My Response to Comments from ‘A Fairy Tale Module in Primary 1’

Oh boy, I was not prepared to receive an onslaught of comments on this blog when this post went viral on various alternative news Facebook pages on Friday morning. It has been overwhelming see the responses, and to find that there are plenty of parents and non-parents alike who agree that there are some inherent issues that ought to be addressed in the Singapore’s Education System.

The comments have been interesting to read, and varied as well. It ranged from having my POV (point of view) of ‘What I will do if it happens to my child’ dissected and analyzed like a dissertation, to ‘It is because of people like you that many do not want to be teachers.’

Thank you for all who commented on my blog and left your comments through the various Facebook pages. However, I thought that it will be appropriate to address some the comments with this post :

– The post was written based on my personal opinion and insight. You are welcome to disagree.

– Nonetheless, the post was not personal.

In addressing the context of the photo that I attached in my last post, I thought it will be good for me to clarify on some of the questions mentioned in the comments :

1.This was NOT a worksheet on Comprehension, it was a Primary 1 English test paper from a local school. The child who completed the questions in this test have NOT been exposed to the genre of fairy tales in school. This has been clarified with the mom and child.

2. Mom of child has not been informed of the STELLAR programme. Is it really part of the Primary 1 English curriculum in all schools nation-wide? And if so, why are there still many parents have no prior knowledge of this programme? This is something that I will discuss further in this post.

3. As a fellow mom and a mom blogger, I do not sensationalize my blog posts. I do make an effort to be a role model for my child, who will one day read the posts on this blog. So truthfulness is a moral that I hold strictly to, both as a parent and a mom blogger.

4. The post have not been written out of context. To see an example, how words are taken out of context IRL, kindly see my post  on Mega Churches in Singapore.

5. Readership has never been a focus of this blog. I write for myself to reflect, as well as to share my thoughts with my friends and contacts on Facebook who are fellow parents, and start online conversations or discussions with my fellow mom bloggers in our online community.

6. As for the good that have resulted from the previous post? The latest update that I have from the mom, is that the teacher from her kid’s school gathered students in her class on Friday and re-corrected their test papers. Kudos to this teacher for being open to the feedback, and acting quickly to address this.


Out of my curiosity on Saturday early morning, I clicked into one of the Facebook profiles that ‘LIKE’ the post and found that there are Singapore Educators (from National Institute of Education) who were talking about this post. For the educators who have pick up on the post on Friday, I am heartened that this post have caught your attention and we can start a conversation about this.

In my typical truth-seeker style, I believe that it will be of interest to many readers of the blog to find out what educators may be talking about, in response to the post. To protect the educator and his community that I started a conversation with in Facebook, his name and profile has been blotted out. He will be known as Mr D in this post.

These are some of the comments that was discussed in response to my post shared in Facebook, including my short analysis on each comment :


1. This is Mr D’s first response to the post

Screen Shot 2013 09 21 at 11 34 17 AM

I think it is important to know how an educator who trains our teachers for the system, think about the logic of fairy tales that are added to the marking scheme of an English test paper. Could Mr D be a Generation-X child? I am a fellow Gen-X child, whose reading diet as a child, consisted of fairy tales stories and books by Enid Blyton.

Are fairy tales considered to be a form of general knowledge that is required for a Post-Millennium Primary 1 child? If the educators strongly believe that it is a useful genre to teach basic conventions and structures from stories, then do ensure that it is a part of the English teaching curriculum. Or ensure that this requirement is communicated to the parents, so that we can do something about it.

What I have realized, is that this comment is made from the perspective of an adult with past exposure to this genre of stories. What may deem logical to an adult, may not be logical knowledge to a 7 year old, with no prior knowledge or exposure to that information.


2.  Mr D’s has friends in Facebook, who are also lecturers in NIE. He shared a comment from this other educator.

Screen Shot 2013 09 21 at 11 32 06 AM

The mom in discussion, whose kid have experience this, does not know about the STELLAR programme. Neither does she have friends who are teachers or ex-teachers in the local school system. Can schools and educators start educating us about this? My child is starting primary 1 next year, can you share with me what is it about, and the rational and objective of the programme.

So I believe this comment is based on the assumption that questions were assigned based on books introduced through the STELLAR programme.

I will reiterate that it isn’t. Familiarity can provide the misguided illusion of understanding, so it is best not to assume.

So I will clarify it here once again.

It is an English Test Paper, for a child who is NOT exposed to the genre of fairy tales in the specific school and thus will not have a logical understanding of fairy tale conventions in the question.

Well-informed parents of Post-Millennium generation of children have realized Fairy Tales can be an inferior genre of stories. With the folkloric fantasy creatures, stereotypes, tales of revenge and sometimes macabre endings, they are not exactly the best stories to use to teach children.

However, I will agree that Fairy Tales will be a good genre to teach higher-level order thinking skills. Only when the child is able make connections to the genre from prior knowledge, as well as knowledge of language conventions in the writing process, they are able to understand and create meaningful text or logical text.

Since both reading and writing is focused on meaning and development. They reinforce one another. Nevertheless, children will need professional judgement and careful observation from their teachers, so that the teachers can provide specific and explicit instruction to facilitate independent writing and practice. And then the children can be evaluated through a test on what they have learnt.

I understand you didn’t mean to sound a little condescending, Mr/Mdm Educator. I know that it can be very frustrating and tiring for teachers to have to deal with 30 students in a class daily with all their different quirks and then manage their quirky-weird, over-protective parents who ask too much questions about your curriculum.

Generally, most parents believe in giving credit where credit is due, but we would also like to ask questions about the issues that concern our children.

I belong to a community of mom bloggers known as SMB, or Singapore Mom Bloggers. Highlighting this issue on my blog, is just a regular education-related post for me and one of the many discussions we have about the education system in Singapore and our children.

Both frustrations and commendations alike, are discussed on a regular basis.


3. This is my response to Mr D’s friend’s comment.

Screen Shot 2013 09 21 at 11 32 25 AM

I can’t help but to respond with that slight antagonistic tone in my comment, I am human too. I was appalled by Mr D’s educator friend’s comment about parents in general.

Forget that I managed to chance upon that comment. Let’s start over with this.


A Letter to the Community of Primary School Educators in Singapore

To Mr. D and his community of educators :

All that I am is a concerned parent, I try not to be antagonistic but I can’t help that I am extremely inquisitive and vocal. You are the professional, and I am the layman. Can you educate me and many other parents out there, as that there seems to be some important requirements and programmes that are in the system now, that is not being effectively communicated to the parents.

Also do advise how test papers are being designed, administered and evaluated.

I get the feeling that you don’t like being questioned. And this makes me very curious how teachers manage the children in their class with the same nature as I have.

Are you open to parental feedback?

Here I will address inherent issues I see in the local education system :


  • Partnership between Teachers and Parents is crucial to raise Millenium children for the New World

Looking at the past 30 years, there have been some challenges in parenting and education faced by an earlier generation of parents before us, who have not able to overcome these challenges. This gave rise to the ‘Strawberry Generation’ and ‘Narcissistic Me, Myself and I’ psychographic from the Generation Y children. There are some in this generation of children who are not able to give up their seats to people who need it more than they do in public transportation, much less care about other people around them.

I am careful and discerning as a parent. As I do not want to raise my child to be a lover of self, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient, ungrateful, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless and swollen with conceit. Children who think that academic achievements is valued more than their character and moral values.

The world has changed drastically the past 10 years and if we continue with the same set of methodology driving our educational system the past 30 years, our Post-Millenium generation of children will not be able to thrive in this new world.

There is no separate ‘Teacher Camp’ and ‘Parent Camp’, we are in the same camp together. Our objective is similar; to educate and inculcate the future generation of Singaporeans. I have found is that it has been extremely challenging to raise this generation of children. And I believe the same applies for the teachers that are inculcating them too.

There is joy in parenting, and I am sure it is the same for you too as an educator. I believe, there is joy in being able to influence young minds and be that major catalyst in their lives.


  • Trusting the Education System – A Parent’s Wish list

Yes, I hope to raise creative thinkers. But at the same time, children who are thinking, feeling, humble, grateful, respectful and have self control. Who will know the difference between good or bad, wrong or right, and will discern what choices to make. Children, who are respectful to their elders and to their peers, who will care for the ones around them, the ones who are less privileged than they are and speak out for the voiceless.

Singapore children with a sense of purpose in life, who will understand that true success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is more important than the end product. Children who will learn that ones’ character is more important than academic achievements.

It is a tall order.

You can scoff at me and call me idealistic or blindly optimistic. Nonetheless, can this be a hope that we can work towards, together in our Educator-Parent partnership? Often in life, we need to have an ‘anchor’ or hope for good to come. In the same way, this hope will be the very thing that will help us stand fast amid relentless challenges in our pivotal role as parents and teachers of Singapore’s Future Generation.

Can we ask that parents and educators become true partners, who will work together to drive this hope for the good of our society and the future of our children? As a parent I cannot do it alone.

I am aware that the attitudes of parents play a key role in influencing the demands of the system. But you are the professionals, I trust that you will know what is good or detrimental to children. So there will be a need to educate all parents.

I am fully aware that we can’t avoid the meritocracy of the system that we are in. But can we re-align the priorities in the educational system, find a balance somewhere and make the necessary adjustments to the current education ethos?


  • Equal Opportunites to Learn

I like to speak out on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of the children who are vunerable in the system. Children that come from low income families, kids in our child welfare system.

There is a child who may have parents who hold two jobs helping at hawker stalls, parents who can hardly speak English, much less read fairy tales or any other genre of stories to them before bedtime. Parents who cannot afford tuition for their children. Parents that teachers will likely meet at Parent-Teacher Meetings yearly, who will tell you, “No choice, I have to work, I have no time and I don’t know how to coach him.”

Or another, who takes care of her 4 other siblings after student care, and then waits for her single mom to return home from her manicurist job at 10.30pm, 6 days a week. She still struggles with reading a book, much less understand the conventions in a fairy tale genre in questions of a test paper. This little one does badly in school not because of low IQ, but with the lack of coaching and help.

These children will be my son’s classmates in school next year.

Children who may not have parents like me, who can read aloud stories to them before bedtime, coach them with school-work. Not every parent can afford tuition. Can every child in the government school system be taught in a consistent manner and be given equal opportunity to learn?


As a parent, I appreciate educators and your efforts.

May this be a start of an open door to the conversations we can have as partners. I look forward to a positive working partnership in the months and years ahead.


Yours Truly,

Rachel Teo

Parent and Mom Blogger


So then how did Mr D respond to my comment on his thread in Facebook?

I must say, his reply was rather gracious.

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I am encouraged that the Singapore Educational system has educator influencers like Mr D who is able to see this objectively.


If you are a parent OR an educator, I would like to hear your thoughts. Do leave your comments.


To read more about what parents in my community of bloggers think about genre of fairy tales in general, here are posts for further reading :

BlogFather – The Fairy Tale Must End

4malmal – What we Learn from Rudolph


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  1. My daughters’ school described the STELLAR programme very clearly in a circular to all parents at the beginning of the school year. Perhaps your friend might want to suggest that her child’s school do the same. I think that if parents make an effort to cultivate a love for reading in their children, there should be no problems at all responding to and finding the relevance in stories, whether or not they have been exposed to that particular genre before.
    Jean´s last blog post ..Canada: Musee des Beaux-Arts de Montreal

  2. Hi Rachel. Actually, D was being ironic–his views were stated on the first post on his thread. I just thought it was worth pointing out, since we’re going on about reading in context.

    I’m also an educator, and i think (i hope!!) that most of us find the situation quite incredulously funny and terrible. I am sure enough of us appreciate that unconventional answers can be correct, too, and possibly more meaningful.

  3. Megan started her school’s Stellar programme in school at primary 3. It was very clearly put to parents that the programme focuses on learning the English language without using a typical textbook. It is a think out of the box kind of learning journey through the outdoors or group based projects. I guess in this instance, a teacher’s role comes to play in terms of creativity as well. Though I am not so sure if the topic concerned is a nation wide paper or was left to the devices of the school’s HOD to come up with a question like that. I’ve not personally come across any questions that were fairy tale related during the course of Megan’s school work. :)
    Adeline Oon´s last blog post ..Why, Yes. I Send My Kids To Tuition.

  4. My kids are not there yet, but looking at the kind of questions at primary level, I’m seriously worried. Will my kids be subject to these kind of questions when it’s their turn, or will it be worse? What is being done now to ensure that tests do not go overboard, bordering on the ridiculous? Is there a need to prepare my kids before they enter primary school? It’s no wonder even parents of pre-primary kids are getting extremely stressed. It’s all about giving their kids a head start, and hopefully, they don’t get such ridiculously difficult or absurd questions. Are we cultivating a love of reading and learning in our kids? Or a love of getting ‘As’?
    Winnie´s last blog post ..Review + Giveaway: Lavsuca’s Pink Label Umbrella Wet Bag

  5. The STELLAR program has been running for the lower primary kids for quite a long time now. I think maybe in some schools they ” assume” that the parent is aware of it as it is not a new system that has been currently rolled out by MOE. They use Big books to read out the stories in class which are followed up by worksheets and test set by the class teachers. There is a wide selection of books which is up to the school and it’s teachers to decide which books to use and to follow up. I personally will not be focusing on fairy tales with my kids as I feel that it would be better to focus on stories that impart good moral values and build up their understanding of the use of English instead.
    Dominique Goh´s last blog post ..[Book Review] Sticky Icky Booger Bugs

  6. I know Mr D and his friend personally. They are excellent educators who do their best to reach out to everyone in class, and even provide additional coaching and/ or socio-emotional support outside the classroom. They have touched many lives. More importantly, they are also parents with young children :)

  7. I fail to see the point of this quibble, fairy godmothers don’t turn people into snakes!

    I cant see why in order for this question to be tested, students must first be exposed to fair tales. Could it not similarly be said that, despite reading fairy tales, they are not taught the proposition that fairy godmothers don’t act in a manner that attracts opprobrium, and that turning someone into snakes is an act that attracts opprobrium? I cannot accept the proposition that students have to be taught all the requisite propositions leading up to an answer expected on a test. This blogger has to concede that there are propositions that do not need to be explicitly taught and that these propositions include fair inferences from common knowledge.

    It could also be said that going for an examination and receiving feedback is part of the learning process, it is inconceivable that the proposition (or similar propositions) that turning someone into snakes is an act that attracts opprobrium will be taught in class. But it is a fair inference that i think many would concede our students should learn to make.

    I do, however, concede that substantive knowledge on which exams are based on should in general be taught before being examined (at least at this stage of the educational system) but to categorise all requisite propositions to arrive at an answer as substantive knowledge as such is overly pedantic and would lead to a slippery slope.

    Winston Reply:

    Eh, you got a lot of proposition cannot accept leh. If you wants us parent bloggerz to understand you without attracting opprobrium, you prease to don’t speak like you’re addressing a roomful of Queen’s counsel lawyers can?

    Winston´s last blog post ..The Fairy Tale Must End

    Fairy godmother Reply:

    Actually when I was an intern fairy godmother, I had (by accident) turned a few people into snakes, frogs and other animals. I had since then learnt I was only suppose to do that if i graduated from the witches’ college.

    mela Reply:

    Why can’t a fairy godmother turn a handsome prince into a snake? Didn’t the good fairy at the beginning of Beauty and the Beast turn the handsome prince into a beast to teach him a lesson?!

    Or is Beauty and the Beast not part of the substantive knowledge that you are going on about?

    An indignant passer-by Reply:

    How can you simply assert that fairy godmothers can’t act in a way that attracts opprobium? Are you perhaps the queen of all fairy godmothers, flyingbobo? And how can you simply assert that turning a handsome prince into a snake is an act that attracts opprobrium? Don’t you realise that it is a slippery slope argument? It is precisely people like you who tries to force stiff sets of rules in this volatile world that stifles creative expression in our education system. On a side note, it is unnecessary to insert those jargons in your long paragraph because it only seeks to confuse the reader. It does not make yourself seem important, it just makes you seem pretentious.

  8. Perhaps it would be helpful to take a step backwards. We have heard much said about the competitiveness and unforgiving nature of our exam system. But specific reactions to this incident reflects the prevailing mindsets of educators, parents, students and society at large.

    My point is that exams are not the end point of education. Perhaps this is idealistic, and others may criticise that this is the system that we have created in Singapore. But as a parent who wishes to be different, and tries to do what is best for my child as well, I prefer to see learning as the end point of education.

    So how might I react to this situation? Well as this blogger as stated, I would address the first line issue of talking to the teacher and/or reassuring my child. But to take it a step further I would also teach my child that getting a question wrong is not the end of the world. While we strive for success, each source of failure is an opportunity to learn how to succeed. After all school is the best time to make mistakes. Despite the high-stake nature of our school system, we should keep things in perspective; this is not the PSLE or O levels. This couple of questions may not even mean much in the wider scheme of things.

    So what might we learn about life, especially life in Singapore through this experience? One as pointed out by the blogger is that we live in society and there are certain norms which we need to learn. This is not an excuse to conform and give in to notions of “1984”; we still desire that our child thinks creatively and challenges norms. Yet the reality is that we live in society, and in society we must accept that there are social norms. If we travel to a foreign land or country, we also need to make it a point to learn and adapt, and not insist in our way (Ref, please see online flaming of foreigners in Singapore).

    Second is that in life we need to learn, adapt and sometimes work within the system. It is nice if you can choose a life of independence. But most of us have to live in the real world, with bosses, customers, and organisational bureaucracies. Some might say we should not be shackled by conformity. But I am a realist, I prefer to work through the system to create the change I like to see. If my boss has a certain style, I adapt my work all the while seeking ways to inject my own ideas. This is not an excuse to compromise on my principles; but principles do not bring home the bacon. How we choose to balance this tension is something each parent will have to teach, and each child will have to learn. In this case, the ‘mistake’ can teach the child what is the norm, and how to game the system: to learn and adapt. Is that a bad thing? Isn’t this a behaviour we all practice under the guise of being ‘street smart’?

    Finally in the same vein, how do we stand up to unjust actions? How the child reacts to authority placed above them is an important life lesson. For those who are calling out the teacher, be careful. How you model the reaction to the teacher, is likely how your child will respond to authority in the future. That includes you. Will you always be in the right? What happens when you child is older and you are frail, will he correct you in love and patience, or ‘flame’ you for your stubbornness or incompetence? Teaching a child to stand up to principle and core values is very important, teaching them how is just as important.

  9. I think as parents, one should be more worried about whether the kid can fully understand and comprehend the meaning of fairy godmother than to worry that the education system is stifling his creativity.

    Not understanding the meaning of fairy godmother does not mean that the kid is creative.

    Even if a kid did not have prior knowledge of fairy tales, simply understanding the meaning of godmother would have made the difference.

    Its not about conforming to a system but rather what is logical or not.

  10. STELLAR was piloted in some primary schools for a few years. If I remember correctly, it was only being implemented in all primary schools in 2010 or 2011. I’m surprised that the school which your friend’s child is in did not inform the parents about STELLAR. I think they should do a proper introduction about the programme as most parents may not be aware of it. Having taught P1 STELLAR when I was still teaching, I don’t remember there was any Big Book that talked about fairy godmothers then… but I could be wrong. Anyway, I think those two questions mentioned in your previous post are simply badly-set questions.
    Ing´s last blog post ..Messy Play with Ice and Food Colouring