Children be on guard! The tiger moms are at their most ferocious in the tail end of the year, as the major examinations are in full swing and those do-or-die results start rolling in, allegedly sealing the fates of children and leaving families on knife’s edge as to whether they will bask in the glory or lurk in the shadows.
Put away your Nintendo DS and start studying! If you’re not doing well in school — sign up for tuition classes. If one is not enough, get a second tutor. That seems to be the common solution to children’s academic woes in Singapore.
This circle of stress repeats itself annually; something which seems to strip away the possibilities of finding a balance in life for children.
While these hard-nosed methods have yielded results — Singapore recently topped the charts at the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, and secondary and primary school kids are the highest achieving in the world — we have to ask ourselves at what cost is this achieved.
What of children’s mental and psychological well-being? Are they even happy? Do they get to run around the playground, explore their interests, try new things or even have a good childhood?
Maybe it is now time to stop and ask ourselves:
How can children have an enjoyable childhood?
What are the issues at stake? How does the pressure of education affect children’s lives? How can they find a balance between equipping themselves for the future, while enjoying the present?
We get a variety of views on this issue.
Fawzi Ishak, Parent, Returning Expatriate
My daughter went to an international school in Jakarta her first three years of primary school (2010 – 2013) and she thoroughly enjoyed herself. The transition to a local primary school for the next three levels, leading up to the PSLE this year, has been a challenging experience for her.
The international school had a less intensive programme that put an emphasis on child development with more fun based learning experiences, communication skills, public speaking, and interactive learning. My daughter found great enjoyment there and was eager to go to school everyday! She was also given many opportunities to explore sports and talents like acting, singing, and hosting. We let her do as many activities that interested as the less rigorous academic schedule allowed. And I believe that this has allowed her to develop in more ways than just academically.
Sadly, since moving back to Singapore to a local school, she has been feeling the pressure.
The academic workload is much higher but I still encourage her to pursue her interests in sports and other activities. Ultimately, I believe results are just a number. As long as there is learning, and she puts in the effort and performs to the best of her abilities, there will always be opportunities in the future.
The system must be less rigid; it requires more flexibility to accommodate different types of children who develop at different speeds. We are still trying to fit square pegs into round holes. In this day and age we have to look at kids as individuals and find better ways to educate and develop them. The buzzword today is disruption, and if we wish to keep abreast of the latest changes, then these processes have to be more fluid and dynamic to better aid child development.
Don’t teach solutions; teach children HOW to solve problems!
The local education system worked for me and I thrived in it during my time at school (in the 80s), but moving into the future, we now have to ask ourselves if it will fit everyone.
Lau Foong Yee, Parent to two girls aged 4 and 9
Kids can have an enjoyable childhood when they have sufficient time to play, pursue hobbies and interests that are not related to doing well academically or representing the school in winning awards and accolades. Academic excellence shouldn’t be overtly emphasised. There is so much more that children can do. Give them the opportunity to try out different things; don’t fill their schedules with tuition all day.
Due to the academic pressures that children face in school, often times they are not allowed the freedom to enjoy their childhood, hobbies and interests. A lot of children these days are made to pursue academic excellence, whether or not they are capable of it. They are put through enrichment and tuition classes, never mind whether they require them.
Parents hunger for their children to do well, so that they can feel proud. Little thought is given to whether the child enjoys these classes.
Parents become smart and look to other areas for their children to shine too. For instance, if academic excellence is not possible, parents tap on CCAs as alternative outlets for their children to shine. In the past, CCAs were meant for picking up a new skill or hobby. Now it has turned competitive as it is no longer about the learning and enjoyment, but whether the child is good enough to represent the school in winning an award.
It is never easy to find a balance. As a parent, I find it important to be sensitive to the mental, physical and emotional capabilities of my child and not pressure her to do well just academically but also find areas of interest where she could develop herself in. Just as it is important to study, children should also be given time to play, to be creative, to learn outside of the classroom. Finding that balance might indirectly help with doing well academically.
Shyla Sreedharan, Former Teacher, School Counsellor, Founder/Senior Therapist, Therapy Rocks
Give young children plenty of opportunities for free unstructured play, which is critical to healthy brain development. Playground environments with a basic kit of sandbox toys allow children to work collaboratively, to share, to negotiate, to resolve conflicts, and learn skills of assertiveness.
Leadership and group skills germinate when children play together and peer interaction is an important component of social-emotional learning. Child-driven adventures allow children to explore and satisfy their natural curiosities, move at their own pace, discover areas of interest on their own, and ultimately engage fully in the passions they wish to pursue.
Play offers parents a wonderful opportunity to engage fully with their children and find teachable moments led by the child’s interest and curiosity. Parents can then further support them in their interests.
Enrich their play environment with construction toys, modular blocks, Lego bricks or ordinary materials that allow for creative, imaginative play. Children feel a sense of achievement when they can put together their own toy and then dismantle it and make something else according to their whims. These activities improve their eye-hand coordination, Maths and spatial intelligence.
Make available books on a wide range of topics and teach them to read. It’s not a cliché when it’s said that you’ve opened a portal for them as soon as they can read independently.
Give children varied experiences and fill them with wonderment. Inspire them with travel and expose them to different cultures, food, nature in all its glory and people. Make their experiences interactive, experiential and sensorial. Document their unique experiences through photos and videos. These tangible references build a bank of good memories for children. Looking back at these memories and reminiscing about their childhood is life affirming and serves as inspiration when they themselves become parents.
David S. John, Youth Counsellor
I remember thinking of taking my daughters to a water theme park in Malaysia and how excited I was. I was absolutely convinced that they would enjoy the slides, the rides and the various attractions that made this theme park famous. However, when they got there — they were not drawn to any of those but rather enjoyed going up and down one particular slide with daddy and mummy!
Enjoyment for children is often pegged to societal norms often dictated by the herd mentality that people generally have. In truth, children enjoy times where they can be themselves – explorers, creators, imaginative directors WITH the people around them – including daddy and mummy.
The more children have of this, I believe, makes it a childhood for them to remember and treasure.
Working with youth from age 12-20, there are two prevalent issues that need to be addressed:
1. Demands on Children’s Time
This is often propagated by education and a performance-pegged society. It creates a mentality that their identity or self worth is related to their performance. Given the chance to become entrenched as a value to children, this can be detrimental in the long run especially in terms of self-esteem, confidence and worldview.
As parents, be very stringent as to what is important to the child’s development. Give them the right amount of stress that will encourage them to work hard and improve rather than overwhelming stress that takes away the joy of learning and discovery.
Your child is not a grade! If they get an F or an A, doesn’t necessarily reflect on us as parents. Neither is it a complete measure of who the child is. We all have to be our child’s champion — believe in them and encourage them to excel. Their biggest competition in life is not the person next to them, it is themselves. Excellence is not decided in a series of examinations — it takes the runway of life to give children the space to fumble, fall and eventually learn how to keep improving so that they find their stride in life.
2. Demands on Parents’ Time
Children require nurturing in various facets — academic, social, emotional or physical. The most important resource for these is time. Take time to engage children in conversations about their emotions and how they feel, teach them how to express their feelings in words and not just emoting it out. The interaction with other families and children help them grow in inter-personal relations between peers as well as how to relate confidently with adults.
Parenting is as much a growing and learning process as it is a responsibility. Often I find parents unable to connect with children because of parenting methodology that has not changed with the growth of their children.
Discipline and interaction with their children have remained stuck in a method used for toddlers or even young children, which often leaves children with a sense that “my parents’ don’t’ understand me”. This then gives way to children looking for external sources of solace that are unhealthy in the long run.
Start cultivating unique family traditions. Creating family traditions foster ties and interaction make the time at home significant. Dinnertime is a huge opportunity for the family to come together at the end of the day to interact, enjoy a meal, have fun, share life. Create a family tradition around the meal times around topics other than just work or school. What is a family tradition that you could cultivate? Wednesday ice-cream nights? Saturday football nights? Evening walks after dinner? Create something unique that your children and you would love to do together.
Guard that Family Time dearly! If time has been set for the family to come together, lock it in your calendar. Do everything to ensure that the time spent together is meaningfully spent – planning something to do together, getting off the screen and turning the phone to silent, take photos (lots of it) and refer back to them often when you speak to your children. It makes them feel special and shows them how much we love being in their company.
Juliet McCully, Founder, The Children’s Place
Let the children play! Give them a lot of time to play, stop putting all this pressure on them. Let them stand and stare, let them daydream even. They can do nothing if they want to! Not every minute has to be used to study or to go to tuition.
Young kids should be allowed unstructured playtime, older children should be given time to pursue interests and hobbies too.
Much of the responsibility rests on the parent’s shoulders. They are, for various reason, too kiasu (afraid of losing) for their own good — they often put unfair and unattainable expectation on their kids to perform.
I recently spoke to a parent whose daughter scored 263 in the PSLE this year, assuring her a place in her target secondary school. Shockingly, both parent and child were disappointed!
We need to change these mindsets to give children a chance to be children. Not everyone needs to be the top student, not every child needs to aim for seven distinctions. No one is ever going to ask for your scores in PSLE or O-Levels after you have left school. The goals in school should always be to go to the next level, ensuring a good education and giving you the opportunity to make something of yourself. It is artificial to say only those with the best scores in school will be successful or that they will always do better than their peers. Grades don’t have to be the be all and end all of a child’s life.
Parents are the key to a child’s happiness. They have to learn to create balance in their children’s lives. Create a positive attitude at home and in regard to schoolwork, build up the self-esteem of your kids and make sure you are always supportive of their efforts. Remember to praise them, and do it often!
Delane Lim, CEO, FutuReady Asia
Don’t focus so much on academic achievements, allow children to work on other skills and talents. Allow children to fail. It is the only time that they can fail within safe parameters. Let them spend time outdoors, doing things that they would like to do instead of what the parents want.
Don’t compare what they have accomplished to what someone else (e.g. their sister, brother, cousin, friend) has accomplished, because every child is different with different strengths and weaknesses.
Parents tend to put their own egos on the performance of their children. And they sometimes put undue pressure on their children to do well academically — this leads to unnecessary stress. Children need to be shown that their self-worth is not based on their academic achievements, and that their parents will support them regardless of what they score, creating an environment that will allow children to open up and share their struggles and fears.
As Albert Einstein said, “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid”.
Not all children can be assessed solely on their academic achievements. Their strength may not lie in academics. It may be in the arts or helping others, none of which are reflected in academic achievements.
The pressure of education can remove the joy of growing up. It is true that children need to learn and gain knowledge. However, if they learn solely to be tested in examinations, then the pressure of education is forcing children to learn for the sake of learning and not to gain knowledge.
While it is true that there is a shift towards a more holistic education, the cultural emphasis on academic excellence is still something that we need to address as a nation — educators, parents and students alike.
There are many definitions of ‘excellence’ but one thing is for sure — excellence is not perfection! Schools should start by helping students identify their centre of excellence, before embracing and developing them into the school’s centre of excellence.
Peter Draw, Artist, Peter Draw Studio
It is first important to understand that all children must have a fulfilled childhood. I believe every child deserves a fulfilled childhood — one that’s filled with love, happiness, with opportunities to try, and encouragement to keep trying.
Fundamentally, I believe most of us want children to enjoy their childhood and my philosophy, which I apply to both my life and work, is to always begin with love.
In my 16 years of meeting children, educators, parents in many countries from Costa Rica to Japan, one question brought up pretty often is how we do this and how we do that. I believe, as long as we begin with love — the how becomes apparent quite quickly.
When you play with a child, when you teach a child, when you take a walk with a child, when you spend time with them — always begin with the intention to love, then the answers will come naturally to you.
How we spend our days become our life. If you spend most of our time feeling pressure, it’s only natural that your life ends up full of stress and anguish. If we can teach children to enjoy what they do, that will carry on into adult life too.
First, Love. Always choose love. Always begin with love.
It’s that simple. It’s completely unnecessary to over-complicate something that should and must be simple.