The Orchid 兰

The more I dabbled with Chinese ink and read about the history of the 4 gentlemen – 四君子, the more I am convinced that the ancient people have their wisdom and philosophy through use of painting and poetry. By looking at nature, they are able to draw principles for living!

Let me just introduce one of the gentleman today, the humble Orchid 兰。

The Orchid, being found in secluded places and has an understated appearance, signifies

  • purity
  • integrity,
  • being noble 
  • tenacity of character
    Its fragrance is never overpowering, symbolizing humility and nobility

    ‘芝蘭生於森林, 不為無人而不芳, 君子修道立德,不為窮困而改節”- Confucius

    “The orchids grow in the woods and they let out their fragrance even if there is no one around to appreciate it.
    Likewise, men of noble character will not let poverty deter their will to be guided by high principles and morals.

Other quotes by Confucius

與善人居, 如入芝蘭之室, 久而不聞其香, 即與之化矣. 與不善人居,如入鮑魚之肆, 久而不聞其臭, 亦與之化矣.”
“If you are in the company of good people, it is like entering a room full of orchids. After a while, you become soaked in the fragrance and you don’t even notice it. If you are in the company of bad people, it is like going into a room that smells of fish. After a while, you don’t notice the fishy smell as you have been immersed in it.”

Here is a famous piece by Zhang Da Qian (Reference:


and my own composition based on a favourite verse in the Bible. “你们这些小信的人哪!野地里的草今天还在,明天就被丢进火炉里,神尚且这样装扮它,更何况你们呢!” 

 “If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?” from Matt 6:30, a poignant reminder when I was stuck in a jam on a bus to meet my ex-principal in Hong Kong Singapore International school. When I looked down, I saw two little beautiful flowers blooming in a graveyard that was very much neglected and that was a poignant reminder to me during the early days of OURF when we first started that this journey though difficult will have its rewards if we just do like what the two little flowers do…bloom to their best for the passers-by!

The Orchid 兰

Posted by Pin Lay

Ink. Journey into Self@NP Staff Centre

20140523_120823 20140523_120914 20140523_120732 20140523_120342 20140523_121904 20140523_134158 20140523_123651 20140523_120143 20140523_120201 20140523_120215 20140523_121444 20140523_115928 20140523_103939 20140523_103731 20140523_102721 20140523_103350 20140523_115712 20140523_102438 20140523_100630 20140523_100609 20140523_092818 20140523_093034 20140523_100556“an interesting course that helps us to bring out understanding of personalities and ourselves”

“thank you pin lay for this fun filled session. Your candid and honest sharing helped us to understand how our personalities can conflict.”

“thank u! i have to say ti was a lot more fun than i had expected it to be!”

“entertaining, enjoyable, knowledgeable”

“very interesting short course which i have enjoyed. Definitely a good take away. having to learn calligraphy once again!”

“it would be nice if we can discuss among ourselves and give time to group ourselves into our departmental units in order to see clearly our personality. Thanks. V fun!”


What has team work gotta do with success?

I recently read the article, a reprint by Readers Digest on Tenzing Norgay. He was born the humble son of a Nepalese yak herder and became famous after he was one of the first two people in history to reach summit of Mount Everest on 29th May 1953.

Many people asked him “Who actually reached the top first?”

Read his reply to this burning question as recorded in his biography “Tiger of the snows”:

“The rope that joined us was 9m long but I held most of it in loops in my hand, so that there was only about 1.8m between us. I was not thinking of “first” and “second”. I did not say to myself, “There is a golden apple up there. I will push Hillary aside and run for it.” We went on slowly, steadily. And then we were there.

Hillary stepped on top first. And I stepped up after him. If it is a discredit to me that I was a step behind Hillary, then I must live with that discredit.”

What a beautiful honesty he displayed:) It was simply we did it together.

Along the way, he also shared about how two other teams tried but did not reach the summit. Yet the teams, exhausted as they were, “did everything they could to advise us and help us.”

“It is only because of work and sacrifice of all of them that Hillary and I were now to have our chance at the top.”

As Hilllary and Tenzing started their ascent, they had another team ahead of them to help cut the steps for them. “The steps cut by others made the going easier for us.”

And on 29 May, the morning of ascending the summit, Hillary’s boots were frozen and they had to de-freeze it for over an hour over the stove. Although they both woke up at 3.30am, it was only at 6.30am that they went on their journey.

And yes, what a journey. His life changed after that victorious moment.

And for all the preparation,slogging, Hillary did not take a picture of himself at the summit. He took one for Tenzing and lots for the mountain.

Wow. What an incredible pair.

Imagine if you were the first to summit the highest mountain in the earth. Yet you do not have a single picture of yourself at the summit.

Here are two men, both of different nationalities, one is a New Zealander and the other a Nepalese yet with a common goal.

Tenzing trained hard and was chosen to summit because he has enough experience and also he was found to be “more fit that anyone else” when the doctors examine him at the base camp.

Team work is the precursor of success. Success is never achieved alone.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers”, he again outlined the factors that led to a person achieving success. It is due not just to his talent but also to the circumstances that helped him become who he is.

The ingredients for success are simply these:

– talent

– diligence

– perseverance

– hunger

– humility

– gratefulness and teamwork. 

‘As I covered up the offering, I say a silent prayer …”Tuji che Chomolungma. I am grateful…”‘

Are you grateful for the opportunities that come your way? Do you use them wisely?

“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.”  – James 3:7

Useful links:

About Tenzing Norgay

Wikipedia: Tenzing Norgay

Standing firm against unreasonable demands….

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,

Masterplan of Awards
Masterplan of Awards

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. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. 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. 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. So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience.

Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. 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 lawFor 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,[10] 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… 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.”

Useful links:

Spare the rod, and spoil the child

Respect for Authority

MOE Workplan Seminar 2012

Unschooling – Is that part of our 21st century toolkit?

Joy and Jeremy at Arcade
Joy and Jeremy at Arcade Game

Have you heard of the phrase “Unschool“?  I stumbled across this term when researching on “asking questions, learning” which I typed in my search box. Dr Peter Gray, a research professor of psychology at Boston College in his blogpost on Psychology Today, defined “unschooling” as follows:

“Defined most simply, unschooling is not schooling. Unschoolers do not send their children to school and they do not do at home the kinds of things that are done at school. More specifically, they do not establish a curriculum for their children, they do not require their children to do particular assignments for the purpose of education, and they do not test their children to measure progress. Instead, they allow their children freedom to pursue their own interests and to learn, in their own ways, what they need to know to follow those interests. They also, in various ways, provide an environmental context and environmental support for the child’s learning. Life and learning do not occur in a vacuum; they occur in the context of a cultural environment, and unschooling parents help define and bring the child into contact with that environment.

All in all, unschoolers have a view of education that is 180 degrees different from that of our standard system of schooling. They believe that education is something that children (and people of all ages) do for themselves, not something done to them, and they believe that education is a normal part of all of life, not something separate from life that occurs at special times in special places.”

It is believed that 10% of homeschoolers are unschoolers in USA. Which translates to 150,000 students and more.

I supposed unschool takes the concept of homeschool one step further. For homeschooling, there is a prescribed syllabus and you teach your child according to what the syllabus prescribes. There is a network for homeschoolers and you can purchase the syllabus online.

Unschooling is based on the premise that every child is curious and talented in some ways. The parents help to shape their learning. I like the sentence that “they believe that education is a normal part of all of life, not something separate from life that occurs at special times in special places“.

So is there a place for unschooling a child in Singapore? We have founders like the founders of Kampung Temasek who are trying a new way of learning. We have homeschool organisations who provide families a systematic way to ensure their child gets a validated curriculum for their education.We have parents who chose homeschool to inculcate certain values in their children.

But there again, do parents need to homeschool or unschool their children to teach them values? Is there value in a formal school education?

Recently I have the privilege to host an ex-colleague and her two children in Singapore. Her boy(P3) and girl (P5) studies in Hong Kong(HK) Singapore International School, a school based in HK and uses the Singapore syllabus. They were here on for Easter vacation.

Here’s what I observe when I was “babysitting” her two children while she was having her much deserved break and facial. Jeremy(the boy) and Joy(the girl) were given ten dollars each to spend.

I was a bit worried. I am not sure if we should go to the new JCube to do ice skating or walk around IMM where my friend was having her facial. IMM seems like an adult place and what is there to see and do at IMM? kiddy rides? Popular? But we had been at Popular just yesterday to buy some assessment books.

Well, I just asked the kids what they want to do and they told me so innocently, “Aiyah….we cannot ice-skate as you dunno know to. Never mind lah, Auntie Pin Lay, we just walk around IMM.” What a logical answer 🙂

So we were at IMM. Walking aimlessly.

Surprise no 1. The first stop was at Mini Toons. They wanted to buy some sweets. But what was surprising to me was that they chose to buy so little that it cannot even make up the minimum quantity of sweets. It was only 30g compared to 100g requirement for the least amount they need to buy! We did buy the min 100g in the end but they both did not finish the sweets. I think they only ate about 50g or less:)

Surprise no 2. The second stop was at an Arcade place. Jeremy did not want to spend his money at all. In fact he was upset that Joy bought tokens to play together. He was annoyed and said “But you never ask me if I wanted to play!” He was not interested to play in the games as he wanted to keep his $10 intact. Joy, being the sharing and caring big sister, got him interested. She shared how great it will be if they play together. He still refused, not convinced. However, towards the end of the session, they were playing well together. It was a simple game of hitting the belly of an ugly looking frog. It was such a good kiddie game that with their combined skills they scored well and the tickets start rolling. Soon J and J were so motivated to get more tickets that they played the same game 5 times! The end result – they managed to win some nice prizes to share with their mum:)

Surprise no 3. My friend was not done with her facial yet. We walked over to take a drink at Ah Mei, a local food joint. I told them, “Hey time for a little iPad need $$. Just use my iPad while I take my fix of tea halial and chwee kueh.” Imagine my pleasant surprise where Joy took out her remaining $2 and waved at the auntie to use her $2 to pay. Well, $2 was not enough to pay. I started to take out my wallet to pay.

“No, no, Auntie Pin lay, you keep your money!” Both of them said almost simultaneously. Jeremy started to fish for his ununsed $10 to rush to pay for me. I wished you were there to see the amused look of the auntie serving us at the counter. So my $5.10 refreshment of tea plus chwee kueh were totally paid for by them. Not a small amount considering that it is 51% of Jeremy’s pocket money!

I later told my friend that she has really brought up her children well. “Baby-sitting” for her was a real joy 🙂

So to what extent should the the parent’s involvement in their children’s education be? Do you think “unschooling” is a good option for your child? If not, why not? Or should it be part of the suite that is available for Singapore parents to choose from? What type of support do you think you will need? What type of skills? How do you teach values to your children so that even when you are absent they will bring happiness to others and joy to their “baby sitters”.

Your view?

Useful links:

What is unschooling?

Learning without schooling

Hong Kong Singapore International School

Visiting my goats at Kampung Temasek – a lesson learnt

The day was set. The date was set. The only thing that was left was to decide on the time to set off. A month or so ago, my ex-colleague WL, having heard me talked about the Kampung for the longest time,  decided to plan way in advance  and “book” me so that we can drive up to the Kampung in Ulu Tiriam, Johor. She took leave and her 5 year old boy was looking forward to it.

The day came. It was on a Thursday morning that I was going to drive them up. Along the way, I managed to gather a few more people. The former Kampung manager, JH, an ex-student Cindy, who runs her own eco-company plus a friend of hers, Min.

The boy woke up very early in great anticipation. He was up at 7am and they arrived way before our time of driving up at 8.3oam.

The group piled into the car. I got my tank filled up and then left happily. The weather was really good considering that it was raining very heavily the past few days.

So we are finally going to see the one goat that was left. On 19th Jan 2012, I got an sms from JH. It says “Sorry to inform you. The male goat passed away just now because they ate the wrong grass. The female goat took some medicine and is getting better now. Will inform you if any updates.” Whoa…so soon???

What happened to the original plan of using the goats to eat grass? So how to produce more baby goats now? A couple of sms later, I told him I am fine if they want to “makan” the goat and make kambing soup or the bury the goat. C’est la vie.

That was on 19th Jan. On 15th Mar I found that the female goat, Joy has also died some time ago. This time round I was not informed. Or I did not receive any sms or news about it. So it was with a great shock I learnt it on the way driving up. The poor boy cried. He was looking forward to seeing the goat.

I felt so bad but it was too late for anything. We were already driving in and JH remarked to me that “Isn’t this part and parcel of life?” Life. Death. Learning to deal with Death. Even in animals.

We arrived at KT and the place seems quite like the last time I was there, except that the grass was taller and there was someone trying to cut off the grass. No more goats to graze the grass.

Instead what greeted us at the Kambing Hut was an empty space, some rabbits and a rooster and mother hen. Pieces of planks were lying around.

Meanwhile there was a path laid for the fish pond. But no pond yet.

A little boy at the square foot garden

There were 3 plots of square foot gardening and the plants were growing well…the concept works as it is about diversity and different plants need different NPK (Nitgroen, Phosphorus and Potassium).

At the pond
At the pond

While the boy was very upset and cried when he found the goats died, he was soon happily exploring the natural surroundings, enjoying playing with the sand, looking at the tree house and trying his very best to cross the floating boards on the little pond.

Yes, the School of Doing is indeed full of twists and turns. I wished the process to feed the goats, get the vets were done in a better manner. I wished the fish pond was built. What happened?

When I asked the two ladies present how they felt as it was the first time they visited the Kampung, Min said that it was quite different from what she saw on the concept map. She was keen to see the final product after all the houses and amenities are done up. WL replied that she saw more kampung along the way than at Kampung Temasek. She finds KT not quite kampung and yet not quite modern. Hmm interesting observation. Isn’t is true that sometimes we try to contrive up situations when all along the real McCoy is there? Perhaps there was never a need to build any Kampung at all! The M’sians may have done it a lot better than us. (ie Singaporeans)

Well, life is never as planned. Especially when KT sets out to be a community project built by volunteers.

The challenge is to get funding, get people to see the vision and have enough passionate people to keep it going. Somehow, I feel that passion alone is not enough to build this community. I have seen too many NGOs happy to be in the limelight and be photographed. Yet, the behind the scene day to day hard work is sadly ignored.

Recently I was helping to lead a school trip for River Valley High students on an overseas learning journey. The community group they were helping, The Green Ribbon Project, was started by a local guy. He was very passionate and enthusiastic. To do the job he is doing is not easy as many of the tasks depended on volunteers. There were many kind people who donated things to his organisation. Yet the challenge remained after 20 years…to find people to help to sort out the donated items. Some items could have expired and yet were donated to the home. Some could not be used. He showed us a roomful of donated items strewn and stacked haphazardly inside the room. These were work that will be assigned to the students. And yes, the good news is, after such a long period, they finally managed to get to build the Home of Love.

The Home of Love
The Home of Love

Laying the bricks

Well perhaps the best way forward when being involved with NGOs is to adopt a gracious spirit. Starting a volunteer movement, getting people involved, running the programmes involved a lot of time, energy and patience. There is no instant formula for success.

We may all do well to remind ourselves, myself included, that even Superman cannot create an ant or a tiny leaf. Let us learn to embrace diversity in processes and be humble and gracious when we look at the gaps and faults in NGOs. As long as we do our tiny bit to help, we become one step closer to being happy and one step further from a complaining spirit.

It is this can-do spirit that brings our forefathers to Singapore in search of a better land.

Perhaps Kampung Temasek could be the spark for this little boy. He has not yet started school and his curiosity level is high. At the end, he thanked everyone and told JH, our enthusiastic Kampung Manager (who was with the project when it first started), that “he was feeling like an explorer under JH’s guidance!”

Yes, the 21st Century education is about exploring new grounds.

Enjoy the clip:

Useful links:

River Valley High School

The School of Doing

The Green Ribbon Project Kuching

Can we create a “Blame-Less” culture in schools?

School then and now
School then and now

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…

The Talent Code
The Talent Code

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?

Useful link:

The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle

What I learnt from failing: My first and only ‘RE’ exam!

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.

“Too much praise of any sort can also be unhealthy. Research has found that students who were lavished with praise were more cautious in their responses to questions, had less confidence in their answers, were less persistent in difficult assignments, and less willing to share their ideas.” (Source: Psychology Today:

So do call a spade a spade. Failure, red marks are all stepping stones to make a child with character.

Do wait a while before you stretch out your hand to pick up your child.

Do give him time to learn to stand on his own two feet. 

 Useful links:
The power of Prime – by Dr Jim Taylor