Thursday, March 29, 2012

Tossed salads and scrambled eggs

Incidentally, the title is from the theme song of an oldie but goodie tv series Frasier.

Kenneth and I love all-day breakfasts. One of the unbeatable advantages of being our own bosses is that our schedules are pretty flexible. There's something very decadent about having brunch at 10am on a weekday, accompanied by a pot of tea or steaming hot latte. It's just a lovely way to start the day.

We don't usually go anywhere fancy but during the March holidays, we decided to treat the kids to the all-day breakfast at Prive at Keppel Bay.

On weekends, this place is packed, I recommend making reservations if you don't want to be disappointed. There's an indoor restaurant and an al fresco area overlooking the bay, which is very scenic. I suggest the latter if you're here for breakfast or brunch, before it gets too warm.

You can see the Prive menu here. We have only eaten here twice and both times, we picked from the all-day breakfast menu so I can't comment on the other items.

These are the items we've tried:

Prive's Ultimate Brekkie - 2 eggs any style, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, hashbrown and toast $20. Not bad value, it's more brunch than breakfast considering the size of the portion.

Bananalicious French Toast - brioche with caramelised bananas and walnuts $12. This is very well done. The bananas and walnuts complement the french toast perfectly. If I had a complaint, it would be that the portion is too small - left me wanting more!

Eggs Royal - English muffins with smoked salmon and 2 poached eggs with Hollandaise sauce $16. This is the unanimous favourite for all four of us. The eggs are cooked just the way I like it - the yolk slightly runny but the white not weepy.


When we were there, Prive was having a DBS card promotion of 50% off the 2nd order of Eggs Royal or Eggs Benedict (only on weekdays though). If you can spare the time, it's a pretty good deal.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Song and dance

This was a crazy March holidays for Lesley-Anne, if you could call it a holiday at all. As luck would have it, Lesley-Anne's ballet exam fell on a Thursday, the day right after her Grade 8 piano exam. A couple of years ago, she'd faced the same situation and I'd written about the stress of it all. Funny how we never seem to learn from our past!

As if that's not challenging enough, Lesley-Anne had to be at Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) for the entire week just before the exams. This was unplanned for and I was apprehensive just thinking about all the injuries she might come home with. To be honest though, it was less about the hurt and more about having to miss the exams. "Don't you dare sprain your ankles, wrists or fingers!" I warned. Yeah, me the warm and fuzzy mum.

She had a whale of a time at OBS, which surprised me as she is as un-outdoorsy as they come. Even though she had to kayak for 7 hours straight and trek for 6 hours carrying a 15kg backpack, she really enjoyed herself. I guess being independent in the outdoors, having to look after yourself without the comfort of home, does something to boost your self-confidence. I think it's a fantastic experience.

Thankfully too, she came back unscathed, except for some mosquito bites and scabs, so the ballet exam could proceed as scheduled.

Lesley-Anne took her Grade 6 ballet exam this year. The usual preparations:

Doing up the hair in a stiff, immobilised bun.

Polishing her shoes.

This is Lesley-Anne's exam group, comprising four girls. In higher grades, you wear a chiffon skirt over your leotard (except for barre exercises).

These are the Polish character skirts.

Finally, the nail-biting wait outside the exam room. You would have thought the girls would be used to this, having been through many previous exams, but nooo.... they were pretty jittery.

Last minute instructions from the teacher.

According to Lesley-Anne, the exam didn't quite go quite as impeccably as they'd hoped. She described it as a comedy of errors with each girl taking turns to make mistakes, prompting mistakes by the other three.

But it's over! Finally, she could enjoy what's left of the holidays, and what better way to celebrate than with a tall, cold glass of Milo.

I think my daughter is growing up to be a gorgeous girl :)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Piano player

Yesterday, Lesley-Anne sat for her piano practical exam. What's different about this one is that it's the last piano exam she'll ever take - Grade 8. It also marks the end of piano lessons for her since she doesn't intend to move on to the diploma level.

It's a momentous milestone, considering she has been learning the piano since she was 5... or 2/3 of her life. For the longest time, it seemed as if she would never reach this point. And while reaching Grade 8 in piano is hardly the end goal of learning music, it's definitely an achievement of sorts.

Ultimately though, working towards music exams is just a way for you to improve your skills. What's more important is how you use them. For the past couple of years especially, I've noticed that Lesley-Anne has enjoyed playing the piano more - she looks for sheet music for her favourite songs and tries out new pieces on her own. Her growing interest in music is what I'm most gratified about. (Well, next to the fact that I wouldn't have to chauffeur her for piano lessons anymore. Have I mentioned that I hate driving?)

So this marks the end of one chapter in her life. It's a long but fulfilling one, hopefully it won't stop here.

I recorded Lesley-Anne's playing her Grade 8 exam pieces as a keepsake for her. The first piece is Sonata in B minor Kp27 by Scarlatti. This was supposed to be her best piece but she says she flubbed it during the exam. Ah well, stuff happens.

The second piece is Sonata in D K284: Allegro by Mozart, a whopping 8 pages. When she practises this piece, she can't practise anything else cos it's so darn long and tiring on the fingers!

The third piece is my absolute favourite - Novelette in Fourths by Gershwin. It's so pretty and jazzy, it makes me happy.

Thank you, Mrs Chua!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Death by tuition

I've always maintained that our education system and over-reliance on tuition is getting out of hand but a few New Paper articles I've read lately convinced me that we've officially entered Loony Toons levels. Here they are:

Parent pays nearly $6,000 a month in tuition fees

Parents hire tutors do do kids school and tuition assignments

Kids take test to qualify for top tuition centres

From reading these articles, it would seem like yesterday's deplorable is actually mild by today's standards.

Yesterday: Kids mugging to qualify for top schools
Today: Kids mugging to qualify for top tuition centres

Yesterday: Parents hiring tutors to help their children do homework
Today: Parents hiring tutors to do their children's homework

In fact, as I write the last one, it has already become obsolete, replaced by a new normal:

Yesterday: Parents hiring tutors to do their children's homework
Today: Parents hiring tutors to do their children's tuition homework

So basically, we now need tuition to keep up with tuition? Am I the only one who thinks we have completely lost the plot?

The tuition culture has become so commonplace that even teachers have come to use it as a crutch. A friend of mine told me her son's Chinese teacher asked her to hire a tutor for kid. I've even heard an anecdote where a teacher asked the kids to get their tutors to check the homework before handing it up.

Andre's science teacher is probably an exception. She told me, "don't give him tuition! Sometimes they teach the wrong thing. I'll teach all that he needs to know." She's a lovely teacher and I obeyed. Well, sort of. Andre does have a science tutor - it's me. Does that count?

It really irks me how some of these tuition centres blatantly boast about the top scores of their students, when they do screening tests to take in only the top students in the first place. I might as well put birds in a cage and then claim that I taught them how to fly.

But what concerns me more is the type of values that are emerging from this tuition culture. What was once supposed to be a source of help to aid those who have learning difficulties, has evolved into a monster entitled mentality. Basically, if you have the money, you can hire someone to do anything for you, including doing the homework. (And apparently there is no shortage of tutors willing to do this). Why not hire someone to take your child's exam for you, while you're at it?

At JCs, I've heard it's increasingly common for parents to hire professionals to complete project work for their kids, some of which form part of the final grade. I find it difficult to believe that the teachers don't know or even suspect that this is going on. I guess it's easier to turn a blind eye, since the students' grades affect teachers' KPIs. There's a huge difference between not knowing and not wanting to know.

I find it ironic that the MOE claims to want to place an emphasis on values but do nothing to curb these unethical practices. The tuition industry is morphing out of control and yet MOE continues to remain mum. It frustrates me to no end.

I know MOE feels that they cannot regulate the tuition industry but I've told Sim Ann previously that by not speaking up and making a stand, MOE is actually condoning such practices - it's ok to coach your child into the GEP, it's ok to have your tutor do your homework for you. It's like telling your child stealing is bad and then doing nothing when rampant thefts take place.

The tuition industry did not just happen by accident. It is a direct result of an education system that obsesses over scores and systematically sieves children using this measure until only a few get the prize. Inevitably, there is a huge stampede for the prize. If you create a system that consistently rewards and hence, reinforces such behaviour, you cannot say you are not accountable for the backlash. I picture the MOE officials rolling their eyes and exclaiming, "All these kiasu parents!" and then washing their hands.

Newsflash: Pilate was culpable too.

I'm not saying the tuition industry should be regulated (I'm not sure you can, anyway). All I'm saying is MOE should make a stand openly that they frown on such practices because it is against their education philosophy, and hold any wrong-doers accountable. Then perhaps, parents and tuition centres will not flaunt these practices so openly.

According to reports, Singaporeans now spend about $820 million a year on tuition. Education has become a commercial enterprise and the problem with this, is that it only benefits those with resources. Want to close the rising income gap? Start with the tuition industry.

To me, the PSLE is the biggest contributor to this escalating insanity, but I'll probably address that another time.
"Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding, understanding is not wisdom." - Clifford Stoll

Friday, March 2, 2012

"They will all die."

Andre's CA1 just ended. And if it's any indication of how much yelling is going to take place in my household, I should go offer my neighbours ear plugs right now.

The funny thing is even though I keep reminding myself (publicly on this blog as well) that I should not be overly kancheong this year, exam preparations with Andre inevitably send me into episodes of hyperventilation. I don't know why.

Ok, that's not entirely true, I do know why. It's because he has forgotten how to do a simple sum that he did with ease just a couple of months ago. Or is suddenly, inexplicably, unable to spell "business". Or, having been warned by me a hundred times that he cannot answer a science question with the dramatic statement, "They will all die", he goes ahead and writes this on a science paper: "They will all perish."

Somebody send a defibrillator to my house cos I might need it to resuscitate either Andre or myself before the year is over.

I apologise for sounding so depressing but it seems to me like we're spending the year just counting down to the PSLE, punctuated by a series of mind-numbing school exams. However, I'm trying to focus on the silver lining and right now, it's the fact that we're one exam down. Woohoo!

The period just after the exam is always great. You can put off thinking about the next exam ahead so there are no extra revision classes or frenetic swotting sessions to worry about. Andre had his friend over and they played, swam and horsed around. It's nice.

It's also during these periods that I have time to relax a little and re-calibrate my mindset. Most of you will not know this but late last year, I was interviewed for a US tv documentary called Dan Rather Reports. His crew was in Singapore to do a feature on the Singapore education and I was asked to be interviewed as a parent.

It wasn't broadcast in Singapore which I'm actually quite pleased about as I'm not crazy about how I look and sound on camera. But I will share one of the things I said on the show:
"Sometimes when we're so caught up in the system, we don't see that in the larger scheme of things, all these things wouldn't really matter - which school you go to or which stream you were in and which subject you took. In the larger scheme of things, 20 years from now, would that really matter that much?

I think parents don't realise that it's a very different world we live in nowadays. Many of the careers that people are carving out for themselves, they didn't even exist ten years ago. So, I think we need to move out of this scarcity mindset... that and everything is dependent on what you do as a ten-year-old. It's not."
I'm posting this is so I can remind myself again to keep a healthy perspective. (You don't have to tell me, it's strange to have to remind myself of something I said. What to do, I'm complicated.)

I know that when the next exam draws near, I'm likely to be transformed into ogre mum once again. But if in between the storms, I can take a step back and see again the big picture in its entirety, I believe it can save both Andre and me from plunging into the 'meaningless-study-until-burnout' abyss. Afterall, the last thing I want is for him to get into a fantastic secondary school only to find that he has lost both his appetite and stamina for learning.

So here's to the calm before the storm. It won't last but at least it's only 7 months before the big one blows over.
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