The Sunday Times today (1 June 2008) once again highlighted the "plight" of pre-school children having to go for enrichment classes 6 days a week during the holidays. Aptly named "Oh boy, no break for tots too?", it was really the 2nd part of another recent story, which was about how primary and secondary school students have to go for remedial lessons and extra classes during the June holidays.
Yet, right beside that story on the 2nd page was the story on "Parents up in arms over tough questions". In my very humble opinion, the Sunday Times has answered, in the same breath, its own question of why Singaporean parents are so obsessed with enrichment courses for the very young.
It is a fact that the Kiasu Singaporean Parent is a recent phenomenon which probably started in earnest in the early 90s. In the book written by Lana Khong in 2004, "Family Matters: The Role of Parents in Singapore Education", it was noted that "A major concern of many parents in Singapore is how well their children will perform in school learning tasks, what marks or grades they will obtain in school and national examinations and consequently which secondary school or junior college their children get admitted to. (Quah et al., 1997, p.319)". More tellingly, it noted that the "paternalistic and centrally-controlled education system" started its "New policy initiatives to engage parents in a tripartite partnership of home-school-community … only in 1998 when the then educational Minister emphasized “the tapping of parental resources for schooling, and the sharing of the responsibility for the education of children with parents as well as other ‘stakeholders’”".
Lana noted in her book that "Singapore schools today: survival of the fittest." This is the stark truth that we as parents know, given our own experience in our schools when we were young. The examination-oriented culture is enforced by schools who were also under pressure to perform in passing as many kids out as possible to meet their key performance indicators and receive better support from the Ministry. This pressure is in turn transferred to parents who have been encouraged by the Government to support the schools in trying out new pedagogical methods and to take a proactive approach in their children’s education.
We as parents know what it means if our children keep failing their tests despite their best efforts by themselves. How much space are we willing to give our children to continue trying to manage their schoolwork by themselves while exploring their own talents and things they like to do? Do we really have a choice, if the schools keep raising their bars and only the brightest of children can make the grades? Can you really blame us parents for pushing our children to their limits in the never ending quest for excellence imposed by our society?