There were good points raised by all in the exchange, and over the weeks, I have felt compelled to 'pen' my thoughts on the blog, a method I used often in the past (when I had more time) to achieve clarity of mind. The post has been delayed, but I realized over the weeks that their arguments did nothing to alter my persistent views. In fact, I begin to wonder if their scorn was just pure sour grapes.
It is human nature to want the best for our offspring.
Who wouldn't want their children to grow up in a carefree, no-stress, no-exam environment, for them to have an all-rounded education with hours per week dedicated to sports, music and hobbies and still excel in academics? At young age, they are exposed to world class learning methods that aim to groom them with the crucial life skills that will set them apart from their peers globally. And all of these at a really affordable cost.
To me, this is the ideal scenario that is unlikely to materialize for the majority of us (and I don't mean just Singaporean kids).
The reality is, a child has only 24 hours a day. Unless he is equipped with superb learning capabilities and pushy parents or chaperons, this idealistic scenario can only be a dream.
So it all boils down to choices. Parents' choices, really, since kids are too young to decide on the schools they are enrolled in and the kind of childhood they will get.
No matter what the parents choose, there are always opportunity costs.
A school with a 8am to 5pm school day, that offers the opportunities for a child to play 10 different sports, exposure to different musical instruments, multiple languages but lacks a rigorous academic programme (seriously it exists), for instance, may be highly valued by some but scoffed at by others.
The latter, like me, who doesn't think it is a big deal to be exposed to many sports, be able to play a little of many instruments and learn a foreign language or read Latin, appreciates a school with a more rigorous academic programme and shorter school day to allow my child the flexibility to choose how he would spend the rest of his day.
I am not convinced that just because a child dabbles in many sports and is exposed to numerous instruments, it will turn him into a more well-rounded individual. You often hear people say they want their kids to turn out more well-rounded than be just a dull Jack who excels academically. My guess is the term 'well-rounded' has already been overly-hyped, misused and misunderstood.
Here is another point which I often find hard to resist arguing with: if one has never played softball or tennis during his school days, he can pick up the sports at his leisure hours in future if he likes. But if he is not trained well academically during his schooling years, he may miss out on a lot more in the years to come and playing catch-up later may not be as easy, especially if one is just an average student.
That said, I do think there is merit for a young child to be involved in some sports. I spent a good part of my school-going years being involved in many kinds of competitive sports and the benefits are undeniable. But those were hours after school which I chose to spend on sports instead of being glued to a screen or chained to a desk. For my kids though, I would prefer they focus their time and effort to be a specialist (i.e. to be really good in one or just a few) than a Jack of all trades and master of none. Just think the 10,000 hours rule which applies to just about everything and definitely to sports and music.
And is having regular assessments and exam-stress necessarily a bad thing? Is being schooled in an environment where every educator has only compliments and never a harsh word, homework is simply a pile of worksheets that provides no challenge and assessments are non-existent or non-consequential, necessarily a good thing?
I am not sure if I want my kids to grow up thinking that everyone is a champion and there are no losers and failures. Where is the reward to put in your best effort and go the extra mile? In life, there are always successes and failures, winners and losers. I prefer to teach my kids that you can't always choose success over failures and win all the time, but in most cases, by putting in your best effort and going the extra mile, you may just greatly improve your chances.
It is not about going to the best school or just being top of the class. It is more about gaining knowledge, getting stretched academically, achieving excellence through perseverance and resilience and developing a positive work ethic.
Even if we are not living in exam-crazed Singapore, I don't think for a moment that I will forsake the learning of the Chinese language in favour of other foreign language. We are Chinese after all. But should I choose French or Japanese instead, will I belittle the Singapore education system for the high expectations and importance it places on the learning of Chinese during the Primary and Secondary school years as a mother tongue? Nope. Neither will I be questioning the wisdom of other parents whose kids are 'slogging' over Chinese and labeling them as being 'kiasu'.
Perhaps the ones who truly want it all (i.e. the stress-free schooling that demands nothing strenuous and yet produces the best students who will enter the Ivy Leagues, who later have sterling careers for life) are the truly 'kiasu' ones. Or are they just plain delusional? Or am I missing something?
Of course, I am just speaking my mind, and of my expectations for my kids. Not everyone thinks the same and that is fine.