Singapore Parents and the Education System : A Parable (Part 1)

If you are familiar with the bible, I am sure you will know about the story of The Exodus. The story of how the Israelites left the oppression and slavery in Egypt led by Moses, into Canaan, a land promised by God for them that was ‘flowing with milk and honey’.

The story of Exodus isn’t just some bedtime bible story that I read to my child, or just something that happened in the old testament of the bible. This story is also symbolic to the journey that each of us have to go through our lives. How is it symbolic? Let me bring you through how the story of Exodus can be applied like a parable of sorts, to this topic that most parents are concerned about for their children in this country; their school-going children and their future through the Singapore Educational System.

The exodusIllustration from this site

Just this past weekend, my friend and fellow mom blogger, Sarah blogged about what she felt was wrong with Singapore’s Educational System. Coming from ex-teacher who used to be in the system, she brought up relevant issues about the flaws of a ranking system of teachers and schools and the concerns of ‘the seemingly depressed state of students and people we have in Singapore, in spite of us having life good here’.

Sarah shared very disconcerting figures of a ‘study of over 600 children aged between 6-12 in Singapore, researchers found that 22% indicated that they harboured intentions to commit suicide or held suicidal tendencies…PSLE week alone this year, I heard of two separate cases of attempted suicide by tweens. I believe the depressed state and unhappiness in our children is a reflection of the adults in the society too. The failure to meet standards set by a system seems to drive people – children and adults- to despair of themselves.’

I will be using these very points to illustrate how these rather depressing state of things with our education system that many have experienced in real life, that can be related to Exodus story from 1441BC.

The Taskmaster

Egypt is a picture of the land of slavery.

Screen Shot 2013 10 22 at 10 23 26 AM

How is that related to the ‘system’? The education in Singapore doesn’t quite liberate people, or so we like to think that it does. In fact, it has proven to have cause depression in many of the children through their stringent standards, in some teachers in the system, even parents encouraging angsty behavior in their kids which they believe will be cathartic in their relief of stress.

Many parents feel powerless over the system and are pressured by the demands of the system. Most cannot help but to weigh their children down with the additional burdens of tuition classes just to keep up with the standards of the system, especially when their kids fail to catch up. There is this other side of the coin, where we have parents who take pride in their children’s academic achievements, and will ensure that tuition will help them get one step ahead of their classmates in class, ace the system and qualify for the GEP scheme.

Many parents are focused on ensuring that their children do well in the system, until they ignore the burdens that they have placed on them, which will eventually wear their spirits down. Eventually, some children get depressed, some start to detest going to school, and lose their motivation towards learning.

Why will parents burden their children with expectations of over-achievements at a young age? All just to conform to the societal expectations.

I see the irony of all ironies through this; education has always been a key factor to empower people in a society and improve lives. And it provides plenty of social benefits for individuals in a society at large; so that people will have the ability to take care of themselves and consequently create a better society to live in.

How did something so positive for a society turn into a cruel task-master? A cruel task-master will only be able to fulfill its role, when it has willing slaves. After all it takes two to tango.

I am sounding like a disillusioned parent? Well, I took the idealistic and hopeful stance the last time. But being a realist most other times, I know this present state of things will not be able to address these current plagues / problems.

Some parents think that it will all get better in the next decade, since there have been much discussions about creating a holistic education. Call me a cynic, but I don’t see added responsibilities and KPIs on the teachers as an improvement. I think this system is  in a dire need for an overhaul and reform, and it will take too much effort for changes to be implemented in the short term.

Leaving Egypt

‘Mindsets need to be changed in this partnership of educating children’, this was what Mr Heng Sweet Keat (Minister of Education) urged some parents to do during the last round-table discussion.

Here are some ways I think mindsets can be changed, and how change will help parents depart ‘Egypt’ and break the chains of control from this cruel task-master. This can only happen f you have the courage to consider a new paradigm.

As long as you stay with the task-master and are too afraid to make the change in your mindset, you will always feel powerless, and your children will continue to be slaves to the system that are weigh down by burdens that are hard to bear.

If we want to break the power ‘task-master’ have over us, we need to start cutting off what it feeds on. Don’t just follow the crowd and be ‘kiasu’ that your child will lose out.

So what are the consequences of these burdens, and what is feeding the taskmaster?

Parental Attitudes

1. Pride in Achievements and Success – it makes us feel good. Who doesn’t want a child that is in a good school, who has good results. Even better if he/she is smarter than the neighbors, a child that tops his/her class, and you wouldn’t feel embarrass sharing his/her academic achievements with the relatives during Chinese New Year gathering.

Will we ever come to a point where we will be able to forgo our pride, and stop worrying about what people think about us or our children?

Maybe. Only when it gets bad and our kids becomes victims, then we will stop feeding our pride.

2. Fear of Failure – From a society that has anti-failure bias, failure is like the worse thing that can happen to a person. When a child fails, a parent feels responsible for that failure. So we will do whatever it takes in order to avoid failure, even when the standards set are no more realistic.

Besides, achieving good results as a positive outcome from education, have always opened the path to a promise of a better life. A life where we are likely have a better chance at making more money, own bigger houses and cars and take more family vacations. Isn’t that what most of us in this country hope to achieve?

Children have to learn Failure

Whatever happened to the concept of school years being a good time to allow failure to happen? Children in school are suppose to have people who can support the child to help them figure out how it happened and how they can learn to do differently. If school is not helping with that, then parents need to step up to take the responsibility to help their children along with it, and not give add on to the burden of high achievements and their refusal to accept any form of failure.

If we don’t allow our children to fail in a safe environment, we are not giving them the tools to be independent and they will never learn to be self-sufficient. Our goal as parents is to help our children to a point where they are responsible for themselves, learn the consequences of their actions and decisions, as much as possible.

Are you going to wait for the ‘plagues’ like depression, a fear of school, rebellion against parental direction or attempted suicide to happen, before you are convinced that it is time change your mindset to do the Exodus and leave ‘Egypt’?

Screen Shot 2013 10 21 at 4 57 03 PMIllustration from here

How can you tell if you have a slave mentality? When you are ruled by societal standards telling you what’s good or bad for your child.

Do you think we will get any help if the burdens of the system gets too much for our children and child becomes a victim of the hard task-master of the education system?

By then, we will be left to our own devices to try to pick up the pieces.


An additional note for fellow Christians :

The first step in leaving ‘Egypt’ (slavery mindset) is to get your thinking in line with God’s. In black and white below, the word says that we have to take every thought, every reasoning of doubt, unbelief, thinking and worrying excessively, all captive and turn it around to match His word.

Screen Shot 2013 10 21 at 6 25 55 PMIllustration from here

Step out in faith and believe that God truly has a ‘Promised land’ for you and your children. Most of us are not trained to think this way, to go in a different direction against the tide. However when making the change, you might discover that this could turn out quite different from what the world tells you what you must do for your children.

Will you still follow the world’s ways when you realize that the world’s ways truly are NOT God’s ways and you have been called to head a different direction?

Part II of the post tomorrow….on how I have started to leave ‘Egypt’. And NO, it has nothing to do with Home-Schooling.

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  1. Hi Rachel,

    I have to agree on your point, where you talk about the children having to learn failure. How many times have we parents tried to find tutors for our children, for the fear of them doing badly in school and in examinations? Perhaps, what we need is failure, to know how to succeed. For many of us, we do not even know failure, much less on how to recover from a failure. This is what I feel is lacking in Singapore children nowadays.

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  2. Thanks author for your helpful tips and article to Singapore Parents and the Education System, Really very helpful post and information.
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  3. Best environment to stimulate learning should be at home. However, this is not always possible and it does not come naturally to parents. Because of that fact parents with school children pay for private or home tuition in Singapore.