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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Tame your Tongue…even when it isn’t fair.

The boy came back one Monday afternoon, clearly upset, as he was wrongly accused for something he didn’t do.

The story was; his form teacher confiscated his book (that I just bought for him over that weekend) as he was about to transfer it from under his desk into his bag. He tried to reason with his teacher that he was just trying to keep the book in his bag, and never attempted to read it during class time. But her response was, “I am sorry, but I have to confiscate this book.”

He then waited, 1 week after, the book didn’t come back.

2 weeks after the incident, the book didn’t return.

3 weeks after the incident, she likely forgot about it.

Despite K asking if he could get the book back from her, she answered “I will return it to you soon”, but we still didn’t see it 2 days after that. I decided to type out this message about how I felt about the incident;


I didn’t send this message, although this was exactly how I felt. Instead, I sent this one to her. Short and simple.

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And K got the book back the next day in school.

I told K that he just have to make sure that he keeps his story book in the bag during class time, in order to avoid this from happening again. It was not a fair judgement but he will have to comply to classroom rules.

Call it EQ, or realizing that it is NOT the right person I have to be assertive to, or simply just watching what comes out from my mouth, I just didn’t think that it was worth letting her know how I feel about the matter. Even though the boy wasn’t at fault from the start and this was the first time she thought she ‘caught’ him committing the offense.

Besides, I don’t want her to ‘mark’ K, or decide that this child has a very troublesome mother whom she doesn’t really like very much, and then decides to ignore him in class. I don’t know his form teacher well enough at this point to expect that she will not respond this way, if I were to send the first message.

So yes, my tongue is tamed.


Is it just age or wisdom?

Being a mom tames my tongue. Especially when you are corresponding with someone whom your child will be facing almost daily for the next 9 months in the coming year, so it is important to choose your words wisely when it comes to your child’s teachers.

Here are some words that I abide by from the book of Proverbs about watching what we say;

Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble – Proverbs 21: 23


A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. – Proverbs 15:1


Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him – Proverbs 29:20

and my all-time-favorite?

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits – Proverbs 18:21

This constantly reminds me to be conscious of what I say to my child. To use my tongue to ENCOURAGE and Build him up, NOT tear down.

So if you are saying things to your child like “You are stupid”, when you know your child is not very intelligent, or “You are a monster or a terror,” when he/she is a handful. Stop doing it.

Words can either cause DEATH; hopes, understanding, families, friendship, reputations or even death of marriages. Or LIFE; reconciliation, peace, encouragement, hope, love.

What would come out from your mouth today? Words that give LIFE or DEATH?


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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,

ChineseEnrichment 11 2 ChineseEnrichment 12 2

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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