Friday, December 7, 2012


A mum I know has a P1 kid who tops the class this year. Neighbourhood school, average difficulty papers. No tuition. I was so happy for the kid when the mum texted me.

But.... my next thought was less positive. The kid completed almost 20 assessment books in a year. It wasn't uncommon that she was expected to finish 30 pages on some days or risk being caned. By term 1, the mum had already stocked up on P2 and even P3 assessment books. Would she be expected to do 30 books in P2 in order to maintain the standard? I shudder at the thought.

Whenever the mum relates snippets of her coaching method, I feel sorry for the kid. I have to keep reminding myself to hold my tongue, for who am I to judge what's best for her child, even if I may have more experience than she has. But for the love of the child, I often ended up dishing out 'gentle' advices and nudges and suggestions, or whatever one may call them, hoping the mum will understand that her method is truly, grossly outdated.  

Her method, which is basically just about drilling the child, may work at P1 level, but is unlikely to yield any results except for a burnout child and a super frustrated parent. Even if she completes all the assessment books that Popular has to offer for each level, it doesn't mean she will excel. Especially once she reaches the higher levels which require very different set of skills that one can't acquire just by working through assessment books. Nope. In fact, going by the kind of Primary 3 - 6 Maths and Science questions we now see in exams, plain drilling method is only going to guarantee passes, not distinctions.

That said, teaching content alone is miles easier than teaching the child higher order thinking skills. Rote learning and regurgitation of facts offers near-instant satisfaction for the parent who demands immediate results, which is probably why worksheets and assessment books are so popular. On the other hand, to spend time building and honing a skill takes time to show results.  It is akin to investment. Skills need to be cultivated and more often than not, is harder to show on paper, but this doesn't mean they are less important.

One of my advices to her - sow the seeds now and only expect to reap the fruits (a few years) later. I practise what I preach with my own kids, which is why they spend so little time on assessment books. It doesn't mean they are wasting their time away or not acquiring content.

But I know my words have, yet again, fallen upon deaf ears. Very discouraging but I do love the kid. 

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