Thursday, 13 December 2018

PSC Scholarship? Wow

When #2 told us she had received the PSC Provisional Scholarship we were truly surprised. Aiming for a scholarship has never crossed our minds and she had to google it! A quick search revealed that there are 4 or 5 President Scholars each year, and about 70 or so PSC Scholarships are given out. She discovered that her JC has never produced a scholar which on one hand meant that her chances are really slim, yet she mused, "It'll be cool to be the first one from my school."

Surely, we must throw a huge celebration then.

On hindsight, I'm glad I didn't dismiss this option. After her Os, I was apprehensive about her decision to choose the JC route. I had heard that the stress levels have increased tremendously and weekends are spent catching up on sleep, homework and doing projects, which leaves hardly anytime for family or a balanced lifestyle. What is more worrying is the upward trend of depression and suicidal ideation which is worsened by the academic demands of the A levels.

However, she could not find any course in the polytechnics which deeply interested her and since she has a love for Literature and English, that made the choice easier. Besides, the 2 extra years may give her slightly more clarity in what she wants to pursue.

It turned out that JC life was even more gruelling than we had expected. Academically, it is very demanding as the timeline is short. But what compounded it was the extra activities that she took on. In JC, the students become a lot more involved and run all the events by themselves while the teachers play an advisory role.

She headed the committees to organise the investiture and Open House events and stayed in school till late, sometimes 9 or 10pm and by the time she took the bus home, had a bite and showered, it was close to midnight. That's when she started on homework.

I was really worried at this unhealthy schedule, but when I met her home tutors after the first exam, they were very pleased with her and praised her ability to juggle both her studies and extra activities well. It seemed to be the norm that sleep has to be sacrificed because the workload was about to get heavier.

It was a whirlwind after that. She became President of her CCA and besides the three times per week practice sessions, it was her responsibility to ensure that everything was running smoothly. Most evenings, she was busy texting her core team and her teacher in charge. It became stressful when performances were approaching, because not only did she have to schedule in extra practice sessions, she had to ensure that her team was on top of their responsibilities, logistics was flawless, morale was kept high and unexpected situations were handled swiftly.

She was so busy she hardly had time to study. But guess what? She took on a second CCA! They were short of a guitarist and needed help. That meant early morning practice sessions. Some days she was in school from 7am to 9pm. She worked even longer hours than me.

I made her healthy and filling salads to take to school if not she would be too busy to eat, I listened when she aired her frustrations, but more often than not, I had to deal with her not wanting to talk much because she was just too tired after all that went on in school that day.

On top of that, there were assignment datelines, essays to write, loads of texts to memorise and it was not unusual to see her still studying at 1am. Not only was it mentally demanding, it was also physically and emotionally draining. She was fortunate to have a lovely, polite, caring bunch of friends, but it was also the teenage years where they are finding their identities and navigating many changes. 

I was really concerned and told her that something had to give, but she told me that as she had taken on the commitments, she had to see them through.

I happened to speak to her Secondary 4 teacher Ms Sandra and she laughed, "That's good practice for her, and if she's going to have 6 kids like you, she will have no problems juggling everything."

Mums will always be mums. When you see your 17-year-old sleeping 4 or 5 hours a night and looking exhausted, you worry. And you want them to slow down. To take it easy.

As though all that wasn't enough (for her poor mama's heart), she participated in a slew of ad hoc activities. She signed up for a mission trip to Vietnam and got accepted. Ah, this was one which I whole-heartedly supported.

It was an eye-opener for them to see how the children lived and studied in the mountainous regions. She recounted how the weather suddenly plunged 20 degrees overnight and their toes were frost-bitten in their converse shoes. As they trekked up the mountain hand-in-hand with the children, these kids nimbly and happily made their way up to school despite being in slippers.

When she moved on to JC2, I assumed she would ease up on the activities and buckle down to some serious studying. How wrong was I. She took on even more!

On top of gearing up for their concert at the Esplanade, she was an Orientation leader for the incoming JC students. She missed a whole week of lessons and came home hoarse from all that shouting.

I was really curious and couldn't understand why she was still taking on so much when she knows that she needs to focus on her studies this year.

"Mum, there are all these exciting things going on. Everyone signs up hoping for a chance. I so happened to pass all the interviews." Anyhow, I told her that it was really quite enough and she shouldn't take on anything more.

Kids don't listen, do they?

She came back one day and told me excitedly that they had passed the auditions for the rock band competition. Music and singing have always been her passion and they had formed a girl band. They spent Sunday afternoons over at our place practicing their harmonies. Despite me shaking my head at this extra of extras, I must say it was really lovely to hear them jam.

Then came Project Work submission. I found out that it wasn't projects they were working on. It was a compulsory subject called Project Work where they are assigned into groups of about 4 and there was both a written and an oral component. They worked on a real-life issue and I suppose it is to develop applicable life skills such as critical thinking, working collaboratively, inculcating creativity in application and focusing on the process.

Weekends were spent meeting up to discuss and work through it as a team. With any group work, frustrations with teammates are quite common. She was upset that some of her group mates turned up late for meetings or handed in their part past the deadlines with sloppy work. As she was aiming for an A, she put in many extra hours to edit their parts and rewrite the scripts. Her group mates were so thankful when results were released.

The last event of JC2 was Lit Nite. It was a big event for the Arts students. She ended up writing, directing and acting in it. Again, many late nights in school to prepare. A week before the performance, the senior literature teacher watched their play and asked her to rewrite half of it. She was really stressed at the short deadline. She worked late into the night to perfect it and spent that week with her team polishing up their play. It was wonderful that their efforts were rewarded with a win.

Finally, everything came to a halt a few weeks before Prelims. I asked her how was her preparations coming along and if she needed tuition as the syllabus was not easy and most of her classmates had tuition.

She is a really considerate child and said that she wouldn't want to waste money unnecessarily if she could manage. She revised on her own and had some study sessions with her friends and they helped one another on concepts they missed out. She even offered to tutor her brother who was struggling with his PSLE.

I kept reminding her to have enough rest and the hubs and I reassured her that if it became too stressful, she could take an extra year and we are completely fine with it.

We knew that she had spent her 2 years gainfully and there was a lot to catch up on. Many of #1's friends who went on to University said that the 2 years in JC were the toughest and some had to retain 1 extra year because they failed or by choice.

She put her mind into those final weeks before the Prelims, studied hard, and did really well for the exams. Phew. She was offered the provisional scholarship based on her excellent prelim results as well as her portfolio of activities (so glad all that counted for something!)

Many friends were curious to know how we did it. They know my chill education philosophy - no tuition, no assessment books, no ten-year series, no nagging.

What's the secret?

I have always believed in making them self-motivated and self-initiated so that they take ownership of their own goals and efforts instead of me pushing them every step of the way.

Instead of drilling them academically, I have been giving them opportunities to develop skills such as getting organised, being able to plan their time, knowing what their priorities are, having the discipline to stick to it, trying different methods when things fail, learning not to give up but to persevere. All these are executive functioning skills which become increasingly important when the demands start to increase. The child needs to be able to manage themselves well to take on greater responsibilities and roles.

We have no idea how she will do for her actual A level exams because she is worried that she may have peaked during Prelims. The papers were tough and many were crying as they left the exam hall.

I'm just relieved that the 2 years have come to an end and I see her so much more now. She has time to pursue her creative interests like painting, writing novels and playing the drums.

Whether she receives a scholarship or not, we are already so proud of her. The skill sets she has developed and the challenges she has surmounted are invaluable experiences. So long as she keeps an open mind and a hunger for learning, she will keep progressing. She has a long way ahead of her, and this is just the beginning!

School Stories:

#1 - When your son gets into fights in school
#2 - My son the loan shark
#3 - So kids can't play once they start school?
#11 - How #2 topped her level in English
#12 - DSA. Yet another initiative parents have warped
#13 - Tuition - First line of attack?
#14 - Why do exams have to be so stressful?
#15 - First day mix up!
#16 - The day I forgot to pick my son from school
#17 - No more T-score. Now what?
#18 - Tackling the new school year
#19 - She did it, without tuition.
#20 - So who's smarter?
#21 - Why I do not coach my kids anymore.


~ www.mummyweeblog.com - A blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Kate's own Grad ceremony

Kate has officially graduated from kindergarten! She is the only K2 student in her school and we were joking with her Principal that it should be called Kate's Graduation instead of K2 Graduation.

Such a lovely gesture that despite having just one child graduating, they had a proper ceremony with a video montage showcasing her milestones. It was rather amusing and we felt a little pai seh that all these parents had to watch an entire video featuring her. But it really shows how each and every one of the children are respected as individuals, well-loved and so precious to the teachers.

Several of the parents congratulated us, and many still remember her as the new kid at the beginning of the year who cried for an entire January before settling down. They commented that she is now a confident child, striking conversations with them and having made many close friends of all ages and nationalities.

She has really grown and blossomed in one year. When she left her Montessori after K1, she was well-prepared academically and could read and do Math. However, she was afraid of new experiences and challenges and would shy away from trying new things or would make excuses to escape from things she felt was too difficult.

How fortunate that I found this gem of a school. Her teachers spent time to talk to her, walk her through her fears and to empower her with a can-do attitude.  They gave her responsibilities like patting the younger children to bed and she was a big sister to many of the toddlers.

Now that the end of the year is nearing, we have been preparing her for the big transition as I know she is not one who takes transitions easily. She was really excited to follow the footsteps of her older siblings, packed her big new desk with files and stationery all lined up neatly, and told me that she will be able to wake up at 5.30am to take the school bus.

Yesterday, she went for her P1 orientation where they were brought to their class and met their new form teacher and classmates. They spent the 2 hours doing simple worksheets, singing songs and listening to their teacher explain some basics about next year such as "If you need to go to the toilet, you have to raise your hands."

Last night, she stayed awake in bed for a long time. Finally, she said to me, "Mummy, on the first day of P1 can you come with me?" I sensed that she was anxious.

I assumed that because she has been to the school many times to pick her brother up, it wouldn't be too unfamiliar. But she said, "The school is very big, what if I get lost?" Comparing her current school to her new school, that must be really daunting.

Today, she asked me many questions about P1 and when I asked if she is afraid, she teared and said yes. I have forgotten how long it took her to settle into her childcare at the beginning of the year! Poor girl, for some children like her, transitions are hard.

I've decided to take her out from childcare for a few days and send her to my centre for our P1 prep camp. I thought she was all set for the transition as she is academically ready and classroom ready. But she has a lot of anxieties and fears about the big change.

The camp will be good for her as they get to practice new and unfamiliar things to gain confidence. Taking on responsibilities like being the class monitor, learning to read the timetable and how to pack their bags, sharing about their anxieties, discussing what to do if they are bullied, and brainstorming ways to solve problems like getting lost will help equip her and make her less anxious. The kids at camp will be put to the test as they have to make decisions like whether to spend money on food or cute stationery and I'm keen to know what she will do!

We were chatting over dinner last night and it feels so strange that #2 is graduating from JC 2, #3 from Sec 4, #5 from P6 and our darling little Kate is embarking on her very first day of formal education come January.

One of my teens asked, "Oh mum, you have to go through this all over again! How does it feel?"

Honestly, I feel excited! So much promise. So many beautiful years lie ahead for her.

I hope she will enjoy her years of learning, make good friends for life, and meet teachers who will touch and inspire her.

All the best, little Kate!

For K2 kids who need a little boost to get them prepared for Primary 1, check out The Little Executive's practical P1 Prep Camp which runs next week, and another round in December. Wishing you the very best to all K2s in your new and exciting journey ahead!


~ www.mummyweeblog.com - A blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Our education system is starting to get exciting!

I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel! Things are coming together nicely and more changes are in the pipeline.

16 years ago, #1 entered kindergarten. It was a popular school and many of the kids came from affluent families. Little did I know that we were in for a shock. Her English teacher made her stand in the corner when she couldn't come up with a word that begins with the letter 'S'.

Something was wrong.

Didn't I send her to school to learn such things? Why was she being tested and punished for not knowing? That was the first inkling I had that our system was too skewed towards testing vis-a-vis learning.

Even more disturbing, one day she finally had the courage to tell me that her teacher had dragged her to the N2 class and got a boy to complete her worksheet in front of her. She felt dumb and humiliated. I pulled her out of the preschool and put her in a church-based kindergarten where the teachers were caring and they focused more on character development.

Since then, moving them through various preschools, primary and secondary schools, I have found that it is not accurate nor fair to generalise.

There will be good systems with teachers or principals who are not aligned. There will also be narrow systems with passionate teachers who go the extra mile to help our children learn.

It is wonderful to see that the early childhood scene has proliferated over the past 10 years as child development research continues to unravel how children learn best. I have found a holistic international preschool for Kate where they play outdoors twice a day and the kids are taught how to resolve conflicts by themselves and learning is fun and experiential.

Unfortunately, that comes to a halt the moment children enter Primary 1. These 6 & 7-year olds are expected to sit in a classroom with 30 other students to learn in a one-size-fits-all system. It's great that there will be no more exams or weighted assessments for the P1s and 2s, and a foray into experiential learning has been introduced, but there is still much room for improving the way lessons are conducted.

While in University, I was curious to know why our classmates had markedly different strengths from us Singaporeans. We were good at researching but they were brilliant at presentations and thinking out of the box. My classmates shared that their lessons were very hands on. If the topic was on gravity, the teacher came into class and tossed balls around. What follows would be an in-depth discussion with questioning and prompts from the teacher to ignite their thinking, instead of spoonfeeding them with concepts and content.

Returning to Singapore and raising my kids with the mindset of an occupational therapist, I asked myself constantly, "what is the rationale behind this activity"? I questioned the purpose of education and looked ahead 20 years because that would be the future landscape my children would be stepping into.

As my 5 kids moved into the primary and secondary levels, I was disappointed that there wasn't a significant difference from our generation. It was only in the past few years that I started seeing the changes gaining momentum.

I was worried that our education system was not equipping them with the right set of skills to get them ready for their future. Too much time was wasted on testing and learning how to answer questions with specific key words and drill methods.

We had to strike a balance with what the schools could not provide and to guide them in the other aspects of education myself.

To be curious thinkers, to dare to try, to fail and try again, to learn to work together, to be creative, to come up with their own opinions and substantiate them, to know that there are different ways to solve a problem, to believe in themselves.

Along the journey, there were times when I had to guard against letting school extinguish their love of learning. It seems that the objective of completing curriculum and pressures of exams which teachers have to accede to outweigh the silent need of the seeds of curiosity to be watered and tended to.

It's good that there have been changes in the exam papers, reflecting MOE's push towards application, but the problem with change at the testing level is that students need to be taught how to think.

It is not as simple as adding thinking questions into the comprehension or Science papers and expecting teachers to be able to draw it out of them. These type of skills we are trying to inculcate are best started even as early as the preschool years and built upon year after year as they move on to higher order thinking skills.

The roadmap drawn out in the School Work Plan looks fantastic on paper, however, to equip the whole teaching force to be well versed to teach children at this deeper level will not happen overnight.

It is not difficult to deliver content. But to get the class to be engaged, to ponder thinking questions and to steer them towards having a fruitful discussion on the topic at hand, the teacher has to be skilled and it takes up a lot more time.

A few months back, I was invited to a small group session with ex-Education Minister Ng Chee Meng and these other lovely ladies. We were discussing how important it was to develop 21st-century skills lest we have a generation of children who are ill-equipped to take on jobs of the future. I asked Minister roughly what percentage of our primary school curriculum is currently targetted at inquiry-based learning and developing such skills? He did not have the numbers but hazarded a guess at about 5%.

I was flabbergasted.

He explained that we have a good system that has been consistently producing strong results. So while they recognise the need for equipping our children with a new set of skills to meet the demands of the future, they need to figure out how to carve out more time without overloading our children further.

How do we free up more time?

Curriculum. Education Minister Ong Ye Kung explained at the Schools Work Plan Seminar 2018 that curriculum has been cut twice, by 30% in 1997 and by 20% in 2005 and is comparable to other countries and further reduction will risk under-teaching. Since curriculum is at its bare minimum, they have to look to other avenues to free up time.

Removing mid-year exams in the transition years of P3, P5, Sec 1 and Sec 3 will free up an extra 3 weeks every 2 years.

From the Work Plan 2018:

"I hope schools will use the time well, for example, to conduct applied and inquiry based learning. In applied and inquiry based learning, our students observe, investigate, reflect, and create knowledge. And that will naturally take up more time."

I am extremely pleased to read this. That is how I have been teaching my children when it comes to any form of knowledge and how we have been educating children in my enrichment centre.

However, in reality, this approach to learning will take up much more time than an extra 10 days per year. Teachers need to brainstorm, create lesson plans, share best practices and implement. It is a good start nonetheless and we are moving in the right direction.

Assessment. Personally I feel that the PSLE should stay because we need a national exam to sort the children at the end of 6 years instead of moving them straight through for 10 years of education. In fact, I find that the 6 years of primary school is the most narrowly defined approach, and it gets better once they get sorted into secondary school and beyond.

Take the tiny sample size of my 5 kids who have finished their PSLE. There is a stark difference in their learning styles, aptitudes, interests and pen and paper academic abilities and it would not be equitable to them if they were all bundled together.

#2 is the most academically inclined of the lot, and placed in a class of 40 or even in a lecture hall of 150, she is capable of learning well. However, #5's learning style is experiential and he has been doing much better this year in a class of 8 where their teachers try to adapt the lessons to suit them. I have observed how the 3 different secondary schools my girls went through offered different niche programmes, learning approaches and pace.

Having said that, the mechanics of the questions in the PSLE and what they hope to develop in our students have to be re-examined.

More importantly, the way the PSLE has evolved to become a stress-inducing high stakes exam has to be unwound and mindsets need to change.

I am all for removing the 2 mid-year exams in primary school and 2 in secondary school as there is an urgent need to carve out more time. There will no doubt be a push back from parents who are afraid they will have no certainty of knowing how their child is faring and it will take time for parents to align with the big scheme of things.

One gripe I have is that too much time is still spent on preparing students for the PSLE. In many schools, preparations start from P5 onwards, and the entire P6 year is geared towards tackling the PSLE by drilling them with an avalanche of past year papers. That is 2 years of precious time that could be used for real learning instead of preparing them to be exam ready. I hope to see the day when these 2 are congruent - where real learning leads them naturally to be exam ready.

Many kids tell me honestly that they study only for the exams, and don't ask them any concepts after that because they have forgotten what they have learnt.

Is that true education? If we measure our education by the yardstick of applicable knowledge, we have failed in our objective, and we have failed our children.

Removing class and level positions. This is a change in line with PSLE scoring no longer being in relation to their peers from 2021. It sends a strong message and will hopefully shift the mindset of parents from competition to learning for learning's sake and to work towards the aim of advancement.

But as Minister Ong said, "the report book should still contain some form of yardstick and information to allow students to judge their relative performance."

This is very necessary because of the wide variation in the standard of examinations set, thus the mark on an exam paper is not indicative.

During #1's P5 year end exam, she scored 50+ for her English and I was very concerned as English is her strong subject. At the PTM, I was told not to worry as she was one of the top scorers and most of the other students had failed.

If schools are able to set consistent standards, and parents can be assured that an A means a child is doing well, a B means there is room for improvement, a fail means he needs extra help or hasn't put in much effort, and so forth, then we can make sense of their marks. But if a score of 58 placed her in the top 85% then we do need the percentile of the cohort as a gauge as it paints a clearer picture. 

Joy of learning. Minister Ong says "They must leave the education system still feeling curious and eager to learn, for the rest of their lives."

This is a lofty goal. It is sad how children enter preschool bright-eyed and full of ideas, yet they leave P6 either as robots churning out good grades or with their zest for learning squelched.

Several reasons contribute to it. High parental expectations, an overload of school work plus tuition, non-inspiring curriculum in the upper primary years, and teachers. At the end of P5, #5's Science teacher told me, "You need to get him to conform. Don't ask so many questions. Leave all that for secondary school. It's time to wake up and focus on the exams. He is a bright child with so much potential, but look at his grades." The irony is that he loves Science, and has been doing well in it, except the year when he was in her class.

At the same discussion, his male form teacher agreed that the PSLE was important, but he assured me not to worry as he feels that #5 will go very far in future, with his innovative and creative flair, natural leadership ability and eagerness to help his peers. He asked if I would be sending him to an international school as that would suit him better.

With MOE trying to do what's best for our children, parents also have a part to play in this equation. New initiatives are rolled out to resolve problems or to enable. We have a choice how we want to react and respond to new policies.

We need to shift from teaching to the test to focus on learning to learn.

In the coming years, there is bound to be more changes, and I will be worried if there isn't! We need to take a broader overview instead of being myopic. It starts with us parents who need to be comfortable with change. The world is changing rapidly and we will be overtaken if we don't stay relevant.

I'm reassured to see that MOE has been planning ahead instead of being complacent as we are consistently top of the charts in international rankings. I am certain that together, we can do it! We will refine our education system into a truly world class system, and educate a whole generation of resilient learners who are not afraid to chase their dreams and have the skills and ability to do so.

Equip them right and let them fly. I have never placed emphasis on their results, only on the process of learning and #2 is testimony that they haven't been short-changed. We were overjoyed to hear that she did really well for her A level prelims. Her home tutor called her in for a meeting and her name has been sent up for a PSC scholarship as she has not only managed to achieve stellar results but has held a full spectrum of leadership roles over the past 2 years in JC.

By equipping her with the right skills, perseverance, and support, she is ready to go far. I'm sure the rest of them will find their strengths and purpose and soar in their own time.

Tertiary Education. I am not worried even for my kids who are the round pegs in this square system. There are so many exciting courses in the polytechnics and local universities that they are having difficulty choosing just 1. And they don't have to. It will be a lifelong journey, and our role is to guide them with wisdom. So long as they continue to want to learn and to improve their skills, the world is their oyster.

School Stories:

#1 - When your son gets into fights in school
#2 - My son the loan shark
#3 - So kids can't play once they start school?
#11 - How #2 topped her level in English
#12 - DSA. Yet another initiative parents have warped
#13 - Tuition - First line of attack?
#14 - Why do exams have to be so stressful?
#15 - First day mix up!
#16 - The day I forgot to pick my son from school
#17 - No more T-score. Now what?
#18 - Tackling the new school year
#19 - She did it, without tuition.
#20 - So who's smarter?
#21 - Why I do not coach my kids anymore.


~ www.mummyweeblog.com - A blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

9 more days to PSLE?!

That's what happens when you reach your 5th child. I flipped through my diary yesterday and was shocked (yes, shocked!) to see that PSLE is in 9 days. I had written down the dates, but being bogged down with a myriad of problems, I lost track of time.

We have been focusing all our attention on #5's Chinese because his social studies teacher showed them the grades of last year's students and told them they would retain if they failed Chinese. However I have clarified that with the people at MOE and they assured me that he will not have to repeat a year just because of failing 1 subject. The overall aggregate will still be taken into account. I think his teacher was trying to scare them, and I have to admit that it worked.

Besides his Chinese, the rest of the 3 subjects were on track as he was placed in small classes of 8 students so we decided not to pile on any more tuition and to maintain a sensible pace of life.

He got back his Math Prelim results and it had plunged from 66 to 50. Gosh, another subject to worry about! I'm not sure what happened, but the strange thing was that he scored full marks for Paper 1 but Paper 2 was almost entirely wrong.

What do we do? Too late to search for a tutor and the hubs and I are unable to coach him (we found that out after #1's PSLE and decided that we had to outsource if they could not cope instead of wasting time spending a whole afternoon to solve just a few questions).

Good thing that there are so many older siblings right? But I didn't want to impose on the girls unless they are willing to, as they are up to their necks preparing for their Os and As and it's not easy teaching #5 as he gets distracted easily. #1 has just started her degree in the Arts and is swarmed by assignments and already sleeping at 1am every night. #4 tried to help but Math is not her strong subject plus her own exams start next week.

#2 was the obvious choice as she scored an A* at PSLE without any tuition, but then again, being able to do Math doesn't necessarily mean she knows how to teach it. She generously offered to skip her night study in school and came back at 5pm to tutor him. #5 knew better than to be mischevious and he sat obediently and listened to his sister. He even remarked, "Impressive!" when she could solve some problems which stumped him.

Seeing that they made progress, she promised to do that for the next 9 days. Last night, I saw her studying till 1.30am and felt bad as she has to wake up at 7.30am for school. But I reckon her willingness to put her brother's interest first at his time of need is something to be happy about and encouraged.
Kate just had to be in on it
His Chinese teacher gave me a call to let me know that he has been diligently looking for him at 6.45am every morning to work on his weak areas and was happy to see that he is putting in a lot of effort in his Chinese. He advised me how to guide him for this last week and told me that I could give him a call anytime.

He also shared that #5 has a tendency to go off track at the end of every compo. He would start off well, sticking to short simple sentences. But his stamina would wane and his impulse control would reach the limit, and he would end off the last paragraph with some irrelevant and silly twist of his brand of childish humour. He does that for both English and Chinese compos.

At dinner, we spoke to him about it and none of his sisters could understand how he can do such things in his exam papers. He roared with laughter, excitedly showing them his compos and felt that it was a humorous touch that everyone should appreciate and enjoy, just as he enjoyed writing it.

His writings were indeed full of suspense and slapstick humour and the girls couldn't stop laughing, both at the content and at how his poor teachers had to mark such things and give sensible remarks to his ridiculous nonsense.

Finally, they told him, "Boy, you have your whole life to write whatever fiction you want. You can write comic books, joke books or be a cartoonist in future. But for this 1 paper, please control yourself and end off properly."

I am finally at peace. It's a huge relief to know that even if he failed his Chinese he wouldn't have to repeat a year and I don't have to be in worry mode for the next 2 months awaiting his results.

It would be a nice reward for his efforts if he could make it to the Express stream, but we know that his Chinese score will pull his total aggregate down and are prepared for him to enter the Normal stream. I'm not worried about it as the neighbourhood school that #4 attends takes a hands-on approach to learning which suits him. And there is the possibility of moving over to the Express stream if he matures and buckles down in Sec 1 and does well. If not, I heard about the Foundation Poly year and have no qualms about him doing that after N levels.

While searching for a suitable degree for #1 to pursue when she completed her diploma, we discovered that there are plenty of pathways for this generation of children and I'm not worried at all about #5. In fact, the future looks exciting for boys like him with curious and inventive minds who enjoy tinkering, creating and exploring. The good thing is that his interests and aptitudes are very clear, which makes it easy for us to narrow down his choices for the next phase of his learning journey.

I'm glad he has come to the end of his Primary school education. The outdated method of rote learning and narrow margin for answers does not suit his learning style and it didn't do him good to have teachers who told him to stop asking so many questions and just learn what needs to be learnt to do well in the exams. That is the only gripe I have about the PSLE, where the focus of many teachers in the upper primary is on studying to ace exams instead of encouraging curiosity, developing a hunger for learning and making learning experiential and relevant. It's good that MOE is working on it and moving in the right direction, and though none of my kids including Kate will see the fruits of this education reform, but I'm hopeful that all our voices put together will hasten the change in mindset all round.

#5 has come a long way this past 9 months and to witness such a huge turnaround in his attitude and effort is nothing short of a miracle! Whatever aggregate he gets is secondary.

All the best to our P6s and the supportive mummies and daddies across the island dealing with this first big hurdle!

PSLE Diaries
No more T-score. Now what?
PSLE results: Good or Bad, what do you say?
My 5th PSLE child - My son
Mum, just get me exempted from Chinese
3 new teachers after CA1
A huge jump in SA1


Tuesday, 10 July 2018

A huge jump in SA1

After a really bad showing for his CA1 this year, #5 was placed into smaller classes for 3 subjects. He barely passed his Math and Science and failed his Chinese miserably. I asked him how that worked and he told me that he stayed in his original class for English but had to take his bag and move to other classes for the rest. His classmates also moved around, so he had different classmates for the 4 subjects but they meet at recess to eat together.

I asked him how many students were there and was surprised to hear that there were only 8 students per class! Wow, similar to being in a tuition centre.

I wondered where they had the extra manpower from and was enlighted recently. I attended a tea session with the Communications and Engagement personnel from MOE and the perennial question of our too large classes was raised.

Mrs Tan Wai Lan, ex-principal of St Nicholas Girls' explained that after doing the calculations, if they were to spread the additional teachers across the board, it would result in a marginal reduction in the number of students per class. Instead, they have allocated extra teachers which the schools are free to deploy as necessary. Hence in #5's school, these teachers are able to take the lower performing students.

I had no doubt that the small class size will benefit #5, as he is bright but easily distracted and in a class of 40, he can get away with a lot more without being detected. But we were really surprised at the tremendous improvement in his mid-year exams.
Bored of sitting at the table
He went from a 56 to 83 for Science and 51 to 66 for Math. Even his Chinese, which I didn't expect to see any improvement as it takes time to master a language, went up marginally from 27 to 32 which still deserves acknowledgement for his efforts. His aunt has been working with him every Saturday for the past few months, but because his foundation was very weak, it will be a tough trek towards a pass, and we are encouraging him every step of the way.

Unfortunately, his English dipped from 71 to 67 and I'm not sure if he would have done better in the hypothetical situation where he was placed in a class of 8. Which leads to the question of where the line should be drawn; at what mark would the students be given access to a smaller class size, and the parental wish that if only all classrooms could be capped at say 20-25 kids to optimise learning.

If only there was some way education could be revolutionized. Because it is not that these kids can't learn or don't want to learn. The conditions for learning are unsuitable for them. Sitting for long hours in a large class of 40 students listening to a teacher talk at the front of the classroom is not the best way that they learn.

If the early childhood scene can be transformed, from traditional classrooms to more play and exploration, I'm certain a solution can be found for the primary school years. The search for change should never end.

I am hoping that #5's positive attitude carries through to his PSLE and am thankful that in this last year of his primary school journey, he has finally experienced joy in learning which has been made possible by the attention his teachers are able to extend to them in a small class.

His aunt was astonished to see that he was keen to know what went wrong in his Chinese paper, and he went through it with her of his own accord! And he was disappointed in some of the questions where he could have gotten the right answer. For the first time, he cared!

In May, when we saw the tremendous improvement in his results, I decided to give up my search for a private tutor for his other 3 subjects as it would be best to leave it to his school teachers after seeing how well they have worked with him. Besides, having a better understanding of the neighbourhood school which #4 has entered and their niche programme, I have no qualms about #5 following along.

Last night I was mentioning to Kate and him how stressed #2 was about her upcoming drama night as her teacher had asked her to rewrite the entire play just a week before the performance. He remarked, "Oh how come she is stressed? I am taking my PSLE which everyone says is very stressful but I don't feel stressed at all. It's like any ordinary time."

I'm glad my boy is unfazed by this, and the pressure in school has not affected him as it did my girl even though life goes on as per normal in our household.

But I did enlighten him that #2 was taking an even tougher exam than him - the A levels, and on top of that she has big responsibilities for the drama night, not only to rewrite the play, but she was also directing and acting in the play.

In that light, his PSLE looked like child's play.

PSLE Diaries
No more T-score. Now what?
PSLE results: Good or Bad, what do you say?
My 5th PSLE child - My son
Mum, just get me exempted from Chinese
3 new teachers after CA1


~ www.mummyweeblog.com - A blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Have we lost ourselves to LIFE?

My life has been transformed, in 11 days.

The past 12 months have been the hardest in my 20 years of parenting. I was running at full speed but struggling to keep all the balls in the air.

People assume that because we have a big brood and they generally look happy, we are awesome mums and are naturally nailing it. So not.

It is a huge challenge finding enough time to see to the individual needs of the kids. And I can't say it enough, but the teenage years are a very trying time and we are back to square one, figuring out how to parent them. Add to that the stress of their PSLE, Os and As coming up, along with emotional crises and the daily squabbles of the 2 younger ones and my hands are full ensuring everyone stays sane.

It doesn't help that with your own business, your mind is never switched off and the work doesn't end. I've been fighting fires at work, at home, and dealing with family conflicts. I was exhausted and heavy-hearted.
Silence in the wee hours of the morning
Heal Ourself

I went on a pilgrimage to Italy where we traced the footsteps of St Francis of Assisi and his mission of peace. He was the son of a wealthy merchant but was disillusioned with a rich superficial lifestyle and yearned for something deeper. He gave up everything to dedicate his life in the service of the poor and needy, following the example of Jesus Christ.

I woke up at 5am and went for a morning stroll. No kids to tend to, no work to rush off to. I do so love the early mornings! The unbroken silence and stillness in the air. I walked out of my hotel to find a beautiful sight before me. Green grass stretching freely on both sides and the majestic basilica in the distance. As I sung hymns, something stirred in my soul and the tears flowed freely. I could feel God's presence intensely and knew that for the past months, I have been so burdened that I was unable to let go and trust in God to provide.
Contemplative silence
Time in nature

Our lives are fast-paced and noisy and we need to detox our mind and spirit from all that clutter. Wish I could spend more time in solitude, to reflect and recharge.

As I pondered our lives, I wondered why we have allowed ourselves to buy into this Bigger and Better rat race. We have moved away from leading authentic fulfilled lives and it doesn't seem wrong anymore to live superficial glossy lives for the world to see.

What has life become for us? We are so distracted by LIFE itself and have lost the courage to go deep within ourselves to search for its meaning. It scares me to think that I am running at breakneck speed, but at the end of it all, what kind of a life do I have to show for it?

Was it real enough? Have I touched people along the way? What legacy am I leaving to my children? Have they learned how to love, give and serve? These were the ideals I held on to, but have I been waylaid by the busyness of life and things that don't matter?
St Francis' bare room
Simplicity

St Francis' message of peace, love and poverty is still so relevant today. Coming face to face with his bare room, and how he and his brothers lived in extreme poverty yet were ever joyful, it was stark how far we have come in this material world that when things are taken away from us, we feel upset. Though we may begrudge not having enough, we already have too much. Yet we chase after more, but at what cost?

I've always had this dilemma at the back of my mind, wanting to live a simple and minimalist life yet finding it hard to give up material comforts and excesses. The past few months have been very rocky for us and I feared the uncertainties of the future, but I'm not worried anymore.
Hermitage caves
Who am I?

We had time to sit in the caves where St Francis and his brothers spent days in prayer and contemplation. I used to seek out secluded spots to spend time alone when we take the kids to beach resorts and now I know it's not an odd thing to do, but precisely what my soul needed!

As we did our Camino walk in silence, I contemplated the question "Who am I?" Surrounded by bare nature, nothing of our modern lives mattered. Not our titles, where we lived, what car we drove, what bling we wore.

I was reminded of my time volunteering at Assisi hospice where witnessing the experience of those close to death helped me to put life into perspective. Yet we forget easily and need constant reminders about what life is really about.

It was a tough trek on our long walk, and just as I was feeling tired and wishing I was back on the bus, I came to a fork and a fellow pilgrim was waiting for me with a bright smile and a flourish of her hand to wave me down the right path before hurrying off to catch up with her friends.

The uphill walk was a mirror of life. We are pilgrims on this journey and as we face the vicissitudes of life, we are here to make that journey that much easier for one another. Be gentle. Be kind. Be helpful. If we may be blessed with abundance, extend a helping hand to those in need.
Camino walk
Our response is Love

On the last day, my kids texted me an SOS! I called them and they told me what had transpired with a neighbour's dog. Our dog saw a passing dog and ran out of the gate. She must have been excited and nibbled too hard, drawing a bit of blood. The neighbour went home and brought her mum back and they had a row with my kids. A few hours had passed since the incident, but my girls were still riled up about it. #1's response was anger, and she argued back when the lady shouted at them. #2 attempted to use logic to win the argument while my mum was trying to keep everyone calm, saying that my kids were just kids and the dog was just a dog.

I listened and was surprised that I felt no anger towards the mum and did not feel the urge to take sides or retaliate. I simply repeated, "Peace be with you, girls."

I told them that instead of responding in anger or making excuses, let our first response be love. They were stunned into silence hearing something so radical.

I was sharing the stories of my pilgrimage with my staff and they said, "Wow, even for us adults that would be hard!"

We try.
Keep praying
Back to Reality

The hubs took good care of Kate and the older kids left me alone for the entire trip and did not bug me with any problems except to ask if I was enjoying myself.

But it seemed like they had saved all their troubles till I returned and on my first evening back, one swallowed a fish bone, one had her wisdom tooth pushing out and her gums had split, one came down with a fever and my helper cut her finger.

Instead of going into a frenzy, I was surprised how calm I was. It was as though I was wrapped in a bubble of peace. I got them to say a prayer, then walked them through the steps. And in my heart, I knew that everything will be alright.
Daily Mass
For 11 days, time stood still. I am going to take a long hard look at our lives and eliminate everything which is unnecessary. I have decided not to continue looking for tutors for #5 as he has been showing improvement this year in a smaller banded class and whatever PSLE score he will get, we are prepared for it. The time saved rushing him to and fro will be used to live life at a more leisurely pace.

I will be guided with a different compass, and though life will continue to be messy and problems will arise, more so in a huge family like ours, I have found renewed strength to walk this path. The world as we know it could crash but we will be fine.
Wonderful lunch stop
Our Camino walk ended at La Verna, where an extraordinary event happened. St Francis had followed his calling closely and at the end of his life, he prayed that he would experience the same immense love that Jesus felt when he suffered and died on the cross. He received the stigmata - the same wounds pierced in his hands, feet and side.

As mothers, from the time of labour, we go through pain and suffering for the love of our children. And through the lifetime of our children, their pain will be our pain multiplied manyfold in our hearts. My whole perception of pain has been reshaped.
Mount Alvernia
Finding our Calling

Not many of us have found our calling, but as long as we do something about it and start moving towards it, clarity will come.

I get lots of emails from mums telling me how inspired they are but I don't usually get much encouragement. I have been blessed by many on this trip who have shared their words of advice and stories of similar adversities and I am uplifted.

I now know how much my sharing could mean to another new mum struggling to make sense of this parenting journey or be the beacon of hope that there is light at the end of the very long tunnel.

Let us support one another in this journey of life.
Rainbow in a bright sky
It is so good to get away every year or so to rest our body, mind and spirit.

This sense of deep peace.

With stress lifted from your shoulders.

Of feeling connected with people around you.

With joy replacing worries.

Contented with what you have.

Your mind completely free to be present in every moment.

It is so elusive but I've found it.

And I hope you will find your peace too.


Other lessons (which I've learnt the hard way):

Lesson #15: What are we worth, mums?
Lesson #16: What do you do when you get sick of parenting?
Lesson #17: The tragedy of our society


~ www.mummyweeblog.com - A blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~
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