Tuesday, January 28, 2014

No longer boy boy, not yet a man

Watching Andre develop over the past year has been interesting. Many boys hit puberty and start transforming into unrecognisable beings at about age 12 or 13, and I've heard from some friends that their sons turned into strangers once they became teenagers. So I was curious as to whether the same phenomenon would hit Andre.

I had always thought that puberty in boys occur when their voices break so I was surprised when I read an article last year and found out that puberty actually happens much earlier. This article is pretty useful if you want to find out more about puberty in boys. In essence, there are five stages of puberty and voice-breaking actually marks stage 3.

Based on the article, I figure Andre is somewhere in stage 2. In the past 12 months, he has grown about 10cm. He's finally taller than Lesley-Anne and comparing photos from a year ago, I can clearly see that both his face and body have become less babyish. He has also become rather clumsy and his longer limbs add to the lack of coordination. He's constantly bumping into furniture and walls and we can hear him muttering, "Stupid gorilla arms!" Even though his voice has grown deeper, it hasn't cracked. (He can still muster up a squeal worthy of Kristin Chenoweth).

I think many boys of this age are surprised by their own physical development. Andre has a primary school classmate whom he met recently at a badminton friendly between schools. This friend, who used to be rather pudgy, is now taller than 1.7m and speaks with an impressive baritone. The friend told him rather delightedly, "I used to do so many situps but no use. I was still fat. Now I do a few and BOOM! Abs!"

I've always known this to be true - physical and mental maturity do not always go hand in hand. Cognitively, Andre's still as childish as ever. He's 13 but he still finds girls annoying (especially when they pat his head and call him "cute"). It's quite funny. I don't have to pre-screen movies because he's terribly embarrassed by love scenes. He will self-censor by throwing a cushion over his eyes, saying, "Yuck! Sick! Tell me when it's over!" He even refuses to watch Disney cartoon characters kiss which baffles me. I mean, those shows are for little kids, right? When we're walking in a mall and go past a lingerie shop, he will make squeamish noises and shield his eyes, much to our amusement. 

Recently, I asked him whether there were any BGRs in his class. He thought for a bit and told me quite a few boys were interested in two girls.

Me: "Wah, only two girls? How come they're so special?"

Andre (looks blank): "How would I know?" 

Me: "Well, are they very pretty?"

Andre (shrugs): "I dunno."

Me (channeling the persistent mum): "Do they have long hair?"

Andre: (looks totally confused): "Long hair? What's that got to do with anything??"

Maybe this is mean, but I laughed very hard at his cluelessness. And secretly, I hope he'll be clueless for a little longer yet.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Higher Chinese and its implications

As an IP student, Lesley-Anne didn't have to sit for the GCE 'O' levels, as she had a through-train pass to Junior College (JC) (as long as she met the minimum requirements in her school exams). However, she did sit for one paper last November - the 'O' level Higher Chinese exam.

The results were released last Monday and... happiness! Lesley-Anne scored a B3 which we're absolutely thrilled about. This means that she won't have to take up Chinese as a subject in JC. One less subject to worry about, one less exam. That's always good news!

Those who have followed my blog from way back when Lesley-Anne was in primary school (gosh, that seems like a million years ago!) will know that Chinese was always a subject that she struggled with. We don't speak Mandarin at home and she had a pretty lackadaisical childhood, free from all kinds of enrichment programmes. Her kindergarten didn't even have a Chinese teacher for six months and it was only before she entered p1, that I realised just how appalling Lesley-Anne's Chinese standard was. That's when I engaged a Chinese tutor for her and even then, it wasn't very intensive.

All things considered, Lesley-Anne has always done ok in Chinese but it's certainly not one of her strengths. It was the only PSLE subject she didn't score an A* in but we weren't expecting anything more. Then came secondary school, where all the students in her school had to take Higher Chinese. Wah, how to cope when she didn't even take Higher Chinese in primary school? Nevertheless, she gamely said she'd give it a try. Call it foolhardiness. Or maybe ignorance really is bliss.

So she plodded along and it was TOUGH. She had to attend remedial classes. She had Chinese tuition. She was called up for prep tests because she performed below the cohort's average. Her compositions were probably 'Dick and Jane' compared to some of her classmates' Shakespearean sonnets.

Thing is, we as parents weren't too anxious because we could see how much effort she put in. And that's why we're so delighted that she managed a B3 - she earned it through sheer dogged hard work. Sweat and tears.

This part of Lesley-Anne's journey is now over but I was pondering the polarising topic of Chinese in Singapore schools. There's the pro camp and the anti camp. And then there are those who are so terrified of it that they will find all ways to avoid it, especially at PSLE. Yes, I'm talking about the group that are exempt from Chinese. As far as I know, there are a couple of ways to be exempt from Chinese - 1) the child is away from Singapore for a minimum number of years 2) the child has been medically diagnosed as having a disability in languages (usually dyslexia).

I want to stress that most of these cases are absolutely legitimate. I'm not suggesting that anyone is faking a disability to get out of Chinese, especially since the condition has to be certified by professional psychologists anyway. But I find it amusing to hear anecdotal accounts of how in certain schools *ahemmissionschools*, by p5, there is suddenly a sizeable number of kids being sent to the psychologist because their parents are convinced they have a learning disability in Chinese. Or how some parents, on hearing that they're being posted back to Singapore from an overseas stint, will ask for their posting to be delayed/extended so that their child can hit the minimum period to be exempt from Chinese.

All these accounts demonstrate just how much the PSLE and Chinese are dreaded. To me, the situation is made worse by how MOE has chosen to remain very vague about the issue. When a child is exempt from Chinese, how is his t-score calculated? Here's MOE's reply to a question on their website:
Q: Would pupils who are exempted from offering Mother Tongue Language at PSLE be at a disadvantage as compared to those who offer the subject at PSLE?

A: No. These pupils’ PSLE aggregate scores would be adjusted so that they are neither disadvantaged nor advantaged.
Translation: Nyeh nyeh ni nyeh nyeh! We're not telling!

It's truly a non-answer because it is not humanly possible to make sure that every student is not disadvantaged or advantaged. So parents start guessing and their guess is that, when you're exempt from Chinese, your fourth grade is an average of the grades of your other three subjects. If this is true, then if your child is bad in Chinese, this is a HUGE advantage. Not only does he get to count only the other three subjects which he's likely to be better in, he has one fewer subject to study.

There's no way of knowing if this is true but again anecdotally, looking at cases from my kids' classes who had been exempt from Chinese, it seems to bear out. These kids have generally gotten higher t-scores in comparison to other kids in class with a similar standard of English/Math/Science.

If this is true, then my personal opinion is it's not really fair lah. To prevent any over-zealous parents from exploiting this loophole, MOE should do something like say, all those exempted from Chinese will be given a Chinese grade equivalent to the AVERAGE of the cohort. Or something like that. Then these parents will really have to consider if it's worthwhile trying to get that exemption.

What I don't get though, is why Mother Tongue continues to be given special treatment. No, Chinese Nazis! I'm not saying Chinese is not important! Of course learning Chinese is important. But consider this: at PSLE, those who ace Higher Chinese are given two extra points for SAP schools. Which I accept as fair cos it's only two points and only for Chinese schools. But then comes 'O' levels and those who pass Higher Mother Tongue (HMT) are given two extra points for admission to JC.

I'm sure everyone will agree with me that two points for JC admission is a WORLD of difference from two points at PSLE. Cut off point to the top JCs is in single digits. Two points can be as much as 33.3% of your L1R5 score! The message is this: HMT is not just important, it is the MOST important subject. Why not special recognition for English? Or Maths? Or Science? To me, this is baffling.

You can't sell me the argument that it's to encourage kids to take HMT because in JC, if you haven't taken HMT, it's compulsory to continue MT lessons at H1 level. Which is somewhat like HMT at 'O' levels. And the HMT kids would already have the advantage of not having to go for any more MT lessons in JC, freeing up their time for other subjects.

To me, this is an instance of how some education policies have not evolved with time. Maybe in the old days, two points didn't make much of a difference, and not that many kids take HMT. But in today's very kiasu and very competitive landscape where people chiong down to the last decimal point, it becomes yet another area for kids, parents and teachers to strategise, so as to get the better of the system.

I know the Chinese subject is a hot potato. Let's see if anyone in MOE is brave enough to raise the issue.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Danger Dan hits the shelves!

He's dangerous! He's Dan! He's... Danger Dan!

Yes! For more corny jokes like these, check out my latest book, co-written with Lesley-Anne! The title of the first book in this five-part series is Danger Dan Confronts the Merlion Mastermind.

We collected our books from Epigram Books yesterday and it was uber exciting! There's just something about seeing your book in print form for the first time - I don't think it ever gets old.

Here we are, with our editor, Ruth and designer, Lydia. I can't tell you what a blessing it is to work with people as enthusiastic as you about your books. They've both done a fantastic job. I also have to credit James, the incredibly talented illustrator, who wasn't present yesterday.

I didn't offer pre-orders of my book to my blog readers this time, unlike with The Good, the Bad and the PSLE, as postage would make the book more expensive than buying it from the bookshops. So if you're keen to buy Danger Dan (and I hope you will be!), do check out the major bookshops (especially Kinokuniya). Give them a week or two to get the stocks onto the shelves.

Price is $10.90 (before GST). Reading level: 8-12 years old.

Meanwhile, you can find out more about this series here. You can even read the sample first chapter to see if you like the writing style of the book. And do 'like' our Facebook page to receive fun Danger Dan updates.

Danger Dan - saving Singapore now and then!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Online reviews for The Good, the Bad and the PSLE

Happy 2014, everyone! How's the New Year treating you?

I'm getting really excited cos Danger Dan will be out very, very soon. But in the meantime, I've been getting quite positive responses to my other book (remember? The one about the stressful school system?)

Yes, The Good, the Bad and the PSLE has been getting noticed! What I found interesting was that some of the reviewers are not Singaporeans but identify with the Asian academic rat race nonetheless. Like this review by a blogger.

Here's another and in French, no less! (I ran it through Google Translate to get the gist of what it said).

And here's a review by a local blogging mum. Be warned though, if you haven't read the book, it contains spoilers!

It's even on Goodreads! If you've read the book and like it, I hope you will share your views on that site. Support me lah :) The book is S$17.90 (before GST) and available at all good bookstores. The bookstores don't always shelve it in a prominent or even correct location though, so if you can't find it, ask the sales folks for it!

Very grateful to all those who have taken the time to write reviews, especially since I don't know most of you personally. If you happen to read this, thank you for the support!

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