Monday, November 26, 2012

The ultimate stress test aka PSLE results

Three years ago when Lesley-Anne received her PSLE results, I had to think long and hard about whether I was going to post about it and if so, how I would write it.  You can read about it here.

With Andre, I'm facing the same situation and when writing such posts, I'm very conscious of the fact that I have to take into account the interests and feelings of my kids. Since they read my posts too, I have to decide if any sharing will impact them positively or negatively. It's a delicate balancing act.

When I checked with Andre, he told me he didn't want me to reveal his PSLE results publicly, so I'm respecting that.  I'm just going to share my reflections in general.

While Andre's results were not a big shocker, he had hoped to do better, especially considering the amount of work he put in.  I think there are many, many kids and parents out there facing the same situation and I'm hoping this post can give some perspective.  You see, when PSLE results fall short of expectations, I hear many parents start playing the blame game - "You should have studied harder!" "What did you do wrong?" etc etc.  But perhaps, just perhaps, it's simply a case of unrealistic expectations to begin with.

As I've always said, PSLE is harder than many parents think (especially those going through PSLE for the first child).  There is actually no way of gauging what your child's relative standard is based on school results as standards and the ability of students vary so drastically among schools.  Even with the knowledge that an average t-score is 200, it's very difficult to predict where your child stands in terms of the national average.  Added to that, the way the t-score is calculated can be very skewed, due to the distribution curves of the different subjects. A common conjecture is that a bad or good score in the Mother Tongue or English will impact the overall t-score more drastically than a bad or good score in Maths or Science.  This hypothesis seems to bear out from what I've seen. 

What I'm saying is that with all the uncertainty, the PSLE results is no time for recriminations.  It is not constructive and all you'll succeed in doing is undermine your child's self-esteem and give yourself a few ulcers.

The night before the PSLE results, Andre was a nervous wreck. Suddenly, he had lost his usual bravado and quavered, "What if I fail?" To which I reminded him how hard he had worked and said, "If this was the best you could have done, then no matter what the results, you should have no regrets."

It was a reminder to Kenneth and myself as well. Too often, we equate results with the quantum of effort (and revise our perception of the effort after the fact) but that's a flawed logic. In reality, the effort you put in sometimes does not yield an equivalent result.  That's life.  We have always told our kids that we celebrate the effort, not the result and we have to practise what we preach.

When Andre received his results, I saw the disappointment on his face.  However, in typical fashion, he soon started focusing on the plus points - "I can't believe I got an A for Chinese!" (Yes, he gave me permission to post this. Actually we couldn't quite believe this either).  He was also, quite unexpectedly, given the EAGLES award for Leadership in CCA. This went some way to cheering him up, especially when he learnt later that it comes with a $250 cash prize from MOE.

Some people may think we're rationalising or too unambitious. Personally, I'm glad Andre has a healthy self-esteem. It's difficult to go through life feeling insecure all the time. And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, the PSLE really is not the be all and end all. Secondary school is a whole new ballgame and the PSLE t-score is not necessarily an accurate indicator of how you will perform in school later on. There are kids in Lesley-Anne's school who had t-scores in the 270s range and are now struggling to keep up. Conversely, there are those who scored in the 250s and are now acing their exams.

I like how MOE has stopped revealing the top scorers for PSLE.  As the Minister has said, it won't remove the PSLE stress but it's yet another small step towards reducing the over-emphasis on academic achievement above everything else.

For us, we're glad PSLE is finally behind us. Secondary school will be a brand new chapter for Andre and we pray that it will be a fulfilling journey for him.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Going with the flow

The school year has finally closed and it's incredible but Andre is done with primary school.  Is it really possible that my baby-faced last-born will actually be entering secondary school in a few months? I can hardly believe it.

There is a wide gaping ocean of difference when I compare his attitude with Lesley-Anne's when she was at this momentous juncture.  Towards the end of p6, Lesley-Anne became all melancholic and sentimental. Even as she looked forward to a new chapter, she knew she would miss her primary school and her friends, whom she had become very fond of.

In contrast, when I asked Andre if he would miss his primary school, he responded in typical fashion, "No. The food sucks."

Not quite able to believe that Andre's impression of his six years in this school revolved around his stomach, I asked, "What about your friends? Won't you miss your friends?"

"Ok lah" came the nonchalant reply.

"What if you go to a school where none of your friends are going to?" (Yes, I can be very persistent).

"Never mind, I can make new friends."

"So which school do you want to go to?"

At this point, Andre was getting tired of the interrogation and answered, "Aiyah, anywhere lah!"

For someone like me who is wary of the unknown, I often marvel at Andre's live-for-the-moment attitude. It also gives me many moments of anxiety as he doesn't seem to think of or plan for his future.  For example, we have been visiting many school open houses and it would exasperate me to no end when he inevitably asks, "Do we really have to listen to the Principal's talk?"  Incidentally, I see lots of bored kids at these talks. They're usually dragged there by their parents.

Tip to secondary schools:  If you wish to attract active kids like Andre, ditch that slideshow about your special humanities programme. Just showcase your sports facilities, food at the canteen and computer labs with iPads. Late school starting hours are a bonus.  (Ok, I concede, maybe the schools already know this but students like Andre are not their target audience.)

However, if I were to look on the bright side, there are advantages to being spontaneous and embracing the unknown.  Andre is pretty good at adapting to situations as they occur and hopefully this will help him in life.  Meanwhile, I need to convince him that he shouldn't choose a secondary school just because it has air-conditioned classrooms.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Smitten by the cookie monster

We've been doing quite a lot of baking lately since exams are over. One of the things I love about our new place (we've been here a year now!) is that there is an actual oven, which makes baking that much easier compared to using a convection microwave.
For example, I could never bake cookies before, the microwave was just too small. Just a note, when it comes to cookies, our family loves the soft, chewy ones. Mrs Field's over Famous Amos any time.  So for our maiden attempt, I searched online for a good soft cookie recipe and found one with loads of great reviews and no fancy ingredients needed.

It turned out to be a great hit and the first batch of 18 cookies was polished off within 2 days.  Since then, I've baked the cookies a few times and made just a slight adjustment to the amount of sugar as I found it a tad sweet.

Here's the recipe:

  • 250g plain flour
  • 2g baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 170 g unsalted butter, melted
  • 220 g packed brown sugar
  • 75 g white sugar
  • 15 ml vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 350g chocolate chips or chocolate buttons
1. Preheat the oven to 165 degrees C.  Line cookie tray with parchment paper.
2. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, cream together the melted butter, brown sugar and white sugar until well blended. Beat in the vanilla, egg and egg yolk until light and creamy. Mix in the sifted ingredients until just blended. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand using a wooden spoon. 
4. Drop cookie dough 1/4 cup at a time onto the prepared cookie sheets. Cookies should be about 3 inches apart.

5. Bake for 15 mins or until the edges are lightly toasted. Cool on baking sheets for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.   
Here are a few extra tips:

1. From what I gather online, there are 3 critical things to ensuring your cookie is chewy - melted butter, extra egg yolk and not to overbake.

2. In our humidity, the dough can get very soft and slide around on the tray, meaning you end up with wide and flat cookies. If you like a chunkier cookie, try keeping the dough in the fridge for about half an hour before baking. And using a parchment sheet is much better than just greasing the cookie tray.

3. Try using chocolate buttons instead of chocolate chips. It's so much more satisfying to bite into a melted gooey blob of chocolate.

Here's a funny story: I'd run out of chocolate chips and sent Kenneth to the bake shop to get some. The poor man stood in the aisle of a dazzling area of chocolate chips, cocoa compounds and chocolate buttons, bewildered. As he was calling me on the phone trying to ascertain if I needed "60% cocoa content", he was accosted by well-meaning aunties bombarding him with advice on which chip to buy!

Feeling adventurous, I decided to attempt my own double chocolate chip cookie for my chocoholic family.  What I did was substitute 60g of the flour with cocoa powder.

It turned out to be a runaway success - in fact, we're never going back to the white dough ones. If you're choco-freaks like we are, you'll love these.

They keep very well, no need to refrigerate. No more buying Subway cookies for us!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Boy in Ho Chi Minh city

Every year, some P6s at Andre's school are selected to go on a 4-day trip to Ho Chi Minh city after the PSLE. Andre was fortunate to be one of the few boys chosen from his class and he was over the moon.

Although the trip is for CIP purposes (the kids have to come up with a project to teach English to Vietnamese kids at a local primary school), most of the students treat it like a holiday. "We stay in a 5-star hotel and fly Singapore Airlines!" Andre gushed. He's quite clear about his priorities.

He was even appointed group leader for the CIP project although it turned out to be quite a farce as his group mates were 3 girls (after his best friend pulled out due to injury) and as is common knowledge, the sole boy in a girl group always gets bullied. He complained that the girls bossed him around and kept telling him what to do, which was secretly fine by me as he's clueless. If it were left up to him, the project would never get done.

We were a little apprehensive as this was the first time Andre would be travelling on his own. However, we also recognised that it was a great opportunity for him to learn a little independence.  So off he went!

Vietnam is probably a good place for Andre to visit education-wise as he has an interest in war and military strategies. He also knows a little about the Vietnam War from watching Forrest Gump. The highlight of the trip for him was undoubtedly the Củ Chi tunnels.  These 121-km tunnels were used by Viet Cong guerrillas as hiding spots, communications and supply routes during the Vietnam War and essentially helped the Viet Cong succeed in their resistance to American forces.

Here's the guide demonstrating one of the holes used for ambush. It's tiny.

Covered with leaves, it's undetectable.

Here's the entrance to a tunnel that the kids walked through. 

This rock is actually a hiding spot, the holes are for ventilation.

The students were also shown the types of traps used. Seems like they were all designed to inflict the maximum amount of pain. Shudder.

The students also visited the War Remnants Museum...

... and the Reunification Palace. Home and command center of General Nguyen Van Thieu who came into power in 1963, the Reunification Palace was the site of a dramatic finish to the Vietnam War as tanks crashed through the main gate on 30 April 1975.

Apart from the historical sites, Andre also visited a rice paddy field...

... and a lacquerware  factory.

I'd told Andre to take photos of street scenes and anything he deemed interesting.  So like a good boy, he acquiesced. Ho Chi Minh really is motorbike city.

Andre didn't take a single photo of the hotel and the food but he said both were superb. I didn't think it was possible but he came back looking rounder than ever! I think the tour organiser probably knew parents would worry about their kids not having enough food and fed them to the point of excess. Each meal was either a buffet or featured multiple courses.

Some of his schoolmates returned with conical Vietnamese hats and various local souvenirs. In contrast, Andre brought home a bright red Adidas cap (which he bargained for US$4 at the Ben Tanh Market), a rock from the hotel and a rice stalk. We had hysterics when he whipped out a plastic bag containing mini toiletries from the hotel. It's an inside joke cos we're always teasing Kenneth for this very Singaporean habit.

Andre had a ton of fun and he told me he's most pleased about being able to look after himself. Indeed, he was sensible and organised throughout the trip, and there was nothing missing when he came home. His teacher smsed us later that he was a joy to have around.

Aww... my little boy is all grown up.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...