ST Oct 1, 2009
Kids can excel with right strategy, says parent from working class
I READ with interest the news and views regarding whether housing type and financial wealth affect how well students do academically, and would like to offer my perspective.
I have two children of average academic ability pursuing the Integrated Programme (IP), and I am a working mother living in an HDB flat in the heartland.
What is important in getting children to excel is a combination of parents:
- Showing an interest in learning how the education system works;
- Thinking and proactively developing a strategy and path for their children; and
- Devoting time and effort to realise that strategy.
Let me illustrate.
Getting into a primary school of choice: Since getting into a primary school of choice depends, among other things, on distance of home from school, parents can select a home (including HDB flats) within the 1km mark. Choosing a primary school affiliated to a good secondary school, or a Special Assistance Plan school where students are drilled in Higher Chinese from a young age, will enhance the child's chances of doing well in the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE).
Getting into a secondary school of choice: Unless your child is very academically inclined and likely to score 255 points or more in the PSLE to get into an IP school, think what other options are available to get him admitted, apart from the academic route. Consider the co-curricular activity (CCA) route for Direct School Admission - sports, arts and so on.
Do you need to be wealthy and living in private property to take this route? Not necessarily. For example, if you want your child to offer competitive swimming at his secondary school, you can sign him up for the competitive swimming programme that is taught at public swimming pools. The monthly fee is in the low two digits and the quality of training is high.
If your child is not inclined towards sports, there are other avenues, such as uniformed groups or robotics. These are all CCAs offered in primary school and cost next to nothing to join.
What I want to say is this - do not be hung up on the idea that you must be wealthy or live in private property for your child to succeed in school. If you have this mindset and rub it off on your children, it may become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I am a heartlander from the working class, my children are not academically very bright, but they managed to get into the IP through the strategy I have outlined. If my children can do it, there are many others out there who can too.
This is my note of encouragement to all of you.
Lim Chiu Mei (Ms)
She studied the system, she learned the rules and it looks like she's played the game well, so far anyway. Congratulations to Chiu Mei and her children. A good strategy is indeed important for doing well in school (not to mention in life generally).
Of course, the richer you are, the easier it is, to follow through with a good strategy.
For example, Chiu Mei said that to get a child into a good primary school, the parents can "select a home (including HDB flats) within the 1km mark" of the school. Chiu Mei was referring to the school admissions rules that give higher priority to children who live near the school.
However, most of Singapore's top primary schools are located in exclusive neighbourhoods. For example, Nanyang Primary School and Raffles Girl Primary School are at Bukit Timah. Most homes in that area are big bungalows and high-end condominiums - not HDB flats.
It seems that Chiu Mei also went for the Direct Special Admissions strategy. This is a relatively new scheme. Primary 6 students who demonstrate high standards in some activity (for example, music or sports) can use this to try to gain a place in a good secondary school, even before taking their PSLE exams.
Each of the DSA schools is free to set its own criteria under the scheme. For example, if a particular secondary school wishes to establish a niche in music, it can decide to accept students wcho excel in choral singing, playing the violin etc. From Chiu Mei's letter, we can guess that her children secured their places in an IP school, by virtue of their swimming prowess.
The whole idea behind the DSA was to encourage all-rounded students (as opposed to students who excel only in their studies). In principle, I think that the DSA is a good idea. How it may backfire is that eventually, young kids will be pressured to excel not just in their academic studies, but in their chosen hobby.
My son is in Primary One this year. For his school CCA, he's doing Speech & Drama. Unlike most CCAs in my own day, his Speech & Drama activity follows a proper, structured programme. In fact, next month my son will be taking his first exam in Speech & Drama. An external examiner from Trinity-Guildhall in London will be flying into Singapore to conduct the exam.
If my son sticks with Speech & Drama for the next four or five years, he can expect to take more exams and collect his certificates. That might eventually help him to gain DSA admission into a good secondary school. Once he's in, I guess that there will be some "moral obligation" for him to represent the school in activities like debating or drama.
I feel that all of this is worthwhile, if my son continues to enjoy Speech & Drama. Currently, he does. I hope that it stays that way.
It may be relevant to point out that I have to pay extra money for my son to take part in Speech & Drama, and a separate set of fees for him to take the exams. While I can easily afford this money, not all HDB heartlanders will be able to do the same.
In this sense, the DSA scheme does disadvantage kids from poorer families. These are the families which don't have the spare cash to send the child for ballet classes, golf lessons or piano lessons.