Has our results-oriented education system robbed our kids of their childhood?

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By: Michael Han

Singapore is one of the few countries where our children are growing faster than the average adult.

For the adult of the baby boom, that is, the 60s, 70s and early 80s, after we complete our studies, that is, the PSLEs, GCEs and degrees, we are off to work. Thus far, at a superficial glance, nothing has changed.

But at 46, and Iooking back at my youth (mid 70s and 80s), I don’t recall that much stress in my early years of education. Not much tuition (in fact, I didn’t receive any). Not much supplementary lessons and definitely no enrichment classes.

We played hard, enjoyed our childhood and ran around the neighbourhood chasing, catching and hiding. Times were easier then. Life as a child was freer. More importantly, I don’t recall my parents being that stressed out by my grades. Neither were they ashamed of my average results when meeting the neighbours and friends.

Yet, left to our own devices, my siblings and I did reasonably well. We were late bloomers no doubt, but bloomed we did in our own unhurried, self-nurtured ways. Now, we all have children of our own and the academic heat is sadly turned on for them.

Today’s news speak of a different Singapore. It speaks of a Singapore where time is biased towards performance, efficiency and excellence. If adults at work are expected to do well, secure that contract, meet that quota or beat that competition, I can somehow understand why. No matter how you see it, we are still a first-world Economy with a first-world government. We are thus mature enough to handle the stress and challenge, or should be at least prepared for it.

But when all these things, that is, the paper chase and the unrealistic expectations, are somehow imposed on our children who are still struggling to make sense of the world, that’s a different ballgame altogether.

Alas, we have created an overscheduled child, a child whose will, growth and hope are bend to comply and serve the society’s ambition and targets. The rat-race starts even before they can appreciate the world around them.

As such, the home has become a factory. The manufacturing process is tuition and more tuition. The production quota is grades excellence. And the product is a high-performing, results-oriented and grades-hungry student/child.

Sadly, the relationship or bond is more about the carrot and stick, and less about love and understanding, fun and bonding.

Keeping up with the Joneses in Singapore means keeping up with the facade and hope that our child will flower at the society’s dictated pace. And no child is left behind means that should our child be left behind because of his grades, then his future and role in society is lamentably foregone.

He/she will be quietly laughed at, discreetly mocked and shunned, and most likely, he/she will struggle at the bottom of the pyramid of success and wealth acquisition. This is the implied message an enlightened, elitist society like ours is trying nobly to deny with self-frustrating results.

Our drive or obsession to make every child an academic success has turned into a national frankenstein-esque experiment where parents rush headlong and quite mindlessly to saturate every waking moment of their child’s growing years with grades-advancing/enhancing programs. This singlemindedness is personally frightening.

Dr Timothy Chan, director of SIM Global Education’s academic division, said: “Our meritocratic culture has made education here more competitive. To a large extent, academic performance has an impact on the education opportunities available for a student in his or her next phrase of studies. Thus it is no surprise that parents send their kids for tuition, whether or not their kids actually benefit from attending extra classes.”

Lesson? It is reported in the papers today that “Singaporeans are spending a staggering $1.1 billion a year on tuition…This is nearly double the $600 million households here spent in 2004.”

I guess our first-world economy is heading towards a high-maintenace, high-expectation and high-performance society.

One author timely cautioned “parents about the effects of overplanning a child’s life, which could eventually lead to anxiety, lack of problem-solving skills and lack of creativity, among other problems” (child psychiatrist Alvin Rosenfeld, author of “The Over-scheduled Child”).

Let me end with this. Some time ago, I brought my children to T3, Changi Airport. We went up to the highest floor, level 2 where the departure entrance was. It was huge and we let our children run free.

It was at this time that I noticed my 11-year-old daughter playing a game she claimed she had invented. It was a simple, costless game. The tiles on the floor were divided into the colored and the non-colored ones. My daughter then hopped and skipped from one colored pattern to another, avoiding the “lava” that is the non-colored patterns.

She was giggling and having so much fun that her younger sister and older brother all joined in the game. They were playing carefreely. They wanted to “stay alive” for the longest time. It was a competiton to see who would outlast who. The fun was infectious. Passerbys were smiling with them as they monkeyed around with each other, jumping, hopping and skipping.

It was then that I thought to myself: “Have we as their parents stolen their childhood from them to offer it at the altar of success as defined by society, and neglected to work together with them to discover the enduring success that is shaped and guided by our love, devotion and hope for them?”


Republished from Michael Han’ FB.