"... how can we overcome these feelings of unhappiness we get when we see foreigners (talented or not) flood our homeland, taking over our places in the neighbourhood, in companies, in schools... and our children having to face "global competition" at such a young age..."This present post focuses on the kiddie aspects of Ling's question - in other words, young children, their parents, and the best ways that the parents can prepare their children for life in a competitive society.
At the primary or even secondary levels, I think that the ever-growing foreign student population in our schools does not necessarily make life any more competitive than it would otherwise be. Here's another way to put it - even if there were no foreign students, life in our schools would be highly competitive anyway.
The stressful nature of our education system stems mainly from (a) streaming, (b) the over-emphasis on grades, and (c) the systemic failure to encourage the notion that learning can be, and should be, fun. Not so much from the presence of foreign students.
The good news is that things are probably getting better. Education Minister Tharman does not like streaming. For one thing, he scrapped the EM3 stream and he scrapped the Gifted Education Programme. These two moves eliminate the anxiety of parents and children who would otherwise be struggling to stay out of the "worst" stream, or to get into the "best" one.
The next big possible improvement depends on the parents themselves. It's about adjusting their mindset. Somehow we have this mentality that we've got to strive for success, and that striving for success would involve stress and suffering.
I know that this is commonly the case. I don't think it necessarily has to be the case. In fact, these days most kindergartens and playschools have already caught on to the Montessori idea that young children learn best through play and discovery. If a young child doesn't have fun while he's learning, he's probably not learning.
So if you visit any good kindergarten these days, you'll see that much thought has been put into the curriculum to make the lessons as fun as possible. The learning is done through song, dance, drama, games, art and craft, poster colours, fairy tales, crayons, bricks and toy trains. The classroom walls are brightly decorated with art projects and other attractive materials. Teachers use hand puppets of funny furry animals that wiggle their ears and noses as they utter Mandarin phrases. Kids don't have to sit on a chair and keep quiet anymore - talking and laughing is encouraged, and rolling around on the floormat is okay.
The thing is - I don't see why learning has to stop being fun after kindergarten. I believe that it doesn't have to be this way. I think that it must be possible to keep the learning process enjoyable at all stages (using age-appropriate methods, of course - the hand puppets stop working beyond a certain age). Teachers would play a big part in making the classroom or lecture theatre an enjoyable place. But I believe that parents too, can try to inculcate the attitude in their children that learning is fun.
And if the parents succeed, well, then it will no longer matter that their kids may have to face "global competition" at a young age. Because that will just be so much more fun.
Come to think of it, while writing this post, I just realised that I have a habit of asking my son, when he's back from kindergarten, this question - "Did you have fun today?". I hope I keep this up. I think that over time, it will create the subconscious belief in my son that school is supposed to be enjoyable, and learning is supposed to be fun.