I recently attended a talk by a top secondary school about the Direct School Admission (DSA) program, as well as its Integrated Program.
I was bored to death, because the speaker was just intent on telling parents how much they intended to fill every waking second of a student’s time with endless enrichment programs, team-building exercises and more homework.
We want every child to be a leader! Said the speaker. Such enthusiasm and hope, yet I had such cynicism simmering inside of me.
Erm, where is their time to play, hang out and meet people of the opposite sex? I thought, and later whispered to my wife.
This school’s rallying cry was rather different from our ACS ethos of “every student an officer, scholar and gentleman”, which was always an emphasis of character and values, rather than absolute results or salary scale.
Or a ridiculous expenditure of effort and time on over-preparation when you have no idea what the future looks like.
As an ACS boy and Christian parent, the only line that rings in my head constantly is “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
I’m constantly nagging at my children to do the same few things I want them to tell their own children – walk the straight path, and have integrity and grit while constantly asking God for his grace and wisdom to overcome this awful earthly life.
I do not want to inculcate in them that a person should spend his life obsessing about results, money or what people think of them via status symbols.
But we parents too, are assaulted by the effects of social media, old media, peer pressure, report books, and a thousand other things that drain ourselves of happiness, contentment and common sense.
I watched this Talking Point trailer today with much sadness. I do not know if the Primary Six girl or her parent know the consequences of revealing their private lives to the public, especially one which faithfully follows the path of so many Singapore parents.
But I felt even more despair about the foolish circumstances our children and parents have become trapped in :
Many Singapore parents have criticized this video in the FB video comments and while sharing it on social media.
But there will be even more who keep quiet and believe that having exhausted children mug all day long is good for their future.
I’ve had a long day, so let me get to the points I want to make.
1. You parents have no idea what the future is like.
Nobody in the schools, especially the bureaucrats who designed this education system, has any idea what the future is really going to turn out to be. Many civil servants have never actually sold something to someone, since their pay comes from our bountiful tax dollars. Yet they are tasked to teach entrepreneurship and creativity, an unfair task for anyone who has never worked outside of their gigantic, structured system.
By the way, just six years ago, there was no Apple iPad – today, tablets are already passe and commoditized. Taxi drivers now have to rely on apps for passengers, and no kid actually buys a printed newspaper or magazine.
Yes, education is important – to provide basic skills and expand the mind. But do not second-guess what is the job of the future. I believe lawyers and doctors will never be obsolete, but every other job is up for deletion by robots and A.I.
In my opinion, the only consistent tools for survival are the ability to keep learning, not be held back by outdated assumptions, and to build upon your innate strengths and aptitudes.
But you can only keep learning when you understand how to create and maximize your free time.
Said Jack Ma, the ridiculously successful Chinese guy : “I told my son: you don’t need to be in the top three in your class, being in the middle is fine, so long as your grades aren’t too bad. Only this kind of person [a middle-of-the-road student] has enough free time to learn other skills. I think, if China’s economy wants to develop, it needs a lot of SMEs and individually-run companies, and that requires a lot of entrepreneurs with values and drive.”
Values and drive, that’s our job to inculcate, and our children’s job to demonstrate.
2. Stop living your children’s life for them, according to what people tell you is right or important.
Are you making them go for all sorts of extra lessons because you think this will prepare them for the future and get a high-paying job?
Or do you want to burn them out before they can even sit for their A-levels?
Or are you just reading some kiasu parent forum and wondering if you are missing out? For you unhip parents, the modern term is FOMO, people – Fear of Missing Out.
Why are you doing all these things to your child?
3. Recognize that our education system is good in certain areas but questionable in foundation building.
I was puzzled when I read this recent letter from the Prime Minister’s press secretary to the New York Times.
To the Editor:
Gwee Li Sui’s “Politics and the Singlish Language” (Opinion, May 13) makes light of the government’s efforts to promote the mastery of standard English by Singaporeans. But the government has a serious reason for this policy.
Standard English is vital for Singaporeans to earn a living and be understood not just by other Singaporeans but also English speakers everywhere. But English is not the mother tongue of most Singaporeans. For them, mastering the language requires extra effort. Using Singlish will make it harder for Singaporeans to learn and use standard English. Not everyone has a Ph.D. in English Literature like Mr. Gwee, who can code-switch effortlessly between Singlish and standard English, and extol the virtues of Singlish in an op-ed written in polished standard English.
LI LIN CHANG
Hmmm, someone extolling the need to speak good English but writing a letter with less diplomacy and persuasiveness than one would expect of a press secretary.
Anyway, the problem is not Singlish, code-switching, or whatever.
The problem is that English is currently poorly taught in schools here – teachers rush through the curriculum, tuition is expected to be a given (even if teachers insist otherwise) and students are suddenly expected to write flowery, pointless passages by Primary 5 or 6.
They never get to know of literary giants such as Asimov, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury and all my sci-fi/horror heroes, but read lesser pulp fiction like Mockingjay (This is where I have to flee from my own kids).
And yeah, schools have largely treated Literature as a bane since it does not help their school rankings (which are never truly abolished).
Oh the horror, the horror.
4. The old ways aren’t always wrong.
I get tired of people telling me “Oh Ian, things are different now. You cannot expect kids to be taught the same way as when you were a child in the 1980s.”
But why do you assume the old ways are not better?
When I was a child in the 1980s, I had plenty of time to ride my bicycle, explore my neighbourhood, walk the dog, take TIBS buses to town and back on solo adventures, buy dinner for my family, read tons of books and comics, go swimming, watch movies with my Primary 4 friends, chit chat with them for an hour on the corded telephone, doodle on scraps of paper, and watch hours of SBC drama serials to learn the horrors of nasty villains and plucky coolies.
Please tell me what was wrong with my childhood, and those of my peers (many who seem to have forgotten).
Why should I accept and promote a childhood that is spent shuttling between endless classes, never seeing sunlight except during class PE lessons or DSA sports tuition, having not enough sleep (even though schools are now single-session!), being told I’m not good enough despite all that effort and so on.
Yes, I know there are millions of kids in China and India who will outwork and out-think our kids. What if these kids also end up being burnt out and with low self-esteem? Should we throw in our lot with them?
Frankly, my job as a parent is not to boil the ocean and ask my children to go be the best office executive they can be.
My job is to teach them integrity and values, and to remind them to never stop being the best they can be at what they want to be…. not what I, or some other adult wants them to be.
Please help me spread the word – we need to stop destroying our children’s future because of our own selfish or ignorant desires, shaped by our own peer pressure or uninformed view of the world.
Also published on Medium.