Back in 2006, there was a public discussion on whether primary schools should start their day a little later, for example at 8:00 am or 8:30 am, so that kids could get more sleep. (Thanks to my trusty old blog, I actually recall such things).
As far as I know, that discussion never went anywhere. Parents and teachers said a lot about it; a few doctors chirped up about the importance of adequate rest; some principals were interviewed for their opinions; and a few eccentric people even talked about the necessity of the hardship of getting up early as an essential character-building tool. But in the end most primary schools continued to start at the traditional time 7:30 am.
Back to the future. Recently my wife and I attended the orientation programme of my son's primary school (he begins Primary One next year). We learned that while the school officially started at 7:30 am, all the kids were to be in school by 7:10 am sharp.
Why? Because all the kids were to attend a daily 20-minute reading programme, before school officially began. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, they would read books in English. On Tuesdays and Thursdays they would read books in Mandarin. In addition, the weaker students would be identified. Parent volunteers, pre-screened for their own language competencies, would be around every day, to help the weaker kids with their reading.
So it seems that not only are schools not starting later, some schools are starting earlier.
Personally I don't mind, because our home is quite close to the school and it won't be too difficult to get the kid there on time. The kid probably won't mind either, because he is very fond of reading.
However, it does make me wonder a little about our education system. The Singapore government likes to say that it has high standards, but are the standards high because the system is really good? Or because the students these days are just working harder and harder and harder.
20 minutes per day works out to about seven or eight extra hours per month. This particular school has just managed to create an extra full day, out of the monthly calendar.
Along the same lines, one notes that private tuition centres blossom everywhere in Singapore. Evidently, the formal education system in itself is perceived as inadequate for our students' needs. A high percentage of them look outside their schools, for the additional help they need.
The next time our Education Minister says that Singapore produces so many excellent students because of its world-class education system, perhaps someone should suggest to him an alternative explanation. Singapore produces so many excellent students because of its world-class tuition classes.