Parents’ role in educating children

 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.


8 comments on “Parents’ role in educating children

  1. It is a truism that children will learn from their parents, and often at a very young age (formative years). They absorb whatever values that parents have, not just what parents might choose to impart to them. They experience these values first hand often. In other words, children can often get mixed signals when parents tell them (for example) it is important to respect their elders and then go on to shout at their own parents. Yet, there are two stages in a child’s life when values play an important part – when they are young (primary school) and when they are teens, struggling to become adults. There, their role models shift from parents to their peers, and they learn the values of the social circle of peers that they choose to align themselves with. Here, parents begin to struggle to impart values that they themselves deem right, but to teens are increasingly outdated values. This is because parental values are decreasingly relevant, or experienced, in a teen’s life.

    I remain cynical about the ability for schools, probably the only national mechanism to impart national values (whatever they may be), to provide or impart values to children. Their parents and their peers, just by sheer time spent with them alone, are a greater influence on what the child will grow up to be. If parents are seen to be selfish, their children will learn likewise. And chances are, children’s social circles will have parents of largely the same class (an effect of our schooling system), and so, whatever social values are imparted will be a reflection of that class – competitive, selfish, racist, kiasu/kiasi, fiercely independent at the expense of others etc.

    So what can we do?

    Firstly, by acknowledging that trying to inculcate national values (whatever they may be) through schools, media or campaigns, is a lost cause. Such values are so abstract that it has little relevance to many children nowadays.

    Secondly, by recognising that values experienced and obtained through social circles – parents, peers, even religious groups (churches etc) – as well as through online media, will increasingly dominate a child’s life. These values will be often conflicting, often confusing, and sometime enlightening.

    Thirdly, by realising that children need to learn what values are relevant and important to themselves. They need to *evaluate* or *valuate* what counts for them. Schools, parents, elders, religious groups, etc can try to teach children these. But American educationist John Dewey famously argue that values cannot be taught, they must be experienced for it to have any impact, and they must be reflected upon. For example, I was admittedly racist when I was young, having acquired such an attitude from my parents. Yet, it was when I lived and worked overseas in a western country, where I was a minority race, that I experienced for myself what racism really means from the receiving end. I became wiser and I constantly remind myself now how I was racially discriminated, whenever any racist tendencies resurface. Students therefore can’t be too sheltered, and need to experience, and valuate – the process of ‘reflective estimation and judgment’.

  2. Pingback: Daily SG: 11 Nov 2011 « The Singapore Daily

  3. “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” For me, my son goes to a neighbourhood school, and his parent profile falls under the higher income families. I and my husband are not overyly “concern” parents, that why, we did not make any effort to enroll my child go to a “right” primary school.

    But I realised that even though my husband and I don’t talk about band 123 or streaming as we did not think is THE important thing education. Or says things he should do better, because he can go to a “higher” band class. Somehow, he still knows it through his peers. Recently, he comes home to ask me, “mummy guess what class I will go to next year” I told him, I don’t know, then I asked why you ask. He said, I am scared. I asked why? He said, maybe he will be separated from his current batch of classmates, he says some classmates are in the higher band.

    I feel painful. At the age of 8. He already knows the “differences” and the school will be separating them based on academic abilites. I as a parent try to focus about “other” parts of the education, but, we cannot do anything about the school environment.

    Well, when I know which class he goes to, I will have to “sayang” him, as parent I need to encourage him that he should not be discourage if he ends up a class that is deem to be lower band. But if the school envirnoment continues to sort children at the age of 8, and in their peer group, they already know what the “negative” results of sorting. Then how can I perform my role as per your article.

    If the core problem “…..sorting out students and identifying the top achievers in examinations, as if that is the only thing that matters.” if this core issue is not changed, branded or non-branded primary schools it does not matter. Our children will learn to discrimate and do sorting, in values, people, ethics, etc into groupings.

    • I have 3 children going through the system… one at P6 and one Sec4, both important years. I know how you feel. I don’t bother about the academic chase as I don’t think that’s what is most important in education. Yet I cannot escape the realities of the system because I dont want them to be streamed into the lesser desired options and schools, where peer influence may pose a danger. So keeping watch on their peer influence in the teenage years was what my wife and I were most concerned about, and we are glad they turned out ok in this aspect. They did not get into the best secondary schools but it did not matter to us.

      Invest your time with your son, continue to encourage him along the way, and build him up in other life skills. All the best!

  4. Tdoay, ST – “Finnish school system ticks all the right boxes”. Today article, Dr. Sahlber, said: “We don’t measure children at all. It’s about being ready to learn and finding your passion.” …..well said. As I grow older, I find this so true, ready to learn and finding your passion, not only applies to children but to us as adults too.

    As said earlier on, my son is being sorted. When he told me the results, in the beginning, I felt a bit upset, as you said the realites of the sytsem, also hits me as well. After a couple days, I managed to get over it. He has been asking me why is he in that class, and his classmate is in another class. Well, that jolted me out of “mood”, so I told my child not to be bother by the “sorted class” results. I told him, he has plenty of time to learn, don’t worry about what class he goes to in P3. That is not important. Haha..hope I did something right!

  5. I chanced upon this article and like it. I am/was a Sec Sch teacher (on no pay leave to be with my 3 and 5 year olds).

    Even though I agree that we should not be so hung up on the ‘brand’ of schools, I don’t agree that the physical facilities and amenities of neighborhood schools are comparable to the good schools. I taught in a neighborhood school for 7 years and the school has not gone through upgrading or PRIME in 23 years! It is almost in original condition, with maybe only a few upgrades to toilets, staff room and special rooms. On the other hand, I went to a SAP school myself and we over into a brand new compound in 1995. Then just a few years ago, they almost rebuilt the whole school again. This isn’t even an independent school so a lot of the funds come from the government. In the neighborhood school, we request and wait and wait for the day it will be our turn for PRIME. And trying to get funds for building is not easy.

    Programme wise, the ‘brand’ schools also get more funding and support from the govt, it’s inevitable. This is also based on the meritocratic system of our nation. Schools that produce top students get rewarded so they have more money to do more things.

    My personal experience of getting my firstborn in primary school: I went to the ‘brand’ school near my home to sign up for the PVS and got rejected because of overwhelming response. So I’ve decided, if it’s God’s will, he’ll get in the school. If not, he can go to the other one nearby. The plus of the first school is that it’s a missions school and we like him to be in an environment where scripture verses are overt, instead of Confucius’ teaching (like the sec Sch I went to), in line with our faith and values.

    We are bordering on moving them to the US where my husband is from, to take them out of the system here. It’s just a matter of time. Students should be placed in classes they choose because of their interests, not because of one exam results. Thanks for sharing your views and reading mine.

    • Thanks for sharing, Delia. Sorry to hear the school you taught in had not had PRIME in 23 years. It should get its turn soon I hope. All the best with your children’s education.

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