Thursday, December 18, 2014

Thoughts after Primary 4

The school year has ended with the boys finishing Primary 2 and 4 with flying colours. As usual, I reflected on our learning journeys.

Both attained a 94% average with high band 1 scores for all subjects. M scored full marks for Chinese Oral, his third time in a row, and also for his SA2 Math and a near full score for Science. We are very pleased, of course, that he was able to still maintain such standards at Primary 4.

Interestingly, Chip did better in overall % than M did two years ago, but his class placing was lower. Immediately, I knew it just meant his class has more academically stronger kids than M's Primary 2 class, another classic example that proves how meaningless it is to compare or reward class rankings, which the school does anyway. The situation created a need for us to emphasize to Chip that we are very proud of him and his achievements.

I also explained why being top 3 of a weaker class/school does not necessarily mean these kids are smarter/better than the top 20 or even 50 of a stronger class/school. And that it is only at the National Exams (like the PSLE and to a certain extent the GEP at Primary 3) that we can to a certain extent sort and rank kids according to their intellectual capabilities. So it does not matter much who is top of the class/school as long as every child aims to outdo himself. The goal is always to do your very best in every endeavour and hopefully, ace it with pride.

It is a concept that I find myself reiterate often throughout the years to both boys. This is especially relevant to M who is in the top class and hence surrounded by the cream of the crop. His form teacher this year went to great lengths to emphasize this point several times a year, possibly because he knows from past experience that it is inevitable for some kids to feel demoralized.

M did well enough in Chinese to be offered Higher Chinese next year. I learnt that schools can handle the Higher Chinese/Chinese curriculum differently. In his school, he will have two sets of Chinese books, but only lessons for Higher Chinese. This means, he has to learn the Normal Chinese himself. He will be given the homework and class worksheets that are given to students attending the Normal Chinese lessons but they can only be completed at home. Since he has no tutor, it means I will have to be the one to coach him entirely on Normal Chinese and get him ready for exams.

At first, E was against it. His rationale: the boy is doing just fine, so why shake things up. M was indecisive; mainly out of concern that he will have more homework. It is a valid point but not one that I would give much consideration to since he has never had much to begin with.

What I find irresistible is the opportunity to expose him more to the language with the hope that the experience will elevate his understanding and appreciation for the Chinese language. I truly believe that the more one understands the language, the more one will come to appreciate how beautiful it is.

I understand that it can be a huge challenge for some kids to cope with a 5th subject on top of the hectic Primary 5 curriculum but all his teachers agree that he should give it a try given his strengths academically. More importantly, I don't want him to just choose the path of least resistance. With every opportunity that is presented, I want him to learn that he should at least give it his best effort and not give up without a good fight. After much deliberation and discussion with him, we decided he should give it a go.

It will be interesting to see how he manages it all next year. It will not be a walk in the park for sure, since he will have to be in school till 4pm four times a week. Once to attend his enrichment programme (specially designed for his class only), two days for supplementary classes and a day for CCA. Of course, whether these supplementary classes are indeed beneficial or not, remains to be seen. But I have been told by his teachers that the school hours are insufficient to cover all the materials students are required to know, hence students are highly recommended to attend the supplementary classes.

Surprisingly, not all schools offer supplementary classes at Primary 5. If teachers in my sons' school, which is not known to be a pushy school but rather one that offers holistic education, are telling us that the usual school periods are insufficient to cover the curriculum, then this must be an issue faced by most schools too. Those who aren't offered any supplementary classes will have to self-learn, be tutored or be disadvantaged.

In fact, I have also come to learn that some schools do not even stream their students at Primary 5. It is a fact that some kids are more advanced than others and putting them all in a class of 40 to learn upper primary curriculum together does no one any good. The slower ones will be stressed by those more advanced and I am doubtful that they will learn from their more advanced peers just by being in the same class.

The more advanced ones will be frustrated by the simple syllabus and miss the chance of being stretched to his fullest potential. The most likely scenario is the teachers will have to adopt a dumb-down approach and teach just the minimum level with the goal to ensure that everyone will at least pass the subject. Will there be time for more discussion, inquiring or brainstorming? Who will truly benefit?

Unfortunately, some kids will be disadvantaged simply because they are in a certain school and others will be offered better opportunities and exposure because of the primary schools that they are enrolled in. Of course, there will also be parents who are of the view that the six years spent in primary school are just a small part of a child's education journey and if one is brilliant, it doesn't matter which school he is in. To that, my view has been consistent over the years, as mentioned in my previous posts, so I will not repeat.

While I believe all schools may be aiming to be a good school, and the definition of "good" is still subjective, but at the end of the day, they cannot and will never be equal. So there still has to be a good match between the school and child for excellent results to be produced.

Given our experience with the education system so far, I am now putting a lot more thoughts to the ideal primary school for my dolly. And I do need to think clear and straight and know which direction I am heading in the next few months.

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