Sunday, March 3, 2013

Uneven Playing Field

Attending the award ceremony at M's school last week was an eye-opener for me.

Everyone who attended it had a child who went on stage to collect award(s) for academic excellence in 2012. The youngest pupils are those of M's cohort - the current Primary 3 - for their Pri 2 results. (Pri 1 kids do not sit for exams, only several ongoing 'surprise' assessments.)

The first thing that struck me when I arrived at the hall was the number of familiar faces I saw all around. I just can't believe how many mothers I recognized there!

To begin with, I am not even active in this school. I am not a parent volunteer and I certainly don't socialize with any parents or teachers. But I do recognize those mothers who dutifully brought lunches for their kids every Monday, two years ago, when I was doing the same for M. Everyone of these women is a stay-at-home mum (SAHM).

Besides these mums, I also spotted 4 other neighbours (just think of the chance of that, especially since we aren't exactly that close to the school!), though their kids are older than M. Again, all these women are SAHMs.

Is it a sheer coincidence that so many of the SAHMs were in that hall or is there a more obvious correlation between the two variables (SAHMs and hall attendance)?  I mentioned this to E, who just uttered a nearly silent 'ng' and shrugged. But I am still intrigued.

Of the 9 parents I spoke to after the awards, during the tea reception, I learnt that everyone of them sends their kids to tuition. Usually for multiple subjects. A boy, whose family I know for years, was there for outstanding PSLE results and is now studying at Raffles Institution. He had tuition/enrichment since he was 4. From Primary 3 onwards, he was tutored for all 4 subjects. I remember his mum being the one who ferried both his younger sister (now in P4) and him all over Singapore for the best tuition classes.

On my way to school, I was sandwiched between two groups of parents. The group ahead of me was discussing a court case, which led me to conclude they must be law practitioners. Those men behind me were talking about epidurals and how to insert the needles, through which part of the spine etc... Both groups ended up in the same hall, cheering their kids. I already knew the parent-body consists of a high percentage of PMEBs......

Such observations and discussions at the tea reception, coupled with our experience in the past week with M's teachers, reinforced my long-standing beliefs that we can't depend on schools to prepare our kids for national exams. Not even the school-level exams.

Take M's CA1 as an example. A week before the Science CA test date, the class had only been taught 2 out of 3 chapters. The kids were expected to learn the biggest topic of the three in four periods (2 hours) and remember all at first exposure. So little content was taught in the previous 6 weeks and no extra notes were given. Pupils who depended on just their super thin textbook that contains incredibly vague and basic introduction to the topics would not be able to answer half the questions found in the mock CA test handed out by the teacher, which requires one to possess very specific knowledge pertaining to the topics and critical thinking skills. Even my well-read boy with excellent general knowledge had a bit of trouble at first as he had not come across those facts before.

When M brought back the mock test paper (it was to be completed as homework) it was parents-to-the-rescue! M is fortunate that we are science buffs, able to help and he has a strong foundation in English and Science to begin with. We provided the right resources and he was able to read up and attempt most questions on his own. Even those that require higher order thinking skills, he could tackle with ease because he was already exposed to such way of thinking, as a result of his upbringing and experience in my lapbooking classes. So we only had to check his work.

I can't help but wonder the plight of those who aren't as fortunate. Most kids probably can pass the subject, but what chances do they have to excel?

It was the same with the other 3 subjects. Most content was glossed over ONCE in school. The revision and explanations are all done at home. Again, luckily (or not, depending on one's perspective) he has a tiger mum who would slog willingly for him.

Going forward, the next big issue that I have with the school, as I can see, is in their lax programme on composition writing for both languages. How much can a child learn if he only writes 6 compositions a year? I can't believe the teachers will be able to equip the kids with the right skills and techniques to write an excellent piece by year-end exam, especially looking at the way the written work was marked. So I must step in.

Like it or not, this is the reality of schooling in Singapore.

During the week when I was preparing M for his CA1, E saw some of the school work that M brought home. At one point, he went, 'how can they ever expect to produce excellent learners with such teaching?' Exactly.

I hope E gets a better picture of what to expect in the coming months/years.


Anonymous said...


I was there that day to fetch my P2 boy who had performed in the ceremony.

Reading your blog post confirmed my worries that the lax program.

Do you think its the same for most schools in Singapore that external academic help be it from parents or tuition are a necessity? Top it up with many kids having both parents who are working.

Domesticgoddess said...

Anonymous, how do you know which school I am referring to?

Anonymous said...

I saw you at the canteen... :) Recognise you as one of my boys had attended your tot class before.

Domesticgoddess said...

Ah I see. Now, pls do let me know who you are, esp since you have attended my classes before. I won't publish your comment so you can remain anonymous. We discuss offline.

Unknown said...

Hi teacher Shirley, would you share some methods in coaching kids for their composition? My son reads a lot. But somehow he is not applying the sentence structure in his writing. I have bought exercise book to practice with him. I need an expert to share some light on it. Perhaps if you have classes for parents in this area, I would be the first one to join. Would you also consider to open classes for lower primary kids? Regards, Rachel

Domesticgoddess said...

Anonymous, thanks for revealing your identity. Do say hi when you see me in school next time. Would be real nice. :> I thought I reply your question here as there have been others who emailed me similar concerns.

The additional classes provided by all schools should help those who struggle with foundation level. Most kids should be able to pass, but whether the help is enough for the kids to do better than a borderline pass will be dependent on many factors, such as the child's own motivation/maturity and quality of those remedial and supplementary classes.

To excel, i.e. to score Band 1 grades or more specifically, to do well enough to get a distinction at PSLE is a different story. Kids who excel at upper primary without parents' coaching and/or tuition are more likely brighter to begin with (i.e faster learners) and also mature enough to realize what's at stake, hence are hardworking and self-motivated to revise and seek help when needed. Those with a strong foundation (at pre-school level and lower-primary) will have a definite advantage.

Domesticgoddess said...

Hi Rachel, thanks for your faith and interest. A child may read a lot, but still not able to express well in writing if he hasn't acquired the skills necessary for good writing. Have you spoken to your son's teacher for tips?


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