P2 gal is in a top girls school and has just received her report book. Compared to all those who had enrichment from pre-school levels, my gal did not do well at all. Her 83% mean score is way below the cohort average score of 90%!

My husband and I have always believed in a holistic education and are supportive of MOE's latest focus on values and instilling a love for lifelong learning. We also applaud the Ministry's doing away with P1 examinations.

Hence, we did not load my daughter with any enrichment classes cos we wanted to ease her into the primary school system progessively and at her own pace.

I was pretty shocked when I heard that almost ALL of my girl's classmates have been in some form of enrichment/tuition classes or another since way back in nursery or kindergarten levels! And their parents are proudly proclaiming that their kids are tested to be performing at at least 1 or 2 levels higher than their current school levels. One parent even said that her daughter had 'surprised' her by being accepted into Science enrichment class meant for P3 when she's only P2!

I'm stressed out! The system (or is it just the elite schools?) does not complement my personal beliefs for education. And yet, I feel compelled to play 'catch up' for fear that my daughter will feel that she's not good enough.

I've since signed her up for Chinese and Math tuition this sch hols :(


monlim said...

QX: Thanks!

Meeya: Don't be disheartened, really I find that the school is not as important as the chemistry with the child. I know many kids who are unhappy in branded schools cos of the excessive competition. Perhaps your child will end up being happier in a more collaborative environment. Be encouraged!

DW: I think I can guess which school it is. Please don't get caught up in the craziness! Sometimes, I find it's best to just stay away from such parents and also a certain forum where kiasu parents congregate. They're so bad for our emotional well-being! Try to focus on your girl's strengths and let her learn at her pace. Keep the love of learning - that would be the most effective in the long term.

Anonymous said...

Well done, Andre! As your long time reader, I know your struggles with Andre's studies. We really tear our hair out when the boy needs the nth time reinforcement on the same concept/words/phrase. It's frustrating but that's because we benchmark against our daughters. Well, remember the best is yet to be - we are awaiting that legendary 'boomz' in secondary school during which boys are supposed to bloom and shine...haha. You are a fantastic Mum! Well done to you too and congratz!


monlim said...

SL: You are my long time supporter and I appreciate it! Yes, we share the same situation of elder dds overshadowing their brothers academically. I'm still waiting for the boomz to happen, must have faith it will eventually :D

Anonymous said...

Hi Monica,

love that Einstein quote!

And this particular sentence by you:
"It's a lesson in humility - that our kids' giftedness is a blessing, not results of our own doing."

This is a very much needed reminder to new parents out there who might be convinced otherwise by the plethora of classes and individuals touting mind-training classes. There is also a blog by a mother of two most probably gifted children who makes it clear that her children's abilities are in large part due to the early childhood nurturing methods she concocted and teaches for a fee(though I see many free sources of similar activities on the internet). As someone with a twice-exceptional child, it really got my goat, because she has a wide readership of young parents who may now push their children, unaware of the possibilities of hidden learning disabilities or sensory issues.

As a parent we should always first seek to meet the child where he or she is and not think of ourselves as their maker which is utter hubris.

Your post is a much needed voice of reason and balance in the singapore blogsphere on the issue of education and I'm glad for it.


monlim said...

Iris: Thank you so much for the support. It's parents like you that spur me to keep writing. I sometimes feel we get too caught up with the fallacy that we need to do something in order for our kids to do well, so that when they do, we're happy to take all the credit for it.

I think I know which parent blogger you're referring to and I don't concur with her philosophy either. It takes all kinds, I guess - we just have to find our support from like-minded peers and not let ourselves be influenced. It's so easy to turn kiasu in SG!

Anonymous said...

Well done, Andre! Press on!


Anonymous said...

Dear Monica,

I have been reading your blog for some time. It has been bookmarked as one of my Fav sites. I have 2 young daughters.

You are absolutely right that it is all too easy to get caught up in the rat race in S'pore. My elder girl is going to P1 next year and I am worried how she will cope, what with all the horror stories I have been hearing all around.

The PSLE results will be out soon. Since you are technically not involved in the fray (yet), please do blog and let us know your thoughts.


monlim said...

PeaTH: Thanks!

Grace: Thanks for reading. I'm not sure I understand what you're asking me to blog about - the PSLE? My dd went thru it 3 yrs ago and I blogged abt the preparation quite a bit. Hope that answers your question!

Anonymous said...

Never comment here but can help wanting to add what I think. Its quite obvious to know which mother's blog you r talking about. A couple of my friends sent their kids there. The fees not cheap and more expensive than GUG! Reading her blog does make one feel that we have to be caught up in the rat's race. She's a competitive mom n have high expectations on her kids. Thanks Monica for this timely post to remind us that academic results is not everything. Her kids can cope well doesn't mean our kids can too. This is very important.

Anonymous said...

Dear Monica,

Yes you did! I enjoyed the part where you told LA not to do anything and just chill before the big exam. I also loved that blog post of yours sharing LA's PSLE results.

hehehe, every year the national press would zoom in to the top performers for PSLE and try to uncover what has helped them achieve those fab results. If you have any thoughts after reading this year's media reports, please do share.


monlim said...

ZAL & Grace: Perhaps if I share that in L-A's school, there are many top scorers in the PSLE and not everyone has done well. Some who have scored above 260 in PSLE are now struggling while others who didn't do as well are now thriving. To me, it's a lesson that education is long-term - those who pile on the enrichments for the PSLE might be sorely disappointed later that their kids are not performing, because they have not moved beyond the narrow focus of exam preparations.

So although it's hard to not get caught up with the wave of kiasu parents, I hope this anecdote gives you encouragement that in the longer term, the kids who have been brought up to enjoy learning, to develop their curiosity and creativity, are the ones who tend to do better in sec school and thereafter.

Anonymous said...

Hi - I have always found your take on the education system quite interesting. My son has just received his PSLE results - he has shocked us by getting 12 pts above the score we said would make us delirious.

I find that the education system while it has things that can be tweaked - does try and give many options to kids. But it is parents expectations and overly competitive mentality that sometimes makes things very stressful. This is everywhere - not just in PSLE. And guess what - Asian parents specialise in this. My cousins in Australia drilled their kids for the Selective Schools exams for 2 yrs before the exams. And not surprisingly these schools are full of chinese and Indians.

For us - even though son can make it to IP program - we are not opting for it. It will place another layer of stress on us to keep up the performance level and fear a perceived "demotion" if he is then adjudged as not keeping up. We know our son - he is bright, but not the most motivated academically. His great results were achieved with a lot of hard work on his part and mine - I wanted to inculcate in him the view that at crucial periods of life, labour is essential. But I do not want to obsess about it throughout his sec school. We are ok with the O level and A level route.

We have to constantly explain to parents why we are choosing this option. :-).

I guess we make up society - if we want to change the views of society -we must change our views and not just follow the herd mentality.

That being said - we are also saying a lot of prayers that we have made a wise decision for our child. :-)

Yve said...

Hi Anon (27 Nov 11.46pm)
Thanks for the reassurance. We are quite in the same boat, declining IP (and thereby very "branded" schools). Our child feels that her score is achieved through sheer hard work and not necessarily reflective of her "smarts".

We think she will be happier going down the standard track. That much we have figured out. Now we need to decide which school to pick!

Anonymous said...

Hi Mon,

Hope everyone is well. So happy to read this good news! Congratulations to you and Andre! No need to worry so much lah, I am sure Andre will do well for PSLE.

I have lots of catching up on your posts, was not able to log in for a while.


monlim said...

Thanks for the vote of confidence, Chris and welcome back!

Anonymous said...

" Sometimes, I find it's best to just stay away from such parents and also a certain forum where kiasu parents congregate. They're so bad for our emotional well-being! "

This is the first time I am posting comments though I have been reading some parts of your blog. I used to read the kiasu parents forum until I read about one parent who wrote that she made her son memorize 7 hours of Chinese model compositions every day. This completely kills a child's love for a language. It is the mother's fault but she blames it on the education system. I believe that it is entirely possible for a child to enjoy learning a language and also do well in it without any need to suffer while learning. If parents are too obsessed with marks, kids will never develop a love for the language. I realized that I cannot tolerate such kiasu parents, and I have stayed away from it.

I also have 2 kids of contrasting abilities. My son normally requires many repetitions to learn something new. Being a lazy mother, I have not made him memorize the multiplication tables at all even when he was already in P1. Then one day he amazed me by reciting all the times tables from 2 to 9. I haven't even shown him the times table. He does it purely by adding numbers repeatedly, and he is able to do it quite quickly. Somehow he finds the times table very cool, and he learns it on his own to "show off" to mommy and daddy. I am so happy because initially I thought my hair will all turn white when I start to teach him multiplication. Who knows I don't need to do anything at all.

My son has taught me that it does not matter whether a child is gifted or just average. When a child develops strong interest in something, he will be highly motivated to learn it and do very well in it.

Nowadays parents tries too hard to help their kids. They don't realize that perhaps "not helping" is the best for their kids.


monlim said...

Rosamund: Thanks for making your voice heard. I feel that many parents in Singapore live in the PSLE fishbowl and are unable to see that kids are so much more than that one exam (or any exam). I guess the system doesn't help and talking to other kancheong parents sure doesn't!

So I take the same approach as with other temptations. If you know you're easily addicted, then don't start on that new computer game. If you know you're easily influenced, then stay away from the kiasu parents! Much easier to stay sane that way :)

Anonymous said...

Hey dearie,..NZ still has snow?!? wow! Will be following u closely next year, my no 1 will PSLE in 2013, while my no 2 is the photocopy DNA as Andre! Easy, laid back, totally diff in learning styles to no. 1!! You will be my 师夫!Happy and Blessed Christmas 2011!!
Sarah & The CHANs

monlim said...

Hey Sarah! No worries, I'm sure your 2 lovely dds will do you proud! No more snow in NZ, think u were looking at the glacier pics?

Blessed Christmas to you too!

3some Mum said...

I am re-reading this article again after a few years and this a timely reminder yet child is a gift from God who had already plan his days. What important is to preserve her self esteem and love for learning.

Thanks for penning your thought. Worth a few more re-reads( aka reminders) in the next 2 years as my girl heads joins the PSLE herd.

Anonymous said...

This post contains the exact same message I give to highly anxious parents when they come to us after a psychological evaluation. I now stress to parents to moderate their expectations of their child and appreciate them for their strengths. Importantly, don't kill their love for learning because if this happens, no amount of pushing and tuition classes is going to allow the child to "make the grade". Furthermore, learning is lifelong. It doesn't just stop after the child is 18/19. You'll be surprised how many parents we see believe that the kid is a goner if they don't score above 230/240. We also see teenagers who are doing well in school but have such low self-esteem because they believe they're never good enough - that's just sad.

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