The following article is contributed by a parent of two teenage boys. Both of them are in Singapore schools.
In the good old days, the primary school leaving examination(PSLE) is an exam to gauge the readiness of the children to advance to secondary schools. But this is no longer the main objective as over 97% of the cohort makes it to secondary schools anyway.
Over the years, the increasingly difficult PSLE exam together with the T-score that ranks every child – has become a means to sieve out the top 10~20% of the cohort to attend ‘elite’ secondary schools.
We definitely need to distil and groom talents and intellectuals to lead the country in the years to come. The issue is – do we need to have the whole cohort go through a tough regiment in order to get that top 10-20%? These are 12 year old children, most of whom still required their parents’ guidance and help to study. Those who are self-driven and motivated to do well or intellectually-blessed are really a minority.
Perhaps majority of the parents just want their children to move on seamlessly to secondary schools without much anxieties and decision-making. After all, it is the O-level and A-level exams that matters more.
If MOE is able to make each school a “good” school and if every secondary school caters to both express and normal/technical streams, perhaps the following ideas are worth some consideration:
a. Each primary school is affiliated with a few secondary schools*.
i. *the “Top Schools” are excluded in this affiliation system – read (d) below;
ii. *the specialised independent schools (ie. NUS High, SST, SOTA, SSA etc) are also excluded in this affiliation system as they select their students through DSA and according to specific talents/skills of the children.
b. The PSLE exam is still carried out and the results are reflected as grades for each subject WITHOUT the T-scores. Children who pass the PSLE gets promoted to the secondary level and admitted to the affiliated secondary schools.
c. If the parents are satisfied with the affiliated secondary schools and do nothing to change it – there will be a smooth transition from primary to secondary schools for MAJORITY of the cohort.
d. MOE still tabulates the T-score and keeps them confidential. It invites the top 10~20% of the cohort to apply to the “Top Schools”.
e. Students who are not “invited” by MOE may also apply to the Top Schools on their own, similar to the current appeal system.
What is the impact of this idea?
• If every primary school has affiliation with secondary schools, perhaps the annual primary 1 registration will be more evenly spread out to all primary schools and not focused on just a few popular schools. Typically, schools with affiliated secondary schools are preferred.
• Parents who enrol their children to a particular primary school are assured of places in one of the affiliated secondary schools. This process reduces the uncertainties and thus the anxieties.
• As MOE confidentially tabulates the T-score, it can still filter out the top students and groom them.
• This is idea is raw and simplistic. I am sure that there are many issues to be considered and analysed upon. The challenges are great, especially the affiliation criteria for the allocation of the secondary schools to the primary schools; the impact on the current affiliated secondary schools that admit students who achieves certain cut-off scores etc. Nevertheless, it is yet another perspective that MOE can review and consider.
Each time I read about hot education issues in the papers, iToday or even a FB post, I feel the need to blog.
Tuition – should we engage tutors or not? Tuition centres overcharge. Tuition teachers are not qualified. They are out to make a fast buck.
A boy get his hair cut by a school teacher. His mum files a police report.
And in the midst of exploring some of these education issues, there were many calls by anxious parents to ask me to consider setting up a tuition centre, one that can help fill the gaps of the current school system….
But is studying in a Singapore School so bad? Are we doomed?
Yesterday at the WorkPlan Seminar for schools, an announcement was made by Minister of Education about the scrapping of banding of secondary schools. Here is a snapshot of the Masterplan of Awards document from the MOE’s website,
According to the document, “The MOE is strongly anchored on SEM values where the development of students is the priority, with the intent of recognizing a variety of school achievements in line with MOE’s commitment to deliver holistic education.
The MoA is a unique recognition structure that motivates schools in their pursuit of the Desired Outcomes of Education. First instituted in 1998, the MoA has undergone various changes in response to the changing needs of the education landscapre over the years.
The structure reflects the SEM philosophy that excellence is an on-going journey.”
Let me attempt to give some possible reasons on why the good intentions of MOE has its challenges when being implemented in schools:
a) A new generation of iKids – This is a generation of kids who have grown up on instant gratification – instant noodles, instant growing (eg Farmville, you can grow things in a few clicks!), instant success and a lack of respect for seniority.
Instant everything – in this age of borderless classrooms, the students are exposed at a young tender age to a whole lot of information. Knowledge and facts become “cheap”. All kinds of information bombard the children of today. They get information from Facebook post, twitter, TED talks, wikipedia, youtube, podcast from well known universities or simply bloggers who recycle (re-post) news from one blog post to another. In fact, the era of Twitter, Facebook and even LinkedIn, seems to welcome and exonerate quick-off-the-cuff comments from its members. What is once privately shared with a circle of close friends, now can get re-twitted and re-post in a quick manner. And the post (while yet to be authenticated for accuracy and details), just spread and spread, like a malicious worm…gone viral!
We need to teach the children of today to have wisdom and discernment. Wisdom seems an odd thing to teach the children as it is associated with an old man or woman. However, when knowledge comes knocking on the doors of these kids and they get bombarded by exposure to an overwhelming amount of facts, it pays that schools give great attention to teaching the children how to discern. Facts from fiction. Gossip from truth. Instant from a long term study of things. Teach them to ask: where is the source of this information? Is it reliable? What is its track record?
b) Lack of respect for authority – There is an increasing dis-respect for seniority and authority. Children who have grown up with having a maid or helper to “assist” them in all kind of chores, can become very dependent adults if we are not careful. For instance, I know of one boy who was too lazy to even walk a mere 10 steps to turn on the fan and asked the maid to turn on the fan for him If this attitude and habit are condoned by his parents and those he looked up to, he will probably grow up thinking that as long as the service is “paid for”, he deserves all the help he “need” regardless of whether it is right or proper. While I am not against the idea of having some help for household chores, I feel very strongly that the values we teach children when we engage helpers in household chores have long lasting repercussions. If we treat these foreign help with less dignity than we treat our pets, we will reap what we sow in the next generation.
As a Christian, I subscribe to what the Bible teaches about learning to respect authority. In Romans 13:1-8
“13 Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. 2 So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. 3 For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. 4 The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. 5 So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience.
6 Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority.
Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. 9 For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.”[a] These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b]10 Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.”
Aung San Suu Kyi, remained under house arrest in Burma for almost 15 of the 21 years from 20 July 1989 until her most recent release on 13 November 2010, becoming one of the world’s most prominent political prisoners.
c) Looking at the students as clients and aiming to “please” them – I feel this concept that students and parents are the “clients” have been oversold. While we want to provide the best for the children, educators have a moral obligation to do what is right for the charges under them. Every educator and teacher is bound to teach children values besides imparting knowledge in schools. This is the fundamental difference between teaching children and teaching adults. By casting the school as being service oriented, and projecting students and parents as the clients, the idea to please rather than to teach is subtly introduced. This leads to an erosion in respect for the education institution and for the teaching profession.
d) Is the fit good for the child?– Excellence is a journey that is worth pursuing. But not every child is meant to be in an independent school, under the IP programme. Please…..as in any job, any career, if the fit is not good, the poor child is going to suffer. Adults who pander to the whims and fancies of their children will have to bear with the consequences as these same very cute children, can grow up to be totally dependent adults – waiting for their parents to bale them out of any trouble or problem. We have seen the problem of the “kangeroo” adults in Korea and other developed countries. Do we want to solve every problem that the child face today for them?
Do not force fit your child.I did an earlier post that my niece did not make it to SOTA due to her PSLE score. She is now studying in Christ Church Secondary. She is very happy there and feels more confident. She has a good and supportive principal. She is around students who studies at her pace. So a good fit will blossom a child…not a perceived “good” school.
e) Is there trust? – If your child is worth your time, do consider seriously to partner the school in this journey. A child is going to spend at least 12 years of his life in formal schooling. From P1 to JC2. This is where he gets the chunk of learning in terms of being a decent human being, learning to respect rules, authority and learning to live within a community. No school is perfect. Every school has their challenges. But if parents choose to trust schools instead of questioning at every turn and corner, the trust will be returned. Trust is something that needs to be built over time. There is no instant formula for trust. Schools and teachers in turn must learn to trust the parents as well. Not every negative feedback about the system is bad. Sometimes, and often times, we are so immersed in one system and one perspective that we are not able to see things from other angles. This is your call to committing to understanding the challenges your child faces.
The challenges of the education in the 21st Century is an endeavour that requires time and committment. Earning the $$ to help fund your child’s tuition fees in schools and give him a good education is important. But more important, do take time to understand him as a person. He is only a child once and very soon he will grow up. Take time to understand the challenges he is facing today. Remember, a child that is much loved will feel secure. A secure child who receives guidance and discipline grows up to be a responsible adult.
Let’s learn from the wisdom of the wise King Solomon:
Proverbs 13: 24
“Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.”
It was an unplanned encounter with a concerned parent last Saturday. No, I was not meeting her in the capacity of a teacher. It was not in a school setting.
Instead, we were having refreshments after the Opening Night of the 40th Anniversary Art Exibition by Life Art Society. It was a small cosy event. Nothing spectacular compared to last Sat’s Gala Dinner where we witnessed Dr Tony Tan signing the 千人松 or 1000 Pine Tree picture as the Guest-of-Honour.
Yet, it is in the simple and unglamorous occasion that sometimes the best conversations take place. The cosy event presents an opportunity for me to share with her some of my insights as an educator. To help assure her that the things she is doing are on the right path.We were chatting over a simple plate of Char Bee Hoon. In a humble building, @Lam Ann Association, in upmarket area of River Valley Road in Singapore. The exhibition was a simple and sincere effort by all volunteers and supported by people who are interested in Chinese Ink.
I was introduced to her by a friend, a fellow amateur artist and a friend of hers. There we were, talking about the concerns she has as a parent of a Sec 1 boy. She was anxious about whether she was doing the right thing as a stay-at-home mum.
– if her boy is rather quiet and compliant, should she be worried?
– if he fails in his social studies, what should she do?
– he seems laid back, how can she motivate him?
– should she caned him more? should she cane at all?
She shared that she felt her report card and achievements are all tied to the way the boy turned out. Is she a good parent doing all she should at this time in his life? Should she be doing more? or less?
A friend and ex-colleague once sms me, “I always feel that becoming a parent is a very humbling experience. …suddenly you are not independent and self sufficient anymore. I count of my mum’s good health so that someone can take care of them…I hope their teachers at school teach them well etc”
It truly reflects the many many anxieties of parenting. Parenting is a journey and as in all journeys, we need many good partners to help us.
The partners can be the classmates of your child, the teachers, the good neighbours and of course, your immediate family. People who are concerned for the well-being of your child.
The sharing lasted a good half an hour or more. I believe there are no quick fixes. Instead, what was important was for her to know that what she is experiencing is normal and what she is doing is just fine. Sometimes, it is as simple as that. Anxiety weighs you down.
I ended by sharing with her that she can try praying. Praying to God. Sometimes our human wisdom do not allow us to see ahead. Men may pride ourselves in having so many achievements and coming so far. It is afterall the 21st Century. However, a small voice tells us…”We do not have all the answers. We are still vulnerable.”
Let me end off by sharing a wonderful and inspiring TED talk by this guy, ‘artist Neil Harbisson who was born completely color blind. These days, a device attached to his head turns color into audible frequencies. Instead of seeing a world in grayscale, Harbisson can hear a symphony of color — and yes, even listen to faces and paintings.
It all started because my brother’s house needed a new clock. However, the clock was simple. It was “boring” in the words of my sis-in-law.
So she tasked my niece “to do something with the clock”. Very often we hear of parents, especially mothers telling the children what to do.
“Can you help me look after your younger brother?”
“Hurry up! We are late!”
“Aiyoo…Why did your school teacher call again?”
“You better study hard. Else no future. It is very competitive you know.”
“You better study hard. Don’t be lazy. This year is your PSLE.”
“You are so big already. Why can’t you keep your room clean?”
and so on…
So often, parents, especially mothers try to “nag” their children on to the right path. Parenting a child is never easy. There are countless bad habits a child can develop if left to his own devices. A parent’s role is to guide, correct and encourage the child.
In her book, Marilee G. Adams shared on how when “You change your questions, you change your life”. In the book she shares that ‘”Questioning” is a skill rarely taught in school, but doing it well – that is, asking the right questions of the right people – can radically transform attitudes, actions, and results. Change Your Questions, Change Your Life provides easy-to-learn tools that can make a significant and immediate difference in people’s business and personal lives. Written as an engaging fable, it inspires readers to take charge of their thinking in order to accomplish goals, improve relationships, advance careers, investigate new territories, and in general gain greater life satisfaction. This book explains how to “be your own coach,” outlines the author’s Question Thinking Model, and lists the top 12 questions for change. Real-world examples provide practical models for applying the principles in a variety of situations, while a Choice Map is a useful visual tool that demonstrates that everyone has a choice in every situation, even if it is not immediately apparent.’ (Source: Amazon.com)
I agree to a large extent. Question Thinking is a useful communication tools that challenge our assumptions. Are we in a Judger mode or Learner mode?
Basically it is important to question our assumptions. Stop the blame game when things go wrong. And take a step back to re-look at things again.More importantly the parent child relationship grows when the parent allows the child to “meddle” around. Like in this case, the clock. My niece is quite creative and good in art.
The result? A beautifully crafted and unique Ikea clock piece. When posted on Facebook, there were a couple of buyers. Of course, all these are the “fan” club of my niece.
Some points we can learn from this simple joyful event:
a) Turn a problem into an opportunity for your child to help you
b) Recognise the talents that your child have – what do they do well in? What do they particularly enjoy?
c) Encourage your child to try and innovate eg in this case, what is the worst case scenario? Probably an ugly clock 🙂
d) Share the small achievements of your child
When a child receives recognition that she is good in something, her confidence grows.
In my earlier post, I shared how crushed my niece was when she heard that she could not enter the School of the Arts.(SOTA) (Post: What’s your PSLE score?)
But who knows, she could be extremely talented in Art and turn out to be a superb designer or artist:)
And by the way, I shared this piece of fun news with a friend and here is the result of the work she did with her children.
Another beautifully decorated Ikea clock!
Perhaps we can modify Ikea’s tagline to : You don’t have to be rich to be inventive 🙂
I was sent this picture by a friend recently. I ask myself – “Does it really capture what school is like nowadays?”
Today the culture of who to point a finger to seems to start young. The BLAME culture.
If a child does badly in school:
– Hey why doesn’t the school give remedial? Why doesn’t…….
– Do the teachers understand what my child is going through?
– The poor child is too tired
– My child is hungry lah…cannot concentrate…
– Let me talk to the teacher….
– I want to see the Principal…..
The finger starts pointing…
In the book, The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle, he talks about how greatness isn’t born but grown. He researched the world for talent hotbeds – and he wrote about three factors that make the formula for success: deep practice, ignition and master coaching. Deep practice simply means lots of practice. Pure diligence. Learning from your mistakes.
During my student days, it was a shame to fail your subject. I remember tuition was rare and it was a real disgrace to fail your tests. Additional Maths was a challenge to many students. Some of my friends failed and they started taking tuition. Those who passed were relieved that we do not have to waste money on tuition. Many of us do not come from rich families and having tuition was a luxury few could afford.
When I first failed my English test, my dad gave me a huge whack on my thigh with a cane. There was no cry of child abuse then. Even though the caning caused my skin to crack and blood trickled. It was a good 4-5cm long on my little thigh then. And I was only in Sec 1 then. It brought me lots of pain – physically and embarrassment too. But it also made me determined not to fail my English again.
In an exclusive interview with Readers’ Digest (Feb 2012) issue, Michelle Obama shared this on Success: “You have to practise success. Success doesn’t just show up. If you aren’t practising success today, you won’t wake up in 20 years and be successful because you won’t have developed the habits of success, which are small things like finishing what you start, putting a lot of effort into what you do, being on time, treating people well.”
I like that.
Finishing what you start.Do you start new things all the time but find it difficult to finish them?
Putting in a lot of effort into what you do. Due diligence counts. Passion alone is not enough.
Being on time.Do you value others’ time?
Treating people well. Irrespective of their job, their status in society, their race, their family background.
On why her children made their beds and even help set the table – “We have to prepare them(her children) for life beyond the White House, and that means chores, responsiblities, treating people with dignity and respect and being mindful of elders and polite and kind to others….these are values we want them to have when they are old and grey…..we cannot take a break from all those values that we believe in. No we have to maintain those values, even here.” (Source: Readers’ Digest Feb 2012)
What’s the culture you are creating for your children? Is it “Blame-Less” or “Blame-MORE!”
Is your child growing up to be a creeper who constantly need scaffolding or an oak tree where others can lean on?
I remembered the year as vividly as if it was yesterday. It was my second year in NUS. For the FIRST time in my life, I have failed an examination. It was my Mathematics paper.
I remember the day when we went to collect the results. I was with my bunch of friends, Campus Crusaders as we were called then. We were all from the Science Faculty. I was on a MOE teaching bond and have to take on teaching subjects – Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry for my first year.
Being a lazy student back then, I thought I was smart to take double Maths in Year 2 as it means less studying. My foundation in Hwa Chong stood me in good ground. I sailed through my first year with very little studying, lots of socializing and playing. I passed with decent grades of A,B and C.
Then the day came. My friends who took Biology went in and take their results. It was A after A. Then it was my turn to go to the Maths department. I remembered I saw my result slip and wondered why it was F for one of the papers. It was such a shameful moment for me – the arrogant and cocky student who thought that no studying and all socializing is the way to go for NUS. I blamed it on the lousy NUS Maths lecturer that talked only to his OHP (overhead projector) instead of teaching us.
It was a rude shock to me. No one of my friends believed I failed and had to do the dreaded “RE”. It did not help that a guy who was very interested in me, told me that he has done RE’s after RE’s and he will be studying with me. I still remember being very offended by his suggestion. “Hey, I am not a loser like you. I am not the “RE” sort.” – was my arrogant thought at that point of time.
I totally withdrawn from my friends, my social life during those months leading up to the RE exam. For the first time I did all the past year questions, revised all my notes and did every single exercise. It was a black hole in my life at that time. I felt stupid and lousy. The arrogant self was all gone. Instead self pity and a deep sense of regret – why didn’t I pull through? My thoughts oscillated between failing my RE again and being shamed to “it’s no big deal, I am sure I can pull through.”
Well, the exam day came. I sat for the paper and was happy that the lecturer actually reused his old question.
Either it was a case of pure luck or plain laziness of the Maths lecturer.
I passed the paper.
I was promoted to Year 3.
That was my brief encounter with failure in an examination. But it proved to be a stepping stone in my life. I become more grounded, less arrogant and more willing to work hard.
It also made me a better teacher. I was able to empathize with students who failed. Some failed because they were lazy like me. But there were many who failed just because they could not understand the teacher. Some worked very hard and yet still can’t pass.
In the various schools that I taught in, St Thomas (which has since closed down due to falling enrollment), Yishun, St Joseph’s Institution and Nanyang Girls’ High, I have many chances to share the tears of my students when they failed a major exam.
It took me many more years and many more failures (not in terms of examinations) but in losing promotions, being rejected, learning to take disappointments to become who I am today. The words of my partner still ring in my ears when I first left a comfortable post to start our education consultancy, “Remember, you are no longer the Dean of NYGH, you need to do everything yourself…..”
Yes, learning to fail is oh so important. It gives you the right perspective to life and more importantly it teaches you what went wrong.
In USA, there is a re-visiting of the over-praising culture for children. According to Dr Jim Taylor, a clinical associate professor at the University of Denver, “Children develop a sense of competence by seeing the consequences of their actions, not by being told about the consequences of their actions. ”
The Ministry of Education has introduced a one point entry system – Admission Exercise for Foreign Students (AEIS) to help simplify the process of application for a place in a local K12 school.
I chanced upon this when asked to help children of friends from Shanghai and other countries to get a place for their children. So while many Singaporeans feel that our local K12 system is not ideal, it is a seen as a coveted item for many of these parents.
I have seen how foreign parents sacrificed their time to be “study” parents so that their children can be adequately prepared to be one of the fortunate people to make the cut for our local K12 schools. The amount of time and effort they spent, esp Asian parents on trying to help their children get the Singapore brand of education always make me feel that we have taken our education system for granted.
In Indonesia, I have seen how parents work together to setup a school for their children just so the kids get a chance to learn Mandarin as a subject.
In China, a couple once waited for us for a whole day just to get a chance to talk to my principal, when we were there for an education assignment. The parents were from Nanjing and they travelled all the way to Wuxi just to wait for us.
Back to the AEIS. It is one stop shop – a centralised admissions exercise conducted by MOE around September or October each year for new international students who wish to join K12 primary and secondary schools in January of the following year.
The Centralised Test
The candidates are tested on English and Mathematics and general reasoning ability. Applicants who pass the test will be offered a place in a suitable school, based on availability of school vacancies, their test performance and declared address in Singapore. (Source: Ministry of Education)
What is the admission criteria?
New international students who do not have a place in a local K12 school and who wish to seek admission into Primary 2–5 and Secondary 1–3 levels in January of the following academic year are eligible to take part in AEIS.
You have to factor in how old the child will be when he/she enters the school the following year. The max age is +2 above the current cohort of students.
This is a picture (Source: MOE) which shows the age and the level the child will be posted to. There is another similar table for Secondary schools.
This is the FIRST STEP that all parents who are interested to enrol their children for the admission test should take note of. If the child fails to have this criteria, it is a FUTILE exercise and a source of heartache.
b) The types of pass the parents hold
c) The eligibility of the students
d) Application Process and Documents required – these need to be carefully studied and comply with. The application process is via an online form and the person who is helping the parents to apply need to have these information ready and at hand.
e) Online Form – which is closed for this year already
f) Reporting Venue of AEIS test
g) How to prepare – There exists many private schools who claim they can help students prepare for the exams. The parents are advised to check out these premises and to see if they are certified by edu-trust. Some schools charge a bit more but give better quality. What I did the last time was to ask qualified ex-colleagues of mine who are teachers to help out. However, a private school setting could be more conducive for studying. Besides the academic preparation, those helping out should also take note of how the child feels. In many cases, the psychological aspects play a key role. To study and be immersed in an EL and foreign environment can be very intimidating to many students. Those who are successful in their own country may suddenly feel a deep sense of loss and rejection.
h) Finally the last hurdle will be the exams and the results of the AEIS. The bar is getting higher each year. It is very difficult to get a place in a local school as places for foreign students are very limited. Plus the fact that at the end of the year, local students could be also thinking of transferring to another school through the school’s own internal exams.
It is also important to note that all students who are staying on for a period of time longer than the regular tourist, needs to have a student VISA. The information for application process can be found through ICA website. Many credited private schools will be able to issue the student pass if the students are enrolled in their school.
If you are a Singapore parents, perhaps if you have friends or biz associates who are interested in enrolling for the Singapore Schools, this is one exercise you may want to get yourself acquainted with. All the best!