Month: June 2010

Two Sides of the Coin: Perspectives on Education in Singapore

These letters appeared on the Forum page of the Straits Times, and I think they sum up the two opposing views regarding education that parents seem to hold. Of course these two views are ends of a spectrum, rather than dichotomous categories. Most of us fall somewhere in between, and occupy two points: desired position and actual position. Because let’s face it: while we want to thumb our noses at the system and the parents who give it power, we all want the best for our children. The problem is that no one really knows what the best is. Exam performance is easily quantified and compared, and so we cave.

LETTER NUMBER 1:

May 31, 2010
DOING AWAY WITH P1 EXAMS
A parent’s concern

WITH reference to Saturday’s report, ‘Sixteen schools do away with Primary 1 exams’, my daughter is in Primary 1 in a government school that has not done away with examinations, and I am grateful for that.

The results of my daughter’s recent mid-year exams made my wife and I sit up to the fact that she is weak in some areas. Going forward, we as parents will pay more attention to them.

My wife and I have not been negligent towards our daughter’s studies; we revise her school work daily and make sure she completes all her homework. Given our diligence we felt disappointed with her results. Nonetheless, we accepted that every child is born with her individual set of strengths and weaknesses.

As parents who love and think only the best of their children, we could easily develop a blind spot and believe that our children excel in everything at school, even when they may actually be struggling.

This is what happened to us. Our daughter’s mid-year exam results served as a reality check for us.

As parents, we are mindful of the danger of putting our daughter through undue stress. But it would be far more stressful for our daughter in a system where crucial examinations are conducted only at Primary 3, since we would find out only then that she is not doing well and be forced to make her work extra hard to play catch-up.

I doubt the ability of non-examination assessment tools like skits and show-and-tell assignments to accurately reflect a child’s academic strengths and weaknesses.

I also doubt whether the results of such assessments would effectively communicate to parents their child’s progress.

If a teacher told us that our daughter did not do well in her show-and-tell, we frankly wouldn’t be the least perturbed and motivated to take remedial action, as we are now about our daughter’s poor mid-year grades. A stitch in time saves nine.

Chan Yeow Chuan

LETTER NUMBER 2:

Jun 1, 2010
BRINGING UP KIDS
Think beyond exam-smart

WITH reference to Mr Chan Yeow Chuan’s letter yesterday (‘Doing away with P1 exams: A parent’s concern’), I would like to offer an alternative perspective.

He is right to doubt that non-examination assessment tools like skits and show-and-tell assignments do not reflect a child’s academic strengths and weaknesses. However, is a child’s academic strengths and weaknesses the sole concern of parents? We can blame the system for leaving us with no choice, but the fact is, we do have a choice.

I have made a choice not to send my child for enrichment classes because I have realised it is easier to teach the ABCs than to build a child’s character.

I refuse to let academic demands take my attention away from raising my child well. Of course, I am also prepared to face it if my child is labelled ‘average’ or ‘weak’ in academic performance.

Unlike Mr Chan, I will be concerned if my child did not do well in her show-and-tell. I will be wondering if she is lacking in self-confidence and self- esteem, making her uncomfortable to speak in public.

We can drill mathematic concepts and grammar rules into a child, teach him to be exam-smart and eventually do well in academic examinations. However, building up self-confidence and self-esteem is a more complex process, requiring more time and effort, but the results are worthwhile and lasting.

And once we get the positive character traits in place, the ability to perform well academically will follow.

Also, we seem to rely way too much on tests and examinations to tell us how our children are doing in school. Have we questioned whether it is fair or even necessary to test them this way?

I must say I am glad about and supportive of the removal of end-of- semester examinations for Primary 1 and even lower primary pupils.

Pearlyn Koh (Ms)

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