Two articles caught my attention in today’s newspapers. The first is a ST special report on page B6, “Creating a conducive learning environment”. It talked about how neighbourhood schools have also created their own niches of learning and are also well resourced to be good schools. The second is “Teachers, don’t leave the kids alone” on TODAY which reported on Dr Tan Lai Yong’s speech at the inaugural Character and Citizenship Conference. Dr Tan spoke about the important role parents play in their children’s development. He urged parents to look beyond studying to also spend time with children at play.
Each year, we see many parents up-in-arms against MOE over primary 1 school admission, protesting over various criteria used for admission. There is no shortage of letters to forum pages of newspapers and online comments each year with differing opinions on what a fair criterion should be. We see parents stressed up over schools selection from the time their children were born. Some relocated their homes to be near choice schools. A year prior to primary 1 selection, parents would have to start to serve as volunteers to move to a higher priority for selection; and even so, there is no guarantee volunteer work will secure a place for the child in the desired school. Even getting to be a volunteer in a popular school is a challenge. Popular schools often turn away volunteers because they want to be fair to volunteers, as an oversupply of volunteers may mean more volunteers being disappointed if they have to ballot for the limited vacancies in the school. Indeed, I know of friends who had volunteered in vain due to unexpected high demand for places in the school from those higher up in the priority queue.
Being active in the schools industry for over a decade in various capacities, I had the chance to observe this annual ritual replayed many times in many schools. The process for my own three children was simpler. My wife and I decided to put them in our alma mater, which were also located within short distances from our house. One is an all-girls school and the other an all-boys school. The alumni priority did not matter anyway. The schools we chose did not have a queue, so it did not require priority to enter. It did not matter to us as well that these were not the much sought-after branded schools.
I believe parents play a bigger role in their children’s success than the school. No matter which school we select, there is no short-cut to the parents’ role in educating their children. Having worked with many schools, I find neighbourhood primary schools are not disadvantaged when it comes to physical resources. Each may have different facilities to cater to different niches, but basic and sufficient facilities are available in all schools.
The main difference between neighbourhood and branded primary schools is in the parents’ profile. Schools with higher proportions of middle and higher income families will tend to have more competitive parents. Most of these families spend a lot on tuition, so the better overall results of a school may not be due only to the school. Well-to-do parents impose tighter supervision and make additional resources available to their children outside of school. The differences in schools become more marked when it comes to secondary school due to streaming, when students are sorted out according to their academic abilities. The difference though, is less because of physical resources, but from the cohort of students the schools receive.
Parents should not think that getting their children into a popular primary school is the answer to their children doing well, nor should those that did not manage to land their children into popular schools despair. Parents hold an even more important role than schools in educating their children.
What is doing well in education? Is it all about examination results?
I share Dr Tan’s belief that there is more to learning than studying. I have written and spoken previously about hyper-meritocracy, where we chase measurable academic indicators and rely on them to the extreme. It is unfortunate that over the years, we have gradually transformed our education system into one that seems overly concerned about sorting out students and identifying the top achievers in examinations, as if that is the only thing that matters. We find ways to sort out students at various intervals, from as young as nine years old. We provide top scholarships and top jobs for those that do well academically as proof of our meritocracy. This has led parents to over-emphasize academic results, leading to a highly stressed situation over schooling.
While academic results are important in our society, parents should not ignore opportunities to provide guidance in life skills to their children. Dr Tan raised his two children through their early studying years in mountainous rural Yunnan in China, returning only when this children are into their secondary school years. It is interesting that a Singapore-trained medical doctor would let his children live and study in a rural place without the advantages of ‘good’ Singapore schools. I believe there are must be valuable life lessons his children have learnt that cannot be taught in schools. I think these life lessons are as valuable as academic achievements.
I hope parents can see that educating their children is very much in their hands. Education includes examinations, which are necessary for the child to move on to a further stage. Education also means character and values development. While schools play an important role in character and values development through CCAs and through teachable moments in school, parents must see they have an even greater vested interests in ensuring their children grow up with the right attributes in life. Children are only in school for a few brief years but they are with their parents through life.
Values such as respect, courage, resilience, integrity, diligence, adaptability, discipline, independence are important for your children as they go through life. Parents are in the best position to impart these values to their children. Invest your moments with your children. Invest your time in their studies. Even more so, invest in their character development as well.