Big fish in small pond OR small fish in big pond?

Parental influence on children in the first 12 years of their lives have a permanent effect. Unfortunately, children come with no user manual. Each child is different from the other. Discuss how to handle emotional and educational needs of your child here.

Big fish in small pond OR small fish in big pond?

Postby ngl2010 » Wed Jul 13, 2016 7:30 am

Apparently the answer depends on the child's ability.

http://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/is-the-highest-ranked-school-the-right-one-for-your-child

quote wrote:
Ask: NUS Economists

Is the highest-ranked school the right one for your child?
Roland Cheo For The Straits Times


Q Is the highest-ranked school the right school for my child?

A As a Singaporean economist working on issues in education, I am often asked by parents to recommend the best school for their children. Invariably, what such parents were really asking me was to identify a highly ranked school that their child had a decent chance of getting into.

But this raises a dilemma - is a highly ranked school really the most suitable school for a child?

Adults may recall school environments as idyllic places, but we forget that classrooms have now become arenas where fierce competition takes place among classmates.

In today's schools, students take part in academic tournaments where better test results, compared to those of their peers, bring greater opportunities for scholarships and allow access to better schools. Those who do not excel in these tournaments may lose their incentive to compete and ultimately drop out of the academic race altogether.

This is where my work provides some guidelines for parents weighing the pros and cons of being in a more competitive school.

Last year, a fellow researcher, Mr Yoshio Kamijo, and I conducted a two-day experiment where we first tested the maths ability of 132 Secondary 2 students in a school in Shandong, China, through maths pre-tests on the first day.

Afterwards, we categorised the performance of our students into four groups, based on those pre-tests: low maths ability, average maths ability, high maths ability and a mixed group with low-, average- and high-ability students in one class.

We were interested in comparing the performance of students in a mixed class with those in a class with similar-ability students.

Our experiment aimed to see how students in each class performed in another maths test given on the second day, under a competitive environment where winners received rewards and losers were given punishments.

The point of the exercise was to investigate whether being grouped with similar- or dissimilar-ability students mattered to students of different abilities.

Just like a scientific experiment, by controlling for their pre-ability, their performance in our competition captured how such students responded to the knowledge of competing against similar or weaker/stronger opponents.

Our final results were not that surprising. We compared the results of students in the mixed class with similar-ability peers.

We found that those in the mixed class had different reactions towards their competitors depending on their ability level: the low-ability students were discouraged and performed poorly, the middle-ability students were more motivated and did better in a mixed class than in a class with similar-ability students, while for the high-ability students, no real difference was seen.

The difference in performance was significant.

On average, low-ability students in a mixed class scored 25 per cent lower than low-ability students in a homogeneous group, while middle-ability students in a mixed class scored 12 per cent more than their counterparts in a homogeneous group.

Some of these results confirm what education economists have predicted. Particularly, we observe that low-ability students find it too costly to expend greater effort to win against superior opposition (simply because stronger opponents have lower costs of effort while they also place a higher value on winning than the low-ability student).

What is surprising from our experiment is that middle-ability students outperform their peers if placed against superior competitors.

Perhaps an explanation for this result is that the performance gap between average-ability and high-ability students is not too great, and middle-ability students are willing to expend greater effort, especially because they value winning more than high-ability students.

Our results show that average-ability students are more likely to perform better when placed in classes with higher-ability students, while those with lower ability will only falter.

This suggests that we need to consider where a child will stand in his class, whether it is a neighbourhood school or a more prestigious one.

Given your child's ability, going to a prestigious school may place him "below average" in his class. This might discourage him from competing with the better students because of the wide performance gap.

However, if the gap is not too wide between himself and the high-performers, this might actually motivate your child to perform better in a higher-ranked school.

If your child might be one of the weaker students in a prestigious school, and you know that he does not appreciate competition, then perhaps it would be best that you choose a neighbourhood school where your child will be among better students.

Therefore, it is not always true that the higher-ranked school is the right school.

Actually, the right school is the one where the student can perform at his best.

• The writer is a professor at The Centre for Economic Research, Shandong University and a visiting fellow in the Department of Economics, National University of Singapore.

• This is a monthly series by the NUS Department of Economics. Each month, a panel will address a topical issue. If you have a burning question on economics, write to stopinion@sph.com.sg with "Ask NUS" in the subject field.


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Re: Big fish in small pond OR small fish in big pond?

Postby slmkhoo » Wed Jul 13, 2016 7:41 am

I'm happy to read this as it agrees with what I have always felt, but never had any real evidence to back it up. I told my kids when we were choosing sec schools that we should find schools where they could probably be in the upper half. In practice, this has meant that one child is in a "top" school and another is in a much less well-regarded school. Especially for the one who is not so academic, that choice has been right for her as she is not always at the bottom which makes school a much less harrowing experience.

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Re: Big fish in small pond OR small fish in big pond?

Postby ngl2010 » Wed Jul 13, 2016 7:57 am

slmkhoo wrote:I'm happy to read this as it agrees with what I have always felt, but never had any real evidence to back it up. I told my kids when we were choosing sec schools that we should find schools where they could probably be in the upper half. In practice, this has meant that one child is in a "top" school and another is in a much less well-regarded school. Especially for the one who is not so academic, that choice has been right for her as she is not always at the bottom which makes school a much less harrowing experience.

It only works on the low ability and high ability children. According to the research, the middle-ability students outperform their peers if placed against superior competitors.

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Re: Big fish in small pond OR small fish in big pond?

Postby mathtuition88 » Wed Jul 13, 2016 1:51 pm

Best is to rely on internal metrics of success (like improving oneself day by day) rather than external comparisons with others.

"If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself."

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Re: Big fish in small pond OR small fish in big pond?

Postby Funz » Wed Jul 13, 2016 2:01 pm

Have to stick our heads out now and then to see what is happening around us and with our neighbours. Else may end up being complacent and out of touch with reality. Cannot be too internally focused also.

Anyways, I think I shared quite a long time ago about this big fish or small fish pond.

Funz wrote:Big pond or small pond. Truth is I will always choose big pond and want kiddos to work at staying in the big pond. I do not need them to be the big fish in the big pond. Even if they are among the smallest fish in that big pond, that is fine by me, of course if they can be the medium fish, that will be ideal.

My way of thinking, if they are among people of that kind of calibre, they will work towards that calibre, teachers will teach base on that calibre, chances of them being of that calibre is high. I also have selfish reasons. If kiddos are in that group, my job is a bit easier, I can leave academics largely to be driven by her school and I play the supporting role.

Every pond is a pond in a pond. The class is the smallest group of ponds in another group of ponds which is the school. DD is in what is considered a big pond school. She did well enough last year to swim in the biggest ponds in that school. Along the way, the rest of her friends grew a lot bigger. DD grew but not as much as the rest and in the other ponds of the school there are others that grew to be bigger than DD. So DD was put into one of the medium ponds for next year. But looking at her, she is among the biggest fish in that medium pond now, so her teacher told her. DD felt good on hearing that. She said she prefer being the big fish instead of the small fish.

I have yet to really talk to her about all this pond and fish talk. Got to find a way to explain to her my thoughts and why I prefer her to be in the big pond even if it means she is a small fish there. Like it or not, in Singapore school system even if you are the biggest fish in your medium pond, you will be just medium. You will be given medium calibre teaching, medium calibre resources, medium calibre challenges. And you will come out medium but thinking you are BIG. Even if you have the potential, you may not be able to grow to be big enough because you are given the medium growth kind of nourishment. And because you look around you and see that you are already the biggest, you feel you do not need to swim that much harder or faster so you just cruise along. You are lulled into a false sense of achievement. When the walls from all the other ponds come down, as with every pond, it will, you suddenly find that you are not at all among the biggest. And to play catch up will be all that much tougher.

DS on the other hand is in what I consider a small pond primary school. So for him, I think it will be even more important to ensure that he is in a big pond in that school.

My wish for both my kids is, at the end of the day, when all the walls come down, that they at least be among the medium fish, well hopefully they will be the bigger ones of all the medium fish.

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Re: Big fish in small pond OR small fish in big pond?

Postby TWU » Fri Jul 15, 2016 8:56 am

It's important to know about strength and weakness of a child as well as to attend open house in order to know more about a school during principal's talk before making selection of school (either via DSA or results of PSLE).

As shared in other thread, it's learning attitude of student that determines his/her future instead of school. Students equip with good attitude - self-directed, self-motivated and self-disciplined will definitely have brighter future than those lack of good attitude.

Student will be demoralized if one is keeping on being tail of cohort, teachers will give poor comments too and such will affect self-confidence level of the student.

Some suit for IP, some suit for Express and some suit to choose N(A) or N(T).

If a student equips with Suzuki engine but is asked/forced to choose IP which requires student to equip with Ferrari engine. Do you think this student will excel for next few years? :imdrowning:

Most important, student must choose right size of pond that on a par with his/her ability.

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Re: Big fish in small pond OR small fish in big pond?

Postby waiyean » Tue Jul 19, 2016 9:43 am

While I generally agrees with some of the concepts in the original article, some of the conclusions derived from the research conducted seems flawed and superficial. For example, the comment about middle ability students: "What is surprising from our experiment is that middle-ability students outperform their peers if placed against superior competitors."

I didn't see anywhere in the article where author shows that the middle-ability students performed well because of superior competitors, and not because of the presence of lower-ability students which boosted their confidence.

Furthermore, the author makes no reference to sub-division of the school population into abilities-segregated classes. "Given your child's ability, going to a prestigious school may place him "below average" in his class. This might discourage him from competing with the better students because of the wide performance gap." This can be mitigated when that child is placed in a class of similar or closer abilities, even if it might be one of the lower ability classes in the school.

Assuming that the right school does matters, then when should that segregation take place? Does it apply to choosing the secondary school, which is effectively the first opportunity you get to choose basis abilities? However, six years would already be spent in a primary school, where most of us don't have much choices anyway, subjected to proximity to school, affiliations, and balloting results. Does that mean that we should have a pre-primary evaluation test to identify the abilities of our pre-primary 1 students so that they are placed in the right school in the first formative years of their school lives? I am sure most of us will disagree with that.

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Re: Big fish in small pond OR small fish in big pond?

Postby zulu » Tue Jul 19, 2016 10:01 am

i actually asked my DD the question when we were looking at secondary schools. she was in a neighbourhood primary school (big fish small pond) and she specifically told me she wanted to try a big pond.

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Re: Big fish in small pond OR small fish in big pond?

Postby janet88 » Tue Jul 19, 2016 10:10 am

zulu wrote:i actually asked my DD the question when we were looking at secondary schools. she was in a neighbourhood primary school (big fish small pond) and she specifically told me she wanted to try a big pond.

my son was a small fish in a big pond in primary school. he felt like an outcast.
in lower secondary, he was very miserable because his classmates were not keen in their studies, he wanted so much to do well and move into the top class in sec 3. he is in the 2nd top class and doing reasonably well now. his self esteem has improved.

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Re: Big fish in small pond OR small fish in big pond?

Postby nicnac » Tue Jul 19, 2016 10:19 am

janet88 wrote:
zulu wrote:i actually asked my DD the question when we were looking at secondary schools. she was in a neighbourhood primary school (big fish small pond) and she specifically told me she wanted to try a big pond.

my son was a small fish in a big pond in primary school. he felt like an outcast.
in lower secondary, he was very miserable because his classmates were not keen in their studies, he wanted so much to do well and move into the top class in sec 3. he is in the 2nd top class and doing reasonably well now. his self esteem has improved.


Big fish, small fish. I don't even know what kind of fish my dd is:shrug:

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