Singapore Parents and the Education System : A Parable (Part 2)

Read Part 1 of the Post here.

Let’s say that you were locked in a prison cell, sound asleep, then your Saviour unlocks your prison cell, as well as the cell of others. You wake up and are told by a guard that you are now free to go. You still, remain waiting there, behind the bars, inside your prison cell. You see other prisoners walking about leaving the prison cell, despite being told you are now free. You wait.

Are you still going to wait when you realize that you have new-found freedom that have released you from these chains, that have held you bondage for so long to the cruel task-master?

Think about this : In that journey that tens of thousands of Israelites took in the wilderness after they took the step to leave Egypt, it took them 40 years to get to the Promised land of ‘Milk and Honey’ Canaan. Many died in the wilderness.

As for those who went on to take the land of Canaan, it was all very promising when they saw the vast resources and food that were in Canaan. Many were focused on the Giants that resided in the land and were stumbled by that fear of facing the Giants. Only some saw the hope and went on to conquered their fear and went on to Canaan. While there were also others who died in the wilderness and failed to reach the Promise Land.

You must be thinking, “What a way to continue the post, after telling people to take the step to leave ‘Egypt!”

If you were focused on the ones that failed to get to the Promised Land, then you will be likely focused on your negative thoughts, be paralyzed by the current situation, and will be unable to make any step of change.

How about the ones that finally conquered the Promised Land?

Promiseland1Illustration from here

For those who conquered Canaan, the Promised Land. It was not a typical war of conquest, like what we read throughout human history, of violent warfare and pillage. All the Israelites have to do was to follow God’s instructions, and it did all go well in the end.

So did I tell you to fight against the system? Obviously not. All I did in the last post was to encourage you to change your mindset and think differently.

And if you are a fellow Christian, have you started to reflect on the world’s ways of telling you how to raise your children, is truly in line with God’s ways?

Do the Exodus

Some parents did the ‘Exodus’ by homeschooling. However, this is not the panacea for all. I am for one, who will not be able to take the home-schooling option and will be putting my child through a regular government school.

So how have I taken the first step to leave ‘Egypt’?

First, I made a choice to go with a ‘regular’ school vs a top choice in the neighborhood, which incidentally, hb was an alumni of the latter. If you were to compare the popular choice, i,e, a top chinese school located in Marine Parade with what I have decided to go with, the final choice will be perceived as an inferior selection. There were even places leftover that were not taken up from this school at the last day of phase 2C, so go figure.

It must be a lousy school then.

I like to see it as ordinary, not lousy, as there are still plenty of benefits of being ordinary in this situation.

As for tuition, I am not sure how long I can’t keep that away from my child. So if a need arises for additional coaching, so be it.

I will still encourage my child to put in his best effort to learn from school. If he encounters failure, it will be a good opportunity to learn from his failure and to build his resilience. There will be no burning of books or homework at the end of major exams. As it is just school and exams, there isn’t a necessity to make such a big deal out of it. And if relatives at family gatherings ask me about his results. All they are going to hear from me, will be “Okay lor…”

The Journey into the Wilderness

I have just started traipsing through the wilderness and will likely be getting to the thick of things from mid of next year.

I like to think that with this mindset change, I am taking a chance for a better life for my child and for myself, as a parent. My eyes are wide open to the false comforts and security of what the society thinks is best for my child. The picture painted for all may seem very promising, but I have stared ugliness of the world’s ways and standards in the face, and seen how she has been a harsh task-master for many children and parents.

Just like it was in the story of the Exodus, there will be some time spent in the Wilderness.

But it takes too long! You say. I would be lying if I were to tell you that you can get ‘Your Best Life Now.’. Good things will come to those who wait patiently, and persevere.

Screen Shot 2013 10 22 at 1 20 00 PM

Nobody ever said that it was easy to leave conventional mindsets and adopt a differing mindset.

It took the Israelites 40 years of wandering around the desert before they reached Promised land of Canaan. In ancient days, the trip from Egypt to Canaan would have taken them 11 days at the most, considering that they had so many people, triple that and make it 33 days.

The journey took them so long simply because they refuse to be in tune with God plans for them. They were a stubborn, disobedient, rebellious, stiff-necked people who complained incessantly and were constantly ungrateful for the good things that God did for them. In fact, one generation failed to get into the Promised Land, simply because of idolatry.

So after hearing all of this. Is it better to die with the chains around your ankles in slavery or take the step into the wilderness and believe that there is a Promised Land that can be conquered? It is a choice that each of us have to decide for ourselves and our children.

What kind of mindset are you living with today?

Is your mindset going to make you feel trapped and powerless under the bondage of not accepting failure from your child? Or are you just concerned about what people, relatives, friends think about you and your children?

When you eventually decide to take that step out of ‘Egypt’, will you have an attitude that will get you to the Promised Land in DAYS or in YEARS?

The step that will carry you into the Promised Land is that very same step that moves you out of Egypt. Are you able to take that leap to change your mind?


A note for fellow Christians :

Your feet may get weary when you are walking away from ‘Egypt’ and pressing towards the Promised land. If you are battling doubt, fear, hopelessness, insecurities, whatever it may be that will take your mind captive. Remember, just like what God has promised the Israelites through the wilderness. God will carry you safely in His arms, shower manna from the heaven and supply water for you to quench your thirst from the rock. Most of all, He has promised your freedom from that captivity.

When His son, Jesus, died on the cross, you were set free. All you need to do is to claim your freedom.

Screen Shot 2013 10 22 at 4 00 39 PMIllustration from here


Linking up with
new button

Share it:

Related posts:

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.

Linking up with

Share it:

Related posts:

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.

Screen Shot 2013 09 21 at 11 32 42 AM

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


Share it:

Related posts: