Tuesday, 12 November 2019

10 tips to manage Sibling Rivalry

Does this seem to be a daily struggle in your household? It sure was in ours! The kids would squabble over toys, who has more of this or that (not fair!), who sat here first (this spot was mine!) and other seemingly ridiculous issues, both big and small.

If you are at your wits ends, try these 10 pointers and see if it helps. We made so many mistakes in parenting them, but have learnt and gotten better over the years. And despite having some nasty fights when they were younger, my kids have grown to love and care for one another.

1. Expect and Accept

There was an article by a psychologist which changed my perspective. He gave 6 reasons "Why siblings squabble all the time." The first reason:

Because they can.

We think our children should naturally get along beautifully.

I used to get annoyed when they started quarrelling, and sometimes I would yell at them in anger. Again! Why can't you all just get along?

Children are not born having the skills to resolve conflict and the family is where they learn how to get along with others peacefully.

After I realised that, I stopped fuming and got to work helping them learn the skills to get along. This would also help them deal with friends and with their future spouses or flatmates.

2. Make it a Family goal

This is a great place to start.

If you haven't already done it, sit your children down when everyone is in a happy mood (definitely not when they are in the midst of a quarrel) and make your expectations explicit, explain why it is important for them to have a good relationship and give them examples of what it looks like. Decide as a family on something fun to do on the weekend if they have tried hard to get along during the week.

3. Don't be the referee

When a quarrel erupts, we typically jump in with What happened? Who started it? The stories from both sides will come fast and furious and sometimes it's hard to know who to believe.

If you take sides, there will be a child who ends up thinking you are not being fair. This fair/not fair business is something we need to be mindful of. Some adults continue to harbour unhappiness at their parents for favouring another sibling (despite it being true or not).

An older sibling might use language to make it sound like he is not the one at fault, while the younger one may use tears and play victim. Either way, by going in to be the referee, you may end up siding with the wrong party and someone (usually the older sibling) may feel wronged and resentful (and may lash out at the younger one when parents are not around).

Instead, tell them that you expect them to settle it themselves. They are to stay in a designated room together (without toys) and are free to come out after they have worked it out.

4. Use "I feel" not "you did this"

Teach them positive communication skills, using "I feel" sentences instead of "You did this or you were mean". This enables their sibling to understand how that made them feel which they may not be aware of.

Eg. "I felt embarrassed when you called me a loser in front of my friends" instead of "He was such a horrible, mean brother for calling me names."

5. Sharing is caring

Allow them lots of opportunities to share. My dad, the doting grandpa used to buy them 5 of each toy because he couldn't bear to hear them quarrel. I explained to him that they had to learn to share. Even though they were 2 years apart, they would pass down their toys to the next sibling and were used to receiving hand-me-downs. In fact, the younger girls looked forward to having the "cool" clothes from their older sister and sharing became a normal part of life.

6. Welcoming a new baby

Start by acknowledging their emotions, that it is tough that mummy has to give her attention to someone else. Shift the focus from why is the baby getting all the attention to wow, you are such a caring brother/sister and instead of feeding the jealousy, help them be aware of all the "big things" they can do with mummy and daddy that baby can't, such as playing on the swing, cycling or going out for ice cream.

My kids were allowed to help with baby chores such as holding the milk bottle for the baby, changing the diapers and their favourite was to be given the great responsibility in carrying the baby.

7. One-on-one time

Make an effort to spend 1-on-1 time with each child. They need your attention, and are fighting to get it. When you allocate a specific time which they can look forward to, it helps to give them a sense of security.

It doesn't have to be a huge effort. We used to take walks to the nearest petrol station and would get an ice cream and walk back. Depending on how many kids you have and their ages, you could allocate 1 day per week for each child. The important thing is to stick to your promise to keep this time special just for that child.

This is easier said than done, and I have learnt not be too quick to promise so much if I know that my schedule at work may be unpredictable. It is better to promise something small which you can commit to 100% than to promise them too much and they end up getting disappointed and lose their trust in your word.

During the 1-on-1 time, don't focus on homework or grades. Talk about their interests, or each other's day and let them know that they can open up to you if there is anything bugging them. What you don't see doesn't mean it's not happening.

Besides one-on-one time, have different permutations of family time. Dad and the kids, mum and the kids, dad with one kid while mum with the other. I noticed that some siblings are naturally closer to another, and when the group dynamics are mixed up, different bonds are given the space to form.

8. Don't discourage them from being a "big brother" or "big sister"

So long as it is within safe limits, encourage them in their older sibling role and they will develop a sense of responsibility and joy from being of real help to their little brother or sister.

#5 wanted Kate to share in his great delight of riding the bicycle and begged me to allow him to "tompang" her. As he was steady on the bike, I allowed it. I supervised by walking next to them as they went round and round our garden. He was a proud big brother that day!

Find a comfortable balance between being over-protective and ensuring the safety of the kids.

9. Find challenges to bond them

Our kids have too comfortable a life. It's no wonder that they bicker a lot! My aunt used to tell me that even with 11 siblings in their family, they hardly fought because the older siblings were busy taking care of the younger ones and in their free time they made up their own games from pretty much nothing.

What I do is to set up bonding activities for them, like our Family OBS where I took the 6 of them by myself (without the hubs!) to experience climbing real cliffs. They learnt to rely on each other and everyone had to pitch in.

10. Take sibling concerns seriously

Sometimes the younger child may be tormented regularly by an older sibling and tries to speak up but if the parent doesn't seem to be listening or thinks it's a minor issue, the child will stop trying to tell you. Some siblings bully each other quite badly when parents are not around.

Don't let things escalate. If physical acts like hitting, scratching, spitting or throwing objects at one another are not stopped quickly, it will get worse. Make it known that such is not acceptable in your household, and punishments have to be meted out.

Sibling rivalry may be the one thing that is driving you almost insane right now, but hang in there, take a deep breath, know that you can turn this around and never for once feel guilty. We all make mistakes. We all started at a place where we didn't know better.

Take it one step at a time, and celebrate small wins. You can do it!

Learn from the million mistakes we made along our parenting journey so you don't make the same!


About MummyWee

Michelle is an Occupational Therapist by day and mum of 6 by night. Besides the already very demanding job of managing 5 teenagers and one 6-turning-16 tween, she is also Founder of The Little Executive, a nurturing centre to develop children in their 4Qs to survive today's volatile world. She also makes time to volunteer with children and the elderly in her community.

Thursday, 31 October 2019

Who is behind MOE?

Every time I give a talk on education and what it takes for children to be successful in this new era, parents will raise the issue of our stressful education system.

It seems to be an "us" against "the MOE" divide, and it's easy to put the blame on this faceless system called THE MOE.

I go on to ask parents...

Do you think there are these people going to work every morning, sitting behind their desks thinking, hmm, what new policies should we come up with to make the lives of parents and kids miserable?

It never fails to break the ice and they laugh at this rather absurd imagery.

Those were my sentiments too, a long time ago.

My eldest is already 21 and back then, I was afraid that our education system had not evolved with the times. I wondered if what was being taught in school would be able to prepare them adequately for their future when they left school approximately 15 years later.

Then we experienced the PSLE, and I thought... something is very wrong.

I wrote in to The Straits Times Forum page about why I had no choice but to give my daughter tuition for all subjects at her P6 year because she had failed everything.

This was published in 2010.

Why parents are forced to spend on tuition

My three older children are in Primary 6, Primary 4 and Primary 2 in a Special Assistance Plan (SAP) school. Having put them in such a well sought-after school, I thought they would be in good hands.

All three of them were getting average grades. However, to my utter shock and dismay, my eldest came home with red marks in all her subjects for her Primary 5 year-end exams, and she was the last in class. Her concerned form teacher called me to find out what happened. She told me that my daughter was attentive in class and was, in fact, chosen as the role model student for that year.

After speaking to me, the teacher was surprised that she had no tuition and that I did not coach her myself. She was even more surprised that I had not bought any 10-year series or guidebooks for her. (As she was my eldest, I didn't know that just sending her to school and buying all the requisite textbooks were not enough to get by). I, in turn, asked her what was happening. She was the one teaching my daughter 3 out of the 4 subjects in school, so I should be querying her about her poor grades, not the other way around! She then explained to me that due to time constraints, teachers could only cover the basics, so the child needed to do a lot more extra work at home or to get tuition.

That seems to be the reality, as I have found out from parents of children in other schools as well. She was put into a different class in her P6 year. Subsequently, I enrolled her for tuition for all four subjects and for her mid-year exam, she achieved the first position in her class. In the end, thanks to tuition, she managed to get 4As for her PSLE. (I shudder to think what her grades would be like if I had not sent her for tuition in her P6 year). I can now understand why the majority of parents are willing to spend so much money on tuition. The system is just not delivering.

The sad truth is that parents are focusing all their energies on academic achievement, thereby neglecting more important matters like character building and family bonding, which are so crucial in today's fast-paced and changing world. It may be a good idea to set up a forum with parents, students, teachers, tutors and the Ministry of Education to analyse the situation. Singapore has a world-class education system. Perhaps, that is in part due to a world-class tuition system.

This was the situation we found ourselves in 10 years ago when my first child sat for her PSLE.

Yes, I was THAT naive.

I was barely surviving having to deal with 5 little kids & had no time to go around kay-pohing or comparing what's going on with other children.

We saw neighbours' kids diligently going for tuition on weekends but assumed it was them being too kiasu. My kids were averaging above 75 for their exams and I didn't see a need to panic. I kept the faith that their teachers would be able to teach them well enough.

Until the shock at the end of P5. (Years later, I heard that some schools deliberately set very tough P5 exam papers to "scare" the students.)

Oh, I'd better clarify that it was my husband's very dedicated cousin who tutored #1 in Math, Science and Chinese and she helped her pull up her failing grades to straight As (if not I'll be inundated with emails asking me which tuition centre was that!).

I started investigating, speaking to every parent I came across and it seemed like the system (aka MOE) was the problem. Of course, now I know better and understand why the PSLE papers have risen to such a high standard. It's a vicious cycle and parents have a big part in it.

I've been on a mission to piece the puzzle together and hopefully be able to do something about it. I must have spoken to hundreds of teachers, parents, students, researchers and a handful of principals in a bid to get a clear picture. Complaining, blaming or thinking that I have no choice is futile. I'd rather find a solution or at least know that I have done my part, no matter how small.

What I didn't expect was the magnitude of the problem and the deep-seated mindsets of parents. 5 of my children have completed their PSLE and it is only now in Kate's time that the speed of change is picking up.

I managed to speak with Mr Heng Swee Keat before he relinquished his post as Education Minister about sentiments on the ground and I was extremely surprised that he did get someone to follow up. I was sad to see him move on as his tenure signaled the start towards a more balanced education with the emphasis on maximising the potential of every child.

In 2013, I was humbled to be invited to MOE HQ for a dialogue session chaired by Ms Sim Ann, then Minister of State for Ministry of Education and Ministry of Communications and Information.

Since then, I have met with several key personnel from the Communications and Engagement group and I can assure you, there are REAL PEOPLE behind MOE.

It was through these sessions that I started to understand the bigger picture and what a mammoth task it is to steer this gigantic ship in a new direction.

One of the earliest lunches I was invited to was with Diana Ser, hosted by Ms Genevieve Chye, ex-principal of Montfort Junior School, currently Divisional Director of Engagement and Research Division.

What struck me was that they were not there to interrogate us nor to get us to propagate anything (I accepted the invite without thinking too much like "why would someone from MOE be asking me for lunch?!") She was sincere in having a chat with us to find out our concerns and to hear our personal stories about our kids' educational journey.

They shared with us links to the MOE microsites about the changes. It is important for parents to get access to accurate information instead of fueling unwarranted concerns with hearsay.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ms Tan Wai Lan, ex-principal of St Nicholas Girls' school. I was struck by how approachable she was. Over lunch, she even shared an anecdote that when she was first appointed, one of the things she had to learn was to hug the girls! She is currently Coordinating Divisional Director of Communications and Engagement group.

Despite holding such high posts, they are willing to hear from ordinary parents. Last year, I was trying to navigate the options for university courses for my daughter and when I met her at a parent engagement session, she was kind enough to share her wisdom and advice as she has 3 daughters who are slightly older than mine.

The gentleman on the right is Saravenan Tanapal, Director of Engagement branch and he has been a familiar face through the years of dialogue sessions. He has twin boys who are currently in primary school.

Besides these small group "no holds barred" chats, their team has also been organising larger seminars to engage parents and ignite ground-up initiatives.

I can assure you, they are not cooking up anything sinister behind their walls to spring onto parents. At every encounter, I have found them to be transparent and forthcoming with answers to our questions.

It was indeed a treat when we were invited to tea with ex-Education Minister Ng Chee Meng. We had an animated conversation over bingsu and toast, with Tjin Lee (Life Beyond Grades), Jane Ng (Straits Times) and June Yong (Channel News Asia).

My concern then was whether with a change in Minister, would it derail plans? I remember one teacher who has taught for 30 years lamenting, "Every time a new minister takes over the education portfolio, it's back to the drawing board."

Ms Genevieve Chye reassured us that they would continue with the blueprint and go in-depth with execution.

We had a fruitful discussion and I love Minister's style. He went straight to the point and encouraged us to voice our concerns which we did!

He walked us through the issues from a macro point of view and I came to understand that it was a lot about trying to strike a balance.

Take for example the bugbear of Mother Tongue exams which I raised. The majority of children come from English-speaking families and it is unfair to expect them to score well, given the limited number of hours to learn chinese in school. As such, chinese tuition has become an expected household expenditure, not to mention the disdain of most of our children in learning this "very difficult" language.

Mr Ng gave us numbers: around 70% of children come from English-speaking backgrounds. However, MOE's worry is that once Chinese is removed as a compulsory subject, the standard will slide. We concurred that it was important that our children had a good grasp of the language, but wished there were ways to make the learning more fun and the reliance on tuition less.

These open discussions helped us see things not just from our own point of view but to understand the bigger picture as well as the constraints. I began to appreciate the bits and pieces in the cogwheel and how everything had an impact on another and it wasn't just a simple matter of abolishing something.

After Education Minister Ong Ye Kung took over the full portfolio, a session was organised by Life Beyond Grades, with Steven Chia (Talking Point) as host. It was a very respectful dialogue session, and Minister was all ears as the vocal crowd was forthcoming with their concerns and opinions.

It is not easy to please parents as there will always be differing camps no matter what policies are being rolled out. And sometimes, unhappiness about the system could be a case of "broken telephone" via our children and by the time it reaches parents' ears, everything gets lumped together and it's the MOE's fault!

Early this year, I had the privilege to meet Ms Liew Wei Li, Deputy Director-General of Education (Schools) and Director of Schools, with fellow mums Esther Foong and Elizabeth Wu. Ms Liew is the ex-principal of Xinmin Secondary and mother of 2 children.

While I am excited about the move from a results-focused, product-centric model to a more holistic, process-based model, I was curious about implementation. There would have to be re-training and shifting of mindsets across the board. I hear from teachers at my children's PTM that some teachers themselves are resisting the changes, (change is hard, isn't it!), directives are not clear, while some feel they are inadequately trained to guide and assess in this more broad-based manner.

Ms Liew explained that with a teaching force of more than 30,000 educators, it would take time to move the whole system to align with the new direction.

All this is to be expected and parents need to be patient as we are moving from our cushy old ways of traditional education to something more dynamic and relevant.

Let's not contribute to rumours going around, but equip ourselves with accurate information. And if you have valuable feedback and legitimate concerns, I am certain they are more than willing to hear from you.

Most recently, we were invited to lunch hosted by Ms Melissa Khoo, Deputy Secretary (Policy wing). She herself has a child in primary school. Joining us this round was Sher-Li Torrey (Mums@Work). I look forward to these sessions as I hear from different sides on the ground; parents, teachers, counsellors, employers and it is a great platform to clarify our doubts and queries.

Almost everyone I've met from the MOE are parents themselves, with children currently in our education system. 

WHY WOULDN'T they be invested?

We need everyone to be on the SAME PAGE.

While the Education Minister rotates, there is a whole team working tirelessly behind the scenes.

To each and everyone of them, I wish to say...

Thank you for pushing on despite the negative comments and never-ending complaints from parents, the courage to implement change, even the unpopular ones for the long term benefit of our children, and for making the effort to keep the conversation going with all stakeholders.

I have waited almost 2 decades to see change and am delighted that the tide is starting to turn. We cannot rely on our old model of education while the world transforms around us.

The truth is, we can't afford to do nothing about it.

The stress levels of our children are getting unhealthy and by doing nothing, we are shortchanging our children as a generation.

Our ship has been sailing strong in the high seas to bring us to where we are today. A world-class education system.

But now the horizon has shifted and the seas are choppy with change. MOE has cast its sights on a new horizon, fully aware that the definition of success and education has been redefined.

I was on the "us" side of the fence once upon a time. But now I realise THERE ARE NO SIDES. We are in this big ship together.

Let us forge ahead with one mind to craft a more meaningful and applicable education for our children and grandchildren.

Education is a key cornerstone of Singapore's future.

Let them get on with it, and I'm sure an occasional word of encouragement would be nice, wouldn't it?

About MummyWee

Michelle is an Occupational Therapist by day and mum of 6 by night. Besides the already very demanding job of managing 5 teenagers and one 6-turning-16 tween, she is also Founder of The Little Executive, a nurturing centre to develop children in their 4Qs to survive today's volatile world. She also makes time to volunteer with children and the elderly in her community.

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.


Friday, 18 October 2019

Kate turns 7 - A DIY party

After 20 years, I'm so done with big exhausting parties. I've decided to cut myself some slack and do simple, meaningful parties which takes half the effort, but double the fun!

Now that she's in P1, it's time for Kate to start learning to plan her own party, with guidance.

First rule: She's allowed to invite a maximum of 7 friends as she turns 7 this year. But I advised her to be mindful of the dynamics of the group because we don't want anyone to feel excluded.

She decided to invite 5 of her best friends from school.

I asked what she had in mind and she came up with this:

1. Meeting
2. Lunch
3. Movie
4. Cut cake
5. Giving out of goodie bags
6. Farewell

Meeting?? haha wow, so democratic. She said they can discuss as a group what they would like to do.

I told her we need to add in some games and activities. I suggested clay or playdoh, which is my go-to activity for entertaining kids. Something which kids love but hardly get a chance to play with. I was half expecting Kate to say, "Huh? So childish!" but luckily she was fine with it.

The trick is in presenting it attractively to the children. (The wooden boards were from spotlight and trays from Diaso).

Playdoh is not just for little ones as it develops creativity, fine motor skills (our kids have lost dexterity in their fingers with too much gadget use), and it is a wonderful thing to be able to make something from nothing!

We had extra playdoh at work as we made them for our Children's day gifts, so that saved me the trouble of mixing up a new batch. Just nice!

I was further affirmed after attending a talk by Esther Wojcicki, who raised 3 successful daughters, one of whom is Susan, CEO of Youtube and she stressed that the biggest 21st century skill to nurture in our kids is CREATIVITY. Yes, right through secondary school.

I upped the appeal by offering simple things like coloured crystals I had on hand for them to blink up their creations if they wished.

Kate went one step further and added on a couple of rules!

"Each person can choose 1 colour. If you need other colours, you can ask your friends nicely."
Kate's jewel box
It was heartwarming to watch how they were so polite and generous with one another and I was really happy to get to know the kids whom she spends her time with at school.

I prepared empty containers for them to take their creations home. One adorable friend made a "sweet shop" and said it was a gift for the birthday girl.

This kept them occupied for almost an hour. I loved how engrossed they were because I wasn't sure how they would take to it. Some kids who are exposed to too much screen time can't come up with any ideas and may say things like "so boring". In fact, they are the ones who need more guidance to rekindle their creativity.

After a sit-down activity, it was time for them to get physical. What better way than to take out this ultra-unique, hand-painted Snoopy themed twister mat which Kate's older sister upcycled.

This game never fails to elicit roars of laughter, and it is not always the strongest or most flexible one who emerges as champion but often the most resilient!

The kids were going "woah" and "so cool" and I hope this sparked in them ideas that art can be done on different mediums, besides drawing or colouring on a piece of paper.

They noticed that it was an old bedsheet and the recycle message sunk in. Haha, they might go home a look around for items to re-purpose.

Time for lunch!

When we were discussing lunch, Kate said, "Can we have my favourite tomato and spring onion quesadillas?"

Great suggestion. Only problem, I was quite certain not all of her friends would like that combination.

I set up a DIY station and the kids had fun choosing their own fillings.

Kate guided her friends along:

Step 1: Fold wrap in half
Step 2: Put filing only on one side
Step 3: Top it with cheese

What she forgot to mention was that it had to go into the oven and before we knew it, one child took a bite of it ;)

Don't forget to give them full instructions if you are planning to do this!

I love hosting drop-off parties because not only is it really fun to be with the kids, but I don't have to plan another menu for the adults and I can be fully present for the kids.

After lunch... it was movie time! The only thing Kate requested for was to have a movie screening and she asked her sister for permission to watch it in her room. We did the cake-cutting before starting the movie so that the kids were ready to leave when any of their parents came to pick them up.

I set up a snack station in case anyone was hungry before lunch or if they were peckish after the movie. The most popular were the tortilla chips, seaweed and sugary gem biscuits!

I allocated a pocket of free time to see what they would come up with and someone suggested a drawing competition. I loved how they naturally transferred their school rules here and one was the "discipline monitor" who issued warnings when the noise level got too loud. We had a whole half hour of silence as the kids concentrated hard on their drawings.

They ended the party with ring popsicles made with orange juice & everyone left happy!

Really, a perfect party indeed. Loads of fun, stress-free, and the most wonderful, well-behaved bunch of children!

Kate received a shiny unicorn lockable diary and immediately wrote in it that night. She reported to her "dear diary" that it was the best birthday party she's ever had!

I really enjoyed myself too! Hosting the party and getting to know the kids.

Happy Birthday my dear Kate! Keep your childlike faith, surround yourself with genuine friends and know that we love you just the way you are!

About MummyWee

Michelle is an Occupational Therapist by day and mum of 6 by night. Besides the already very demanding job of managing 5 teenagers and one 6-turning-16 tween, she is also Founder of The Little Executive, a nurturing centre to develop children in their 4Qs to survive today's volatile world. She also makes time to volunteer with children and the elderly in her community.

Kate turns 1 - A lucky 6th child
Kate turns 2 - A kampung affair
Kate turns 3 - A blessed child
Kate turns 4 - Family and close friends
Kate turns 5 - All that glitters is not gold

How I scaled down their parties from $1000 affairs to $100



Tuesday, 8 October 2019

What the PSLE is REALLY about

It's the aftermath of the PSLE season, and once again, amidst the relief, rejoicing, tears and disappointments, the tough Math paper is in the spotlight.

Reminds me of similar scenes over the past decade, where we were in the thick of things with 5 kids having gone through their PSLE.

Their classmates cried and complained about how it is so unfair, how their teachers or tutors did not teach them well enough. My kids, on the other hand, were unfazed. Not because they nailed it, but because they expected that in an exam paper. Questions they could do, and questions they couldn't. Nothing unusual, nothing to cry about.

When results were released, it was all much ado about nothing as the T score was based on a bell curve. In fact, the tough papers favoured those at the top end. During the years where the papers were not that extreme, the next band of kids were also able to score well, and the differentiation becomes blunted.

However, what has changed over the past decade is not so much the fluctuations in the difficulty of the PSLE papers but how the actual questions easily surfaced on the internet and how the response of parents is amplified via social media.

It is not necessarily a bad thing, because this does help to open up dialogue; parents and experts can weigh in on the issues, which helps everyone to ponder and make sense of where we are, especially at this juncture of our education system where things can no longer remain status quo.

I can definitely see why some parents are upset at the unreasonably tough few questions.

Parents and children have invested a huge amount of time, effort and money to ace the exams and they expect to be duly rewarded.

One of my kids went to a top primary school. She was baffled how a friend consistently scored 100/100 for Math even right up till the prelims and assumed he was extremely smart. When they finally asked him, he replied, "I have Math tuition twice a week and my mum makes me do 5 hours of Math every single day. I've seen all the questions."

Jaw drop.

I MADE my kids go to the playground every single day. Yes, even during their P6 year.

It wasn't just him. There was a whole bunch of kids trailing close, scoring 90+ for Math at the P6 level.

It's a chicken and egg situation.

Certainly, the standard of the PSLE wasn't so tough in our time. Many of us adults aren't able to solve today's PSLE questions. What happened between then and now?

Tuition happened.

Today's PSLE is essentially testing 2 things:

1. The child's academic ability

2. The family's resources and priorities

Parents who have spent exorbitant amounts such as paying $200 an hour for premium tutors are up in arms with the twist in the exam papers.

Because when the goal post shifts, you cry foul. Understandably.

But the BIGGER question is...

Is it STILL, in 2019, the right thing to have only a singular focus, which is to direct all our energies and resources into pushing our children towards getting perfect scores by rote learning and repetition?

Or do we need to rethink the purpose of education in today's climate?

IT IS TIME that the GOAL POST HAS TO SHIFT.

I suppose MOE is trying to throw these highly tutored kids off a little, in an attempt to suss out kids who have flexibility of mind vis a vis a robot like regurgitation of concepts without the ability to apply to new situations.

MOE is taking baby steps towards gearing our curriculum and testing methods to be more aligned with what is needed in the 21st century, including skills like problem solving, creativity, adaptability and resilience.

But many parents are confounded, "Why set such killer exam papers to begin with? It is demoralising to our children. Shouldn't we be testing what they have been taught?"

Let's imagine a hypothetical situation where the PSLE were to test what they have been taught and there are no unexpected tough questions. If every student emerges with As, we wouldn't be able to get a clear indication of the strength of each child.

But why is there a need to distinguish one child from another?

Truth is, we need to sort them to provide for them better.

The reality is this. If you take a snapshot of any primary school in Singapore on the day the PSLE results are released, it could have kids ranging anywhere from 150 to 280. Yes, even the top schools. That is a huge range, and on a practical level, a school wouldn't have the bandwidth to cater adequately to every student.

We need to roughly sort each cohort of approximately 40,000 students without stigmatising them with labels. And allow fluidity in the system for a child to level up if he decides to put in the effort, to accommodate late bloomers and level the playing field.

We have a world-class education system, and the goal post has been stuck in a spot that has served us well until now.

We need to recognise that it will be a grave disservice to our children if we keep resisting change and refuse to shift the goal post simply because that was the only way we knew how to play the game.

THE GAME IS CHANGING, like it or not.

As we celebrate our bicentennial year, it is an apt reminder that while we have achieved so much, we cannot afford to take all that for granted and to stagnate. We need to step up to prepare our children for their future.

The world is changing rapidly around us. We do not have the luxury to rest on our past successes. We have come so far as a country because of the foresight and resilience of our founding fathers and a shared vision of a better future.

We are at the top of our game internationally, but our success didn't happen overnight. Similarly, if we do not adapt to change, the slide will happen too quickly and we wouldn't know what had hit us.

My 2 older girls are already in university. I have waited with bated breath (until my face turned blue) to witness the change in our education system to one that is more relevant and applicable as the global landscape continues to evolve at breakneck speed.

It has taken MOE almost a decade with behind the scenes work to get to the beginning of real change which we are starting to see.

Honestly, I am very excited to be a part of this new phase of education reforms (ok, more like gradual steps) and walk with Kate on her journey.

I can feel the tide shifting. A few years ago, when parents find out about my "tuition as the last resort" stand, they pat me on the back and say, "Wow, I wish I could be courageous like you and give them a carefree childhood but it's quite impossible."

Today, more parents are telling me that they believe in equipping their children with the right skills and the right attitude, and tuition can come much later.

The comical refrain I hear at my talks is, "If other parents are not going to give their kids tuition, I won't either!" And everyone laughs.

We need to take a step back and look at the big picture.

Are we preparing our children only for the PSLE or for life?

In real life, you can prepare all you want for a pitch. But at the crucial presentation, you may be thrown a curveball. How do you handle it?

Panic? Focus on how unfair it is? Complain?

Or are you able to stay calm, keep trying and not give up?

As parents, we have a lot of control in how we are shaping our children's outlook on life.

We can guide our children to reflect that if they have prepared well, have done the exam to the best of their ability, then both parent and child should be satisfied.

I know I'll be overjoyed if every single one of my kids can do that for every single exam or task they attempt! Such a great attitude.

And whatever the results or failings, learn from it and move on.

We cannot afford to be myopic because by the time it is stark in our faces, the landscape would have shifted so radically that we are lagging behind on the world stage.

We have come so far. We have a good work ethic, rigour and discipline.

Where our children fall short at are skills like analytical thinking, critical thinking, problem solving, adaptability, communication, having the confidence to pitch their ideas, having initiative, an innovative and entrepreneur spirit, being able to learn independently, yet able to collaborate and work as a team and lead others.

I am glad MOE is casting its sights firmly on the horizon, and slowly but surely moving their ginormous ship in that direction.

It's time for principals, teachers, parents and students to be aligned. We are all sailing that same ship.

The PSLE should be a check-point, to roughly allocate our children to the right secondary schools which suit their learning aptitude and interests.

In our zeal to push our children ahead of the game, have we unwittingly magnified and distorted the meaning and impact of the PSLE into something so unnecessarily frightening for our children?

It has turned into a monster of a high stakes exam. Let's slay this monster, together.

The chill parents can't do it alone. Neither can MOE (they say it's one step forward, two steps back. No prizes for guessing who is pushing back!) Seriously, everyone needs to come on board.

If we don't let up, something will. And woe to us if it's the mental health of our children. At a national level, the anxiety, depression and suicide rates are something that should be a concern of every stakeholder involved.

Are we raising a strawberry generation or do we want to raise a generation of resilient children who are able to define and chart their own successes?

Let us not miss the forest for the trees.


About MummyWee

Michelle is an Occupational Therapist by day and mum of 6 by night. Besides the already very demanding job of managing 5 teenagers and one 6-turning-16 tween, she is also Founder of The Little Executive, a nurturing centre to develop children in their 4Qs to survive today's volatile world. She also makes time to volunteer with children and the elderly in her community.


PSLE results: Good or bad, what do you say?
Why we went on holiday just before the PSLE
Why a co-ed school was the wrong choice for my son

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.

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