In Pursuit of Singapore’s Best Primary School Part 1

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As we are a few weeks away from the long awaited Primary 1 registration exercise, I have done some ‘home-work’ for parents who will be making the selection this year for their K2 children.

This post will focus on the ‘truth’ behind Elite schools. In order to find out the truth, I go straight to the source; teachers who are parents themselves, with children in the school system and have taught in these schools.

What is the motivation behind a post like that? If you have been following my blog for some time, you would know that a post of this angle is not motivated by ‘sour grapes’. My hb’s alumni was an extremely popular Chinese SAP school, but I eventually went with a ‘regular’ primary school or a school with an inclusive programme. You can read this post; Prelude to Primary 1 for yourself.

My objective writing this post is to help parents make well-informed decisions for their children, choosing the best primary school for your child can either help / plague the child’s next 6 years in Primary school.

The word ‘best’ is very subjective. Some parents version of ‘best’ is that place a child’s learning potential is maximized, and the child can have a better chance to top the PSLE results nationally. While my ‘best’ is simple, the school needs to fit my child’s learning abilities, and has a positive environment to cultivate my child’s learning and my child is happy being in the school. And most of all, do not create unnecessary feelings of stress and inadequacies in a parent.

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In order to get a clearer insider take of elite schools, I interviewed two Primary School teachers who had past experience teaching in elite schools.

Why I didn’t enroll my child in a Chinese SAP school.

‘To start with, I know my kids well, there are not great in the Chinese language. I am also concerned that this over-emphasis on one language ultimately results in poor result for both English language and Chinese.

SAP schools tend to assume that the children get plenty of extra help outside of school and thus teacher will not go at the students’ pace. The environment is too stifling and competitive. Not good for overall growth and development.

I don’t want my child to cultivate the elitist mentality. And besides, the standard of education of SAP has been going down the drain since the focus have been shifted to chasing awards, over the development of the children. Generally the overall standard of educating the whole child is compromised, due to an overemphasis on certain things like the Chinese language and the school’s pursuit for recognition.

Some parents like that the children learn prose and poems in Chinese so that they can learn good values. But the reality is that all school teach good values. You just need to look at the school’s handbook and I don’t think that is inferior in anyway. A child’s value system is inculcated with practical modeling and practice at home, we can’t depend solely on a school to teach that. 

There are parents who think that these SAP schools push the child to their best potential. But with that, there is a danger of hot-housing, and no child can thrive in a pressure-cooker environment. The child will likely NOT get the support he/she needs in school.

What happens when target is set too high? The child gives up trying after a while.  Their standards in these schools continually increase year on year. For a Primary 1 child, it is normal to see the child being tested on Primary 2 and 3 things on various subjects. How do you motivate a person, what more a child, with continually high and moving standards?

It functions just like a corporation.’

– Mom with children in the Primary School System. Teaching for 10 years; 2 years in a Chinese SAP School, 8 years in schools with inclusive programmes. 


Read Part 2 of this post for the interview of another Primary School teacher.

Here is MOE link on Primary 1 Registration Phases and Procedures

Here are more posts on our Primary 1 journey;

Primary 1 Orientation – What to Expect

Primary 1 – The First Two Days The Pocket Money Challenge

Primary 1 in an Inclusive Programme


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The Problem with Technology

I am worried about how children deal with technology.

As a blogger mum and someone who spends half her life in a day online multi-tasking checking Facebook, updating statuses, emailing, texting, googling, while working online all at the same time. Technology has been a very useful and helpful invention, but a dangerous one as well, if we do not make an effort to regulate our usage of it.

The past week, two challenges have been thrown in my path to highlight the problem of technology and to test how I should manage it with my child.

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Minecraft or Nightmares?

The first one was a call from the teacher who called me one evening, to ask if K was going through any difficulties at home. Her feedback was K seemed listless and could not focus in class for the past 2 weeks. He didn’t used to be like that and she wondered if his changes in behavior had anything to do with some issues at home.

My first assumption was, his mind could be distracted by plans for the upcoming weekend, thinking of things to build in the ‘Minecraft’ game on PS3.

After the call, I told K that I just spoke to his teacher on the phone, and he burst into tears. I calmly asked him why he was facing this problem in school and probed if it was his obsession with Minecraft that he was distracted with, or was it something else?

He told me that he wasn’t able to keep up in class as he has been feeling really tired, since he has been waking up numerous times at night due to disturbed sleep. I recalled that the past 2 weeks, he has been going to bed close to 9.30-9.45pm daily. And deep into the night, I have been woken up by his sleep talking and watched him tossed and turned in his sleep.

So was it his distraction with Minecraft or disturbed sleep affecting him in school? We prayed to give him restful sleep that night, and I will be evaluating his time spent on PS3 and iPad on the weekends.

He spends an average of 1.5 – 2 hours each Saturday and Sunday playing on games PS3, or watches Mindcraft videos on iPad. On weekdays, he is not allowed to play games and watches about 1.5 hours of TV a day.

Should I be reducing his time spent on the weekends on the gaming console and iPad further? It is tempting, but I think I will be exploring other measures before deciding.


The One with the Naked Women on Youtube

The second one was with a neighbour whom K has been playing with for the past week, a Korean American boy, J.

It is a routine for K to visit the estate’s playground 3 times a week from 5 – 7pm, however since mid last week, J (who rarely joins in with the rest of the children in the playground) came to our door on evening, asked if K could go to his house to play. Seeing that he was a year younger than K, I allowed K to go to his home twice last week, without supervision

Yesterday early evening, J came to our door with his domestic helper. His domestic helper said that J’s mum was very angry as she found a video on her iPad of ‘Naked women’ and implied that K was the one that influence J to see this, since J cannot spell.

A convenient assumption as the older child will always be blamed for influencing the younger one, and what a way to acquaint yourself with your child’s friend’s mum…


I questioned the boys, both denied it. The exchange between the two boys consisted of K’s teary and worked up response of, “He was the one with the iPad, why would I want to see naked women. He went to the closet, ask me to go inside with me and watched the iPad. I want to vomit when I see that!” While J, said with a straight face said, “It is not me, I am not lying. He is the one.”

I told J’s domestic helper that the iPad cannot be used by a child unsupervised and moving forth, K will not be visiting their home and vice versa for J. If J wants to meet K, he can see him downstairs at the playground.

After they left, I asked K when this happened and why he didn’t tell me about it. He said the incident happened when he was in J’s room. J got the iPad, climbed into the closet and told K to go with him. Then told him, “This naked woman video is so cool.” According to K, he closed his eyes while J finished watching the video on the iPad. K didn’t tell me about the incident as he was afraid that I would scold him for that.

Now, as a parent, will you choose to trust your child? Or someone else’s report of your child? Hearing K’s side of the story, he is either telling the truth or a really good liar.


Could this be my child’s problem?

K isn’t an ‘angel’ but I understand him well enough to know that ‘Naked woman’ pictures will have no appeal for him. I don’t think he is even curious about this, since he has seen pictures of this nature through paintings and art. We have a barely dressed woman picture on the wall in the bathroom, another statue of the same kind in our weekend home, both of which we have discussed about before.

And supervising his use of iPad and online, the ‘viewing history’ for the device has never shown that he has ventured into videos or website of this nature.

His time online is so limited, that I think he would spend his time seeing the blocky, half naked Minecraft characters in their ‘printed-hearts’ underpants, than real-life photos of barely dressed women.


I chose to trust my son and this incident confirmed that K should stop going to J’s house.

If J’s mum thinks that my child is the one with the problem, so be it. I just hope she manages this with her son and not conveniently sweep it under the carpet. I don’t think she would accept any form of advise from me to supervise J’s usage of her iPad, since her conclusion is that K is the one influencing her child.


The Problem with Technology

Now I wonder, why would 6-7 year olds be interested in pictures of naked women?

Unsupervised use of technology is likely the culprit for this issue, since video pictures of naked people can be randomly featured in Youtube without a child knowing how to search for it in Google.

In a poll done in October 2013 about the use of internet, 94% of parents interviewed said that they allowed their kids unsupervised access to at least one device or online service like email or social networks. Most parents allow their kids access to gaming consoles and computers at eight eight. When it comes to kids under the age of seven;

– 41% of parents allow them to use a gaming console unsupervised

– 40% allow unsupervised access to a computer

– 29% of parents unsupervised use of a mobile apps

Spending half of my life online daily, I am fully aware of the dangers that lurk online for a child, as well as the risk with children being addicted to gaming or handheld devices.

Apart from limiting his time spent on the gaming console or iPad. It will be hard for K to get rid of me while he uses any technology device, at least for the next decade, since I will be watching him with eagle eyes to ensure that he never dabbles with questionable sites or videos.


Do share! Do you supervise your child’s use of technology? How many hours does your child get to be on the iPad or on the gaming console daily? How old do you think the child should be before parents can cease to supervise their online / gaming usage? 


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Harder. Better. Faster.

Before you start to get any weird ideas about this post, this picture will help you to visualize what this post is all about.


I have been dropped a bomb that I have to try harder to coach Kyle in Chinese by his enrichment teacher, as he is way behind his classmates in Chinese enrichment class. Enrichment class is filled with children who attend Chinese SAP Schools, most who have strong proficiency of the language.

With disbelief I say this; the Chinese SAP School still continues to haunt me even when I made the decision not to put K in my hb’s alumni.

Seeking external help for your child in academics has become an issue of economics. K and another girl in this enrichment class are just about the only ones that don’t attend these schools. So they are the minority, majority demands will always win, as demand translates to dollars and cents for the school.

And I have learnt that not coaching your child with an advance syllabus ahead of what is taught in school, puts him/her in a disadvantage position in Enrichment Class.


This is what I discovered

The enrichment teacher highlighted that the school is only 1 lesson ahead of what is taught in school. I had to clarify what ‘school’ he was referring to, and the teacher mentioned the names of 2 Chinese SAP schools located in the central/west.

This is taught in a P1 enrichment class;

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The worksheets in Pri 1 Enrichment Class consist of written activities for i) Re-arranging the sentence, ii)Choosing the right chinese character iii)Comprehension with multiple choice, added with 3 more written comprehension questions.

There is no way he is able to do this by himself, without having the teacher sit next to him and guide him letter by letter, word by word.

No wonder the enrichment teacher told me that he needed to catch up, having a slower child like K in the class disrupts group instruction!

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There is also 1.5 pages of read-aloud passage for the child. I can confidently say that he can only read less than 10 high frequency words in this passage.

Err.. I think looking at this, enrichment school at least 6-12 months ahead of the MOE curriculum!

My conclusion : if u are a parent with a child in a Chinese SAP school, rejoice and do a dance. Your child is close to 1 year ahead of the other children who attend all other schools that follow the MOE syllabus.

As for those who plan to put you child in Chinese SAP school next year or the year after. Its-time-to-PANIC, cos if by any chance your child is like mine, and to make the situation worse, throw in a ‘potato/banana’ mum…your child first year in Primary 1 is about to make you very miserable.


What to do?

I was extremely stressed when I went through the worksheets. The reality is that the gap is tremendous, despite coaching him with Chinese at home.

We have to try many times harder than we are doing now with Chinese home-learning, till we get Chinese characters coming out of our eyes and ears.  I think i will need to get a tuition teacher for K to catch up with Enrichment class.

Does it make sense to be paying for supplementary classes and then working very hard with home learning to ensure he is on par with his classmates standards in enrichment class? Will it make me feel better if he is months ahead (like 12 months…) of his classmate in his school?

Maybe I am the confused parent here. Enrichment likely means ‘further enhancement of already capable standards’ or ‘help for children taking higher Chinese’. I somehow understood that incorrectly.

So instead of taking the jump to look for an alternative group tuition/enrichment classes. I called the teacher and told him that we will move K down a level to K2. What matters is that the pace at K2 is good for him, since it scaffolds his learning and still challenges his learning of the Chinese language.

Here’s Enrichment Class worksheet at the K2 level,

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For those unfamiliar with the MOE syllabus of Chinese, the first 2 semesters of P1 are focused on teaching the children HYPY, Chinese Character recognition does not come in until the last two terms of the year. That is, if your child does not attend a Chinese SAP School.

Incidentally, I found a video on Youtube with the same title as this post; ‘Harder, Better, Faster’ by Daft Punk. The video really ties in with the theme of the pursuit of high achievement in Singapore’s societal culture. You will need to watch the video to the end, to get the gist of the subliminal messages from the song.

Once your children join the Singapore production line, feelings of insecurity and insufficiency will be thrown in as a bonus!


P.S. Don’t ask me what Enrichment school this is, as I am NOT going to divulge the name of the school.

Update 13 Mar PM – I would not say that this is a bad school. K enjoys the format of teaching in this school, as the children learn through games, songs and stories also at P1, and the teachers are caring. I wouldn’t know this problem if the teacher didn’t bother to highlight to me, he could have easily cater to the rest and ignore him in class. It is still a good enrichment school, as I don’t wish to judge the enrichment school as ‘not being a good enrichment school’ just because the class is not catered to one child, my child.

Another March Giveaway!

It’s giveaway month in March, as it is the month of K’s birthday and he is turning 7 very soon! So we want to celebrate with friends who have been reading Catch FortyWinks Blog.

I will be picking 3 random winners from the comments below, so do leave a comment for me and you might be one of the 3 people who will win one of these sets of Chinese Picture Books! Giveaway CLOSED.

Congratulations M Lim, Nancy Cheng and Winnie, you have won a set of Chinese Picture Books each. I will be dropping you an email about your win. 

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