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Monday, December 31, 2012

Buttercake and Cream

Buttercake and Cream has good food at very reasonable prices indeed. We ate their Sumptuous Dinner for 2 priced at SGD49.90. The service was friendly and very prompt. The food was well made and the drinks were quite creative. It's the desserts here that really shine though. I really recommend this place for desserts.

It's a nice place to feed a family and certainly a nice place for a young man (with not much money) to bring his picky eater of a girlfriend.

Drinks that come with the set dinner.

Prawn cocktail and mushroom soup.

Magret the canard confit. This is HIGHLY recommended. It's the main dish I liked the best of all that we ordered.

Salmon on scallop.

Pork knuckle for 2 - but we are small eaters so it was enough for 3.

Tiramisu with vanilla ice cream.

Chocolate cake.

Cappuccino - doesn't come with the set though.

Punggol Prawning

Many years ago, I brought Little Boy to Bottle Tree Park in Yishun to catch prawns. For some reason, they were really really difficult to catch so we NEVER went back again. Maybe the line was set at the wrong length. Maybe there were too few prawns in the rather smallish pond. Maybe the hook was too big. I don't know. We caught ONE small prawn in ONE hour.

So, when The Husband's colleagues suggested to go prawning, we went along just to enjoy the company. Certainly not for the prawns we expected NOT to catch. But we caught KILOS of prawns. To be sure, there were very many people but still, some people caught a prawn every 10 minutes or so. It began to get really exciting! After the prawning was done, we were allowed 2 barbeque pits for grilling the prawns. The prawns were so good to eat that I had trouble looking like a lady whilst eating them.

So today, the whole family went prawning.

It costs $18 per rod for an hour OR $33 per rod for 3 hours. We spent 3 hours with 2 rods and took turns. We caught 18 prawns. Alright... alright... I know I can buy kilos of prawns at the market for $66 compared to the 18 we caught. Much of the money paid for the fun I guess. And hey, it was GREAT fun compared to our stint at Bottle Tree Park Yishun where we caught ONE small prawn after ONE hour. That hardly motivated repeat visits. No wonder we never went back!!

Punggol Prawning however gave us enough successes to feel rather eager to go back for more fun. Expensive fun though!!

The ponds here are way larger than those at Bottle Tree Yishun

Our 2 rods.

The prawns we caught in a bag with ice cubes.

The prawns we ate grilled with salt. Very sweet prawns.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Power of Imagery

Watch your thoughts for they become words. Watch your words for they become actions. Watch your actions for they become habits. Watch your habits for they become your character. Watch your character for it becomes your destiny. What we think... we become.

- Margaret Thatcher -

There was a time when Singapore's mental image of an ideal system was that of free market competition. To increase efficiency and effectiveness, public services were privatised and quasi-privatised. School Principals were asked to be CEOs of their schools. Indices that paralleled stock market performance were created to measure schools (aka school banding). The way was open to brutal market competition between schools, which lead to competition between teachers... who then pitted students against each other and drove students (and their parents) ever onwards to greater heights of measurable and quantifiable success. See blogpost HERE. Never mind that some really important things in education cannot be measured. See blogpost HERE.

Much of the malaise Singaporeans feel today can possibly be traced back to this single thought - that the free market system is the perfect/best system and public service would do well to emulate its efficiency and effectiveness. It is at best an amoral ideal, i.e., an ideal devoid of morals NOT one that is IMmoral. In other words, I am not saying it is evil, for to be evil requires a heart turned bad. The free market simply has NO heart... NO capacity for empathy.

Now, let me apologise for the corniness that follows.

And so a darkness arose within our fair land, not unlike the shadows of Tolkien's Mirkwood and Mordor (à la Lord of the Rings). Schools fought among themselves resulting in huge variances in quality between schools. See blogpost HERE. Educators fought among themselves. Students, our very best, fought to best each other and keep the spoils. At first, it was friendly. Soon, it became vicious. The strongest schools paraded their spoils and the weak were left to languish with neither love nor pity. One by one, divided by strife, mistrust and corrupted by power,  the race of educators began to fall... first to prostitutes ... and others to depraved acts with minors ... and perhaps one more will fall presently to errrrrrrr... a travel agent? For like the One Ring, the image of the free market (effectiveness and efficiency) ruled our thoughts, and thus defined our actions. Darkness and evil crept into the void created by amorality. Kings of educators became ring wraiths (the Nazgul) too weak to resist the will of evil. Educators of valour became but shadows of themselves. The race of educators became weak. They forgot how to spell. They forgot how to teach. Some gave up on teaching entirely because it was far easier to rely on the Parallel Education system that had grown up alongside it, where educators who didn't like competing took refuge from the unrelenting competitive pressures of the MOE.

But there is yet hope in the strength of men... oops... educators.

The Straits Times today reported a message from Mr Heng Swee Keat - "A principal has to understand that his school is part of a larger school system, and have the "generosity of spirit" to not just narrowly focus on his school's success"

The image he paints for us now, is one of an eco-system wherein the diverse parts have each a role to play. It brings to my mind a piece of beloved biblical imagery from 1 Corinthians Chapter 12... Readers  of other religious beliefs, please interpret this post from the perspective/imagery of your own faith.

14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

There is much left to do... much toxin to purge before sunshine and fresh air can blow through our land again to make it fair (double-entendre intended). There is much left to do before the sunshine and fresh air of camaraderie and collaboration can strengthen the race of educators. 

It is only if all schools work as one body can the entire education system move forwards together. Else, if we stay with the old "free market ideal" the best get bester and the weak are left behind. See HERE. So yes... kudos to Mr Heng and I wish you all the very best in your efforts to make competitive schools collaborate. It starts there because school behavior is an important driver of parent kiasu-ism.

Progress is slow. Results will be even slower. I fear that in the wider scheme of things PAP may run out of time. It has begun to reverse some of the damage done by decades of free market idealism... and that is a good thing. However, it is not so easy to lift the darkness from a land... and for as long as there are still many on the ground who cannot yet see sunshine and feel fresh air, it will be to them as if nothing changed.

Does the government have time before it risks its own raison d'être at the next General Election? Gee... I don't know... because the darkness of the Free Market which once looked so fair of form (as Sauron was once fair of form) has spread into EVERY area of public service from transport to housing. It is an insidious darkness that will not be easily lifted... and many on the ground feel no change.i Some of these will lose patience and vote against PAP. Others, who have found opportunity to thrive in the darkness will begrudge PAP's new efforts to bring in sunshine and fresh air. They too will vote against the PAP.

I rather think things will get worse for the PAP before it gets better... Provided it has time to make things better after things get worse..

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Perfect Mother

Source of Picture HERE.

The perfect mother doesn't exist.

One thing I cannot understand is how some women put down other women for being variously...
- too kiasu if they worry and plan for their kids
- not responsible if they don't worry nor plan for their kids

In my opinion, whether kiasu or irresponsible, every parent I have spoken to can take heart in the message on the poster above. So Moms, let's not beat ourselves up over what we (or others) think we could have done better... or not done well enough. If God wanted us to be perfect, He would have made us that way, no?

Truth is, no one really knows how to parent the absolute correct way. It's a wonderful learning experience that opens women to God's grace and makes us into the Queen Esthers He wants us to become.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Stupid, and Loving It

Why is the PSLE So Difficult Despite Reduced Academic Content?
Yes, it is true that topics have been dropped from the PSLE syllabus. MOE has trimmed academic content to make space for students to learn to think and reason. I've said it before and I will say it again. The current version of the PSLE cannot be aced with drilling and rote learning. The difficulty of the PSLE lies NOT in the quantity of topics or facts covered. The difficulty of the PSLE lies in the following...

(1) the thinking and reasoning skills tested for those topics still remaining in the syllabus

(2) the large class sizes that prevent effective teaching of such skills in too many mainstream schools (especially if you aren't in a GEP centre that spills over GEP methods and materials to mainstream)

(3) the lack of quality pedagogy (textbooks, computer access, library access) in mainstream schools to teach these thinking and reasoning skills

(4) the lack of primary school teachers who can themselves think and reason well enough to teach these skills 

Here is an analogy. Instead of mastering basic skills for 50 dishes...
(1) chopping
(2) slicing
(3) washing
(4) storing

... our children now need to show mastery in in more complex skills for ONLY 25 dishes...
(3) braising (temperature control... water monitoring... mastery of pressure cooker... thermal pot... casserole in oven)
(4) roasting (temperature control... fan speed... differences between convection oven and conventional oven)
(5) baking (blah blah blah...)
(6) barbecuing (blah blah blah)
(7) broiling
(8) cuisson sous vide

Skills can only be learnt through sufficient practice and individualized feedback.

This has resulted in many mainstream parents falling back on private tutors and tuition centres with small classes, where teachers can and do provide the individualized feedback so necessary for SKILLS mastery. This has resulted in successful schools co-opting parent involvement in a very extensive way. Schools who turn out good results at the PSLE have an important core competency. They analyze each child's gaps and expect/hope that the parents are rich enough... educated enough... to bridge these gaps. 

Our Own Education Limits Our Kids
The problem with modern day Singaporean parents is that we are too educated. Unlike our own parents, who often received only a primary school education (and therefore wouldn't dream of coaching us), many of us are tertiary educated. We think that with a university degree... a polytechnic diploma... we should be able to master and teach the PSLE. This is not true. Our tertiary degrees are useless.

Like it or not, us parents, we grew up in an era where rote-learning gave us results. Some of us were lucky enough to have experienced university abroad but how many of us? Most of us feel quite overwhelmed by the current PSLE because a whole chunk of it tests reasoning skills that are

(1) are not documented in the textbooks
(2) are not modeled in videos
(3) are... errr... very simply, not documented
(4) WE were not taught

Overwhelmed, we scramble to learn with our kids in order to teach them without realising that our slow adult brains are actually LIMITING our kids ability to learn. It is a well-researched finding that older brains drop in fluid intelligence. Our children possess more fluid intelligence than we do. We don't learn new things as fast as they do. If we insist to first learn so that we can teach, then we actually are slowing them down.

Every time I play computer games with my son, I am reminded of how fast his brain works. He often takes in the situation and devised a logical solution before I have even understood the parameters of the puzzle before me. He is young and his brain is young. He is therefore FAST.

Sometimes, it is more effective to give up, sit back and admit that vis-a-vis the current requirements of the PSLE, our university degrees are about the level of the present day primary school requirements. As far as modern standards are concerned, parents should just admit that we're no more than Primary 3 educated.  If we can accept how stupid we are, things become way less stressful... and way more motivating for our kids.

How so?

So, What Can Parents Do, To Help

Coaching Chinese Whilst Being Chinese Illiterate
From Primary 1 to 3, Little Boy had a live-in Chinese tutor (Grandma) who taught him religiously from the textbooks. Yet, his grades in Chinese dropped steadily. Now mind you.... back when Grandma was young (back when PSLE was rote-learned), she was a star tutor whose clients numbered the Who's Who of the then MOE. Grandma's expertise limited Little Boy.

From Primary 4 to Primary 6, Little Boy had no Chinese tuition. Helpful and concerned Moms on the KiasuParents Forum messaged me and warned that I would regret. "Brave" they called me... but I knew they were thinking "foolhardy". Little Boy skipped all his Higher Chinese Language classes in school because I wanted him home by 1.30 pm. Yet, Little Boy passed Higher Chinese Language at PSLE... whilst other children with 2 types of Chinese tuition did not.

You see... I used computer technology to empower him to learn on his own. See HERE. I exposed him to rich and high quality material and left it to his natural child's ability to figure things out. His grades in Chinese moved towards the middle of the class rankings. 

Teaching Phonics Without Spending Time
I taught myself to read watching Sesame Street and The Electric Company. So when it came my children's turn, I didn't do cards and stuff. I bought some Phonics computer games, taught them to operate a computer mouse and turned them loose to figure things out.

Coaching Science Without Learning Science
I'm not crazy about Science. Little Boy taught himself Science by Googling and Youtubing.... writing reports and creating presentations for me. He found experiments that he wanted to do and it was my job to buy him what he needed. Then, he would teach me. I confess that I probably retain about 10% of what he taught me but that's fine. I am not the one taking PSLE.

During the school holidays, to get him out of my way whilst I worked, I would drop him at The Singapore Science Centre and sit at McDonalds to type my reports. When he came out of The Science Centre, I pretended to listen to his new learning and discoveries. "Hmmmm... really! Wow! So why does water droplets form on the cold glass of milk again?"

To ace the current PSLE, with its emphasis on HOT (higher order thinking) skills, the children need to be allowed to FIGURE THINGS OUT. That's what HOT skills are all about. The current PSLE tests your kids' ability to figure things out for themselves. When Little Boy explained the Whys and Wherefores to me, he had to research the facts and put them together with logical reasoning to develop an explanation that I could understand. If he could explain simply enough for me to understand, it meant that he had reasoned through the topic very well indeed.

I knew little about Science but I have been well trained in logical reasoning and analysis.

It was this messy and unstructured exploration of the world around him that gave Little Boy his A* in PSLE Science... and we didn't even do any Science Assessment books. The current version of the PSLE is designed to be taught amidst in a rich and living context. The exact kind of multi-sensory context that stimulates every one of the child's 5 senses and through such stimulation, helps retention and activates Higher Order Thinking processes.

Counter-Intuitive Response to Falling English Compo Marks
Little Boy's compo marks in end-P4 were reasonably good. In early P5, they dropped to borderline again. My first response was NOT to get him to write more. My first response was to increase the difficulty levels of his reading materials. From January of Primary 5 to June of Primary 5, we did no writing at all. Instead, we put in place an aggressive reading program.

This exposed Little Boy to rich and varied reading stimuli that activated Higher Order Thinking Processes. He had to figure out good writing from the complex stimuli. It was only after 6 months of Reading Acceleration that I attempted to structure his unstructured learning by isolating specific writing techniques for him to use in his compositions. By then though, he had already developed an intuitive grasp of good writing elements and it was easy for him to understand how to do them. He had seen them done so often whilst he read.

It's not enough to read voluminously. It is important to read voluminously at the right difficulty level so that the brain has a chance to activate the Higher Order Thinking Processes to figure language out.

Petunia is Stupid
Throughout my children's younger years, I celebrated my own stupidity. See, if you're stupid, then you'll be happy with anything your kids can do. Your happiness at their clumsy efforts encourages them to do more... practise more. The more they practise and do whatever (from piano to flute to science) the better they'll be. And then it's a matter of being unafraid of choosing material of higher complexity. Don't be afraid of complexity. Children are smarter and better at handling complexity than we think... or than adults can.

We make our children stupid by breaking things down for them.

And now, from pretending to be dumb, I realise that I have really become dumb because Little Boy knows so much more than I do in Chinese, Science and Math. He can do far more than I can in Chinese, Science and Math. He knows almost as much as I do in English because we race neck to neck when playing Hangman. I still have an edge in expository and argumentative writing though!

It's quite worth it to be the Family Bimbo if it means you don't limit your children's potential.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

God Sent a Dog

A little boy came by today who abhors playing the piano. His parents had placed their trust in me to make their boy WANT to play the piano. They had paid up for 2 full hours of One-to-Pair Motivation Therapy with the full confidence in my professional capability. When I told The Husband that I had accepted such an assignment, he raised an eyebrow - "Errrr... now you are teaching piano? You can't play it very well you know. I've heard you play."

I was a little peeved to say the least. First, he had just told me that he doesn't enjoy my valiant efforts at making music to soothe his soul. Apparently, my music doesn't soothe him at all. Second, The Husband still doesn't seem to understand the nature of what it is I do for a living these days. I was feeling decidedly UNsoothed myself. With all the cold dignity I could muster, I said "I don't know how to teach piano but I can get the boy to WANT to learn piano." Wisely, The Husband changed the subject and began to talk about HIS job, not mine.

So Small a Child With So Strong a Will
The little family arrived this morning at 10am. After 10 minutes with the little one, Petunia started to sweat. I was faced with a child no higher than the middle of my thigh with the strength of will to equal the mightiest river rushing towards the sea in the fullness of summer. I knew that the child had a strong will. I just didn't know how strong. This one was a Little Force Majeure.

The session started well. I had known beforehand that this child was somewhat strong-willed. I was ready. I started by diverting this force of nature. No one in his right mind stands in the way of a river... nor confronts it head on, even if it isn't a very big and powerful river. To master a river, you channel it. Open an avenue for that power to flow... but an avenue in the direction that suits you. In this way, the river roars not at you... but towards an end that you want. Many parents are blind to the raw power of a child's strength of will. We underestimate it because the children look so puny and small. Then parents get very surprised when their kids outsmart... outlast and outwill them.

But really... I learnt my first lesson in motivation on the streets of Paris watching dogs face off. It's not the size of the dog in a fight. It's the size of the fight in a dog. I've seen Alsatians hop nimbly across the road to get out of a Poodle's way. Petunia the Alsatian looked deep into The Poodle's eyes this morning and decided that she had not enough fight in her to face off and win.

Petunia Failed to Motivate
This little child came expecting that I would teach him piano. He expected a confrontation. He was completely ready for a showdown. I could see it in his eyes. Wisely, I created an alternative channel for that strong will to flow... away from me, but in the direction I wanted.

I asked him to teach me piano instead. This was so unexpected that with all the exuberance of a mighty river, he immediately began to bubble forth instructions and advice. Where is the Middle C.... where should your thumb be... no, no, no.... that is not the Middle C Auntie Petunia. As he taught me and advised me, he practised his piece twice in 10 minutes. Quite enthousiastically too.

Then I made a terrible mistake. I said, "Wow! That's beautifully played! Play it again!"

The Little Force Majeure squinted suspiciously at me, "Why again?" and that was when I felt the force of this mighty river hit me in the face. Silently, I pitied the boy's parents for having to live with so much latent power in a small body. With all the cold dignity he could muster, the boy declared "I am now going to take a break."

And that was that.

The mighty river had burst the banks of the canal I had devised to contain and channel its power towards my ends. It was now merrily going its own way. I stepped back to recover the shreds of my professional dignity. I left the child to play and took refuge in my study with his hapless parents, looking still hopefully at me. There in the sanctity of my study, I confessed to the child's parents, "Your child is challenging. He has so much emotional baggage vis-a-vis piano that I am not sure that I can do anything. I will try again. If I fail again, this session is free. You will get a full refund. "

An Angel in Dog Fur
I had to quickly devise a new motivation recipe for my new attempt.

At the same time, I had to help the parents plan a 3-phase Master Plan (with time frame 6 - 12 months) to get their child from hating piano to liking piano. Each phase needed multiple motivation strategies. I had to explain each one. I also had to read the 2 separate people's personalities and devise ways to best get them fully familiar with all the strategies they needed to implement the Master Plan. We chatted for an hour before I made my second attempt at the child.

I wasn't even sure that it would work at all!

In fact, I am quite sure I would have failed except that God sent a dog. For no reason that I can fathom, a Golden Retriever appeared from nowhere and sat right in front of our main gate. It sat in the middle of the driveway just outside the gate - a stunning Golden Retriever. It appeared at the exact moment when I needed it in my motivation strategy... and afterwards, it disappeared. Completely disappeared. The children and I have been out in the neighborhood. The dog is nowhere to be seen.

Do angels dress up in dog fur?

Anyhow, with the help of this mysterious Golden Retriever, my 2nd attempt went swimmingly well. The session ended with the Little Force Majeure willingly playing 3 different piano pieces, and beaming at his Mother once done.

If the Little Force Majeure's Mommy and Daddy are reading this, here is one last word of advice - if you don't hurry your child, he will progress much faster than you would ever expect him to. That is in the nature of strong willed children. If they have decided to do something, they will conquer every obstacle simply because they want to. So... don't stand in the way of your mighty river. Channel it instead.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Don't Wait! Buy it!

I took a screenshot of a Private Message someone sent me on the Kiasuparents Forum. This Mommy is number 54 in the queue for NLB's copies of Dr Pet's Book.

Whilst I am thrilled to bits that the queue for Dr Pet's Book at the NLB is so long, I would also like to take the opportunity to encourage parents to BUY the book. You see... this book won't help you if you read it and return it. Though the book is easy to read, the concepts and skills are hard to implement. This is a book that has to be re-read... tagged... highlighted... and referred to. You need to think about the skills over weeks and months, reflecting upon your everyday words and actions.

It's easy to read the book but very hard to change yourself. It is in the process of changing yourself that you will need to re-read the book.

Of course, it does seem that I am trying to make more money from book sales... but it's really not all about the money. This is a technical manual for motivation... written to look like a novel... and marketed as a self-help book... and priced reasonably.

In its capacity as a technical manual, it needs to be referred to every now and then, and if you have to wait for 54 others queuing before you every time you want to refer, your kids will be grown by the time to are able to implement the strategies in the book.

Trust me. Buy the book.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Waterfall Café

I have just discovered a new favourite place to hang out and chill out. Waterfall Café is relatively new. Most people who dine at the Shangri-La head towards The Line for its excellent buffets. However, if you go out the ample glass doors fronting The Line and head past the swimming pool, you come to an oasis of charm and good food.

Few restaurants do armchair seating. The seats are low and soft. The table is higher than a normal coffee table but lower than a dining table so that one does not have to hunch. It's a seating format that relaxes the whole person immediately. They do the same to you at Wild Honey. Wild Honey serves all day breakfast. Since breakfast is a meal one normally takes with hair disheveled and still in PJs, the armchairs and low tables dial down the formality enough within a restaurant setting so that you can wear nice clothes and still feel as cosy as in your PJs. It's a charming juxtaposition of spoil-yourself elegance and be-a-slob charm. 

Everything else (waiters and food) is classy but you don't have to be.

Fine dining isn't Petunia's thing. It means ya gotta wear high heels, walk straight and sit straight. It feels  like dining with one's mother. Mind your manners! Don't let your back touch the chair! A lady keeps her back straight! Put away that book please... no reading at the table. 

So hey... it's nice to eat fine food, be spoilt by butler-ish service... and know that the Slobbish Self can get away with curling up in the corner of an armchair (in shorts and slippers) under a standing lamp with a book. 

Let the service staff do the straight walking... I can do the slob sitting.

Comfortable Armchairs... pssst... the water comes with lemon fragrance!

Pasta... psssst... it ain't cream sauce... it's FOAMED cream sauce

Veal Cheeks

Chickpea Crackers with Grilled Vegetables (a medley of tinkling tastes that tickle the tongue that forms a counterpoint for textures ranging from crispy to soft to crunchy).

The Mocha that isn't on the menu.

Chocolate Lava

Lemon Curd on Shortbread

Kenneth the Server. This one didn't bat an eyelid when I told him I wanted a Café Mocha. I learnt later that there isn't any Café Mocha on the menu. This personalised service was more than impressive. When that Mocha arrived, I decided that I was so going back to the Waterfall Café. The service staff have themselves tasted the menu. I so like restaurants that allow their staff to taste the food. It's so important when they communicate to guests. So yup... Kenneth was no waiter. He was a Food Consultant.

Friday, December 7, 2012


Petunia's Book sells well. It truly does. The book distributor described book sales as "surprisingly good for a newly launched book". Kinokuniya took a few copies at first and this week, ordered 50. Only the Bras Basah Popular branch had a few copies at first... and now, many Popular stores across the island has it. Online, we have sold upwards of 1000 books. These are encouraging figures for a book that was launched without fanfair and barely 5 months ago.

I owe my blog readers a lot for this.

Blog readers were the first to buy the books, read them and recommend them. Without this initial push, I doubt Pet's book would have sold so many copies. Without the initial push by blog readers (especially the many that have become my friends) I also doubt that the book would become so popular that it never gets to sit idle on the shelves of the National Library.

I've checked the NLB catalogue once in a while and Petunia's book is never available... always on loan... always in transit to a reservation ... always reserved.

I really owe my blog readers, and I want to say a heartfelt "Thank You" for being the first to put your trust in Pet's Book.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

HOT Skills (English) Workshop for Parents

We will be launching Dr Pet's HOT Skills (English) Workshop for Parents. We are targeting parents of mainstream children who would like to learn how to train their children's HOT skills at home. As is our usual practice, the very first session will be FREE for all 15 participants.

We will pick the 15 free participants via a Lucky Draw. Please go HERE for more details on the Lucky Draw.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Bucket List

The Husband is getting in touch with his own mortality. A time comes in the life of every man when he realizes that he has only so much time left before he kicks the bucket. So all of this morning, The Husband has been berating me for sights that he COULD have seen but DIDN'T because when we were in the country, I didn't wanna go.

Niagara Falls: I had seen pictures and watched the Superman movie. I didn't wanna go there from Pennsylvania. It's been years and The Husband still blames me for it.

Halong Bay: My friend L dissed it. I didn't wanna go. This crime was overlaid upon the Niagara one.

The Great Wall of China: This one required climbing up steep slopes in the cold Beijing winter. I preferred to look at pictures whilst eating jiao zi. The Husband has been huffing and puffing his relief that he had INSISTED on going. I still think it was no big deal. One can google and see The Great Wall of China from outer space. Why go there?

I like to do things I can't experience off my laptop. Like eat snails and climb on salt boats and get silk dresses tailored for me. In Pennsylvania, we visited a Hamish family on a real working farm that doesn't normally accept tourists. Not many people get to see that but everybody sees the Niagara Falls. In Vietnam, we made salt boat friends. In Scotland, we campfired with some Scots who spoke Queen's English one moment and Hobbit English the next.

Hey... I've got but ONE life to live. Why would I wanna spend it living what everyone else lives? This said, I AM glad I married a very conservative husband. He's the only thing that keeps me grounded.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Singapore's Royal Jelly Education

Royal Jelly is what bees feed the bee babies that are destined to grow into Queen Bees. Larvae fed Royal Jelly grow into Queens. The same larvae fed honey grow into Worker Bees.

I received a series of WhatsApp messages last night from C ranting about Royal Jelly education in GEP and IP. The royal jelly in Singapore education is the set of Higher Order Thinking (HOT) skills that characterize the Gifted Education Program in primary school (that prepares one for the most difficult questions at the PSLE)... and the Integrated Program in secondary school (that prepares one for the most difficult questions at the A levels). The logic supporting the heavy focus on HOT skills GEP and IP experience is that these are smart kids who CAN handle HOT skills, whilst lesser children can't. 

Now, I don't doubt that kids come with different intellectual capabilities, and different talents. I have taught enough kids to be well aware of this. What I doubt is how accurate the system is in streaming our children for differential feeding (based on the results of one IQ test at Primary 3 or one major exam at Primary 6).

The different feeding in turn leads to kids in GEP and IP being given maximum chances at (A) choice opportunities in top schools, (B) choice scholarships and (C) choice spots in Medicine and Law Faculties. The excerpt below is taken from an article by Sandra Davie in the Straits Times of 29th November 2012, entitled "Time to Redefine Academic Success"...

"The Government needs to examine why parents are not buying the argument that there are many paths to success and every school is a good school. I took the opportunity to ask the parents eyeing IP schools, such as Raffles Institution and Raffles Girls' Secondary, why they were not convinced. One of them had done an analysis of the Overseas Merit Scholarships given out by the Public Service Commission. Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of those receiving the scholarships came from the IP schools.
His son wants to study medicine, so again, the resourceful parent went to talk to a relative of his, an RI alumnus, who is studying medicine at the National University of Singapore. The second-year student confirmed that quite a few of his classmates in medical school were former schoolmates. I referred to students from the lesser-known junior colleges and even the polytechnics making it to medicine, but the parent was quick to point out that it was so rare for polytechnic graduates to qualify for medicine. No wonder, when they did, they made the headlines in the newspapers."

The GEP Royal Jelly
Like I said, I question the accuracy of the classification - GEP and mainstream. In 2011, the PSLE top scorer (Yasmin Ziqin Mohammad Yusof) was NOT from GEP even though the PSLE exam tests HOT skills that are extensively taught in GEP (and to a far lesser extent, in mainstream). Yasmin Ziqin Mohammad Yusof mentioned that her mother resigned from her job in Primary 6 to teach her the most difficult questions of the PSLE (aka, the HOT skills). Clearly, this girl had external school access to a Royal Jelly education via a highly educated mother. It also helped that her father could afford the fees at The Learning Lab. Was Yasmin misclassified as non-GEP? What if her Mom were uneducated and her father earned the equivalent salary of the PRC bus drivers who went on strike?

Where would Yasmin be today in mainstream education without an educated Mother and wealthy Father? No wonder I went through 2 years wondering why schools test what they don't teach! The PSLE tests GEP stuff that 99% of the cohort can only get to learn OUTSIDE school!!

In one particular year, in the not too distant past, the top scorer in Nanyang Primary School was a non-GEP child. Her mother explained to me (rather bitterly) that it was tuition that had helped her child because mainstream classes in Nanyang Primary do not get the same kind of teaching as GEP. I rather think that this gave Nanyang Primary School some food for thought and may have encouraged the school to spill GEP methods and materials over to more and more of their mainstream classes. There is nothing wrong with this. Any responsible school would do the same. I, the school, possess the methods and materials. Why withhold these from students who could benefit even though not labeled GEP?

Whatever GEP parents might say about PSLE drilling that helps non-GEP children do better at PSLE, some facts can be verified.
(1) Fact 1: GEP curriculum is heavy on HOT skills.
(2) Fact 2: PSLE's most difficult questions test HOT skills.
(3) Fact 3: Mainstream teaching hardly emphasizes HOT skills.
(4) Fact 4: I know for a fact the schools like Nanyang give their GEP kids loads of PSLE practice papers to do in P6... after building a good foundation in HOT skills.

These drilling practices PLUS the HOT skills training give the GEP a clear advantage at the PSLE. Now, if a GEP child cannot handle the PSLE as well as a mainstream child DESPITE having been fed all this Royal Jelly, then there is a good chance the GEP child was wrongly identified.

Based on a SINGLE IQ test, judgment is made about our children's ability to handle HOT skills? And then the 2 groups of children are fed different curriculum material as if the SINGLE IQ test is the last word in child capability (that can justify feeding some children more HOT skills and other children less)? And THEN both sets of children take a common exam that clearly puts one group (taught HOT extensively) at an advantage over the other (taught HOT sparingly).

What makes things worse is that the GEP children have a largely frictionless path into schools like RI, where it appears, that 42% of the cohort is GEP. Given that GEP is 1% of the whole country's cohort... 42% in a single school is a shocking over representation considering that there is ample evidence that the single IQ test DOES misclassify.

Next, the GEP has been around for 20+ years. One wonders how many movers and shakers today hail from GEP. If very few, then why is it that 42% of RI (the school that traditionally produces leaders of the country) is GEP? Should not RI have greater diversity in student population so that it can produce future leaders that understand the populace?

Some claim that despite the low economic returns of 20 years of GEP, the program is still worth funding because gifted children are special needs children, like those in Pathlight. Has RI become a GEP special needs school on par with Pathlight?

Why do we put so much faith in one IQ test to the extent that we would feed 2 groups of students vastly different intellectual input? IF the PSLE has evolved towards HOT skills, why is not EVERY mainstream school properly equipped with the wherewithal to teach HOT skills to those who CAN manage even if they're not labelled GEP?

The IP Royal Jelly
In my discussion with C on IP, I found myself on the other side of the divide. You see, The Daughter went to an IP school in the days when there were few IP schools. In my passionate exchange with C, I found myself saying the exact same things to defend IP that GEP parents say to defend GEP.

I said, "IP focuses a great deal on higher order thinking skills but the A levels are far more structured. IP students have difficulty adapting to the prescriptive (read: model answers) style of A level testing. IP doesn't drill the students. That was The Daughter's experience."

I can almost hear a GEP mom say "GEP focuses a great deal on higher order thinking skills but the PSLE requires drilling, and the kids have difficulty adapting to the prescriptive (read: model answers) style of PSLE testing. GEP doesn't drill students."

Then C wrote this on WhatsApp "If the A levels is HOT skills heavy, then it'll be an uphill battle for O level students exposed mostly to LOT (lower order thinking skills) to bridge the gap to HOT skills, in the run up to A levels. However, it is easier for those exposed to HOT skills in IP for 4 years, to dumb down slightly to the drilling required for A levels in the run-up to the exams."

And that is so true.

I had to concede that C had won a point in our discourse. The Daughter received a good IP education in HOT skills that formed a critical foundation for her to achieve excellence in A levels. Nearer the A levels, she was drilled. Dumbing down was not a problem at all. And mind you, based on PSLE t-score alone, there were plenty of students who scored far higher than The Daughter... but these students could not handle HOT skills well enough to do well at A levels. Some of these PSLE high scorers performed rather poorly despite getting a surfeit of HOT skills in the years of IP. Is this an instance of misclassification into IP using PSLE scores? Who/what to blame? That A levels requires drilling that IP doesn't provide?

That is not true you know, a fair bit of drilling does take place nearer to A levels.

The Illusory Promises of Streaming
It was not too long ago when MOE explained that streaming was to ensure that every child was taught to his/her ability. The PR line was "Develop each child to his/her highest potential".

Does streaming really do that? Let's look at some counter examples.

The PSLE aggregate determines access to HOT skills education. What about the child (without tuition) who scored a high A* in Science but A in the other 3 subjects? This child could well possess the innate talent for Science that predisposes him to HOT skills in the Sciences but too bad... this child will never be able to develop his innate potential in scientific inquiry to the fullest because he will be shunted to a non-IP school.

It seems to me that streaming makes teaching easier, so that Teachers have time to write reports and devise lesson plans that are only good for audit purposes because no one uses the lesson plans. Now that the School Excellence Awards have been done away with, perhaps the teaching service will now have time to REALLY be student-centric. Right now, Teachers are stream-centric or class-centric. Not in the least student-centric. The only ones who are student-centric are parents and private tutors.

Little Boy was a 90+ student in English, Math and Science in P4. He went into the 2nd best class because he was more than ordinarily poor in Chinese. In the 2nd best class, he was taught as if he were 80+ in every subject. He was taught above his ability in Chinese. He was taught below his ability in the other 3 subjects. The teaching was not at all student centric. It was class-centric, and it was class-centric in such a way that not a single child in there had his/her learning needs met. Every child in the 2nd best class had at least one REALLY strong subject and 3 above average subjects. They were all taught as if they were only slightly above average in all 4 subjects.

Within the GEP, children also have different abilities in the different subjects. The GEP crams every child with HOT skills in all 4 subjects. SUGGESTION: Would it not be better to identify children with giftedness in each subject and pull them out for specific niche classes, rather than put them together and cram them indiscriminately like geese for foie gras? Meanwhile, these gifted children can still benefit from fulfilling and learning-rich social interactions with kids in mainstream.

It has come to a point that even GEP/IP kids feel like losers because they fear they can't measure up in their subjects of ordinariness.

That streaming helps each child to his/her ability is an illusion. In truth, all it helps is make teaching lazier because Teachers can tell themselves that they are fulfilling the needs for a particular group of students when actually the coarse-grained streaming fulfills very few individuals' learning needs indeed.

Student-centric? How to be student-centric in classes of 40?

(1) Every primary school should be well-equipped to teach HOT skills (small classes and GEP materials) even if they are not GEP centers.

(2) Every secondary school has IP and O levels so that the permeability between the 2 streams is maximised allowing for misclassifications to be easily addressed.

(3) Do as Hri Kumar suggests. Remove GEP DSA into top schools. GEP kids (with their surfeit of HOT skills teaching in small classes of 25) should compete with mainstream (who get precious little HOT skills teaching) for places.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Travelling Mom's Breastfeeding Story

For Moms who have to travel for work, whilst breastfeeding, here is a most inspiring story. Many women find it difficult to breastfeed whilst at home. Like... why doesn't my boob fit my baby's mouth? Why is there NOTHING in this fat boob? Oh gee... I have nothing in TWO fat boobs. Ohhhh... I wish I had four boobs.

It's full what! Why is nothing coming out?!!

Hey twit! My boob is not made for chewing.

This Mom managed to breastfeed whilst traveling. The only thing I can say is "Wow!"

Monday, November 26, 2012

How Does NYPS Do It?

I am not sure how far it is true but I am told that 47% of Nanyang Primary School's (NYPS') 2012 PSLE cohort scored above 250. This means that almost HALF the school places in the top 10% of the entire country's PSLE rankings. Get your child into NYPS and you stand a 50% chance to make it through to the top 10% of the country's PSLE rankings.

Indeed, 43 children from Nanyang Primary this year scored above 270. In the majority of other schools, NO ONE scores above 270. The 2012 mystery top scorer with 285 is from Nanyang Primary School.

MOE might say that these FANTABULOUS results accrue to students from Nanyang Primary School's Gifted Education Program... and lesser mortals in other schools cannot hope to replicate these results simply because the kids are not as bright.

I can concede that perhaps the 270 and above scores come from the GEP cohort. But what of the 250+? Let us also bear in mind that NYPS is only one of 10 GEP centers (and the other GEP centers did not produce such FANTABULOUS results with their gifted children). Indeed, there are even some GEP parents who assert that GEP kids are not MEANT to do well at PSLE because their days are filled with esoteric learning NOT tested at the PSLE... and that GEP centres DO NOT drill their kids. I know for a fact that NYPS GEP kids get practice paper after practice paper to help them prepare for PSLE.

It is clear that NYPS is doing something marvelously right. The question is what.

Friends with children who go to NYPS tell me that parent involvement is important. Teachers will easily co-opt parents' help. Teachers will provide analyses of strengths and weaknesses, brief the parents thoroughly... and in this manner, they harness parents' time and resources for the improvement of academic results. There is nothing wrong with this since the curriculum is so advanced that no one seriously expects teachers to teach everything anyway. NYPS merely faces this fact head-on and leverages on it. In Little Boy's school, the teachers give practically no parental guidance at all. Emails go unanswered and teachers more often than not fail to reply to requests for guidance. It has happened so many times that I have quite given up asking Little Boy's teachers for help.

It helps that in NYPS only 4 in 10 students hail from HDB precincts. The other students are drawn from financially comfortable homes that surround the school. Homes that easily cost at least $7 million dollars for a somewhat humble abode. Errrr... humble for the neighbourhood. In such a context, parents CAN afford both a Stay-At-Home Mom AND specialised external teaching to step into the gaps that the school has kindly highlighted. Of course, not every parent in NYPS has wealth and time. I do know a few such parents from NYPS. The only thing then, for them to do... is shrug their shoulders and accept that they, as parents, are unable to add value to their children. Just too bad, I guess.

It also helps that being a GEP centre, the school has access to the Gifted Education materials and teaching methods, which it flows over to its own mainstream high ability classes. This could account for the fact that 47% of the school scored 250 and above.

The formula comes in 3 parts: School Exam Analysis to Guide Parents X Parent Involvement & Resources X Spillover of GEP Materials. The formula is multiplicative. If any part is ZERO, the show stops. Rich parents can't do much without school analyses. School analyses won't be useful unless parents have the resources to help. Without GEP methods and materials, the high ability would be denied material that would make a difference in the last 10 marks or so of each PSLE paper... so no amount of analyses and parent wealth will make a difference.

Of course, Petunia's formula may just be conjecture. What is clear however, is that schools are not same good academically. NYPS does do something right... especially since all the schools along the Bukit Timah belt have access to wealthy parents, but don't produce similar results. The formula is not as simple as parent wealth alone. It cannot be that the school plays no part at all in such fantabulous academic results. Of course, people will say that there is more to education than academics. I believe that too. Nonetheless, academics are key to a host of downstream perks such as...

(1) EESIS scholarships
(2) Entrance to top schools with delicious learning opportunities
(3) Post A level scholarships earned from the delicious learning opportunities from top schools

In short, there is a fair amount of short and long term monetary gain that arises from getting children into NYPS at the tender age of 7. Parents who are prepared to forego the chance at top notch academic results also need to have the emotional discipline to forego all the money their kids could enjoy... and the emotional discipline to tell themselves "I know that I am making choices that deny my child access to money and prestige. However, my child is worth more than an aggregate."

It takes parents with character to not play the game, knowing that certain choices (that have little to do with child ability) will bring their kids wealth and glory. It takes some steel to not play the Parentocracy game KNOWING that the one that will be denied opportunities and wealth is not oneself... but another person - one's child.

NYPS' results are all the more striking in that their mainstream cohort was not picked for entrance into the school by IQ. These are children of alumni... and the children of families who live near the school. Unless one can draw a strong correlation between Family Wealth and Children IQ (as well as alumni status and children IQ), then the stellar results must be due to something the school does right.

Can other schools learn from NYPS so that children of similar ability in other schools will not be denied the opportunities that exist downstream (scholarships and such....)? Perhaps, it may be necessary to tweak with scholarship eligibility criteria to account for the fact that there are students in OTHER schools who are very deserving but having NOT benefited from regular doses of academic steroids, score less well at the PSLE.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Little Boy's PSLE T-Score

In the early morning, concerned friends were already asking for Little Boy's PSLE t-score. I tried to dial down everyone's expectations. "Hey... I am seriously considering a lovely school near my place called Yishun Town Secondary.", I said to stunned silences, "If Little Boy does not do as well as you expected, please still make sure he feels like a worthy individual".

When we climbed into the car in the late morning, I remarked tenderly "If you don't do as well as you had hoped, I will still love you."

And Little Boy replied cheerfully "I know Mom!"

I didn't know that parents could accompany the kids into the hall to collect results so I dropped Little Boy and went off with the day's newspapers to get me a coffee. The voice that came over the phone squeaked excitedly about being invited to his friends' house and that please may he go... please... and that I wouldn't need to drive out and fetch him home later because he is old enough to go home on his own. 

In that entire tirade, he hadn't once mentioned his PSLE results. Sigh! I rolled my eyes at my coffee and asked "Aren't you gonna tell me what you scored? Aren't you coming to the coffeeshop to at least show me your results slip? You can't just pop off like that and leave me here! That's so rude!"

Little Boy came by in a whirlwind, thrust his results slip at me and some greenish sealed letter. Little Boy said, "We were told not to open that till we see our parents. But now I have no time. Let's open it together when I get home tonight?" Clearly, PLAY was vastly more important than PSLE.

Little Boy did somewhat better than his sister at PSLE, despite being in a school with poor teaching support and materials... AND he had no tuition. He also did well enough to take French as a 3rd language. Of all the news released yesterday, I think Little Boy was most thrilled about French. He'll have the opportunity to learn something that he has been bugging me to teach him since forever.

We're relieved and happy. I didn't quite want to write this post at first. However, a good many blog friends (and a few people that I have never met) have emailed me and it seems rude not to at least share a little. However, there are many reasons not to publish Little Boy's t-score here. Firstly, Petunia supports MOE's blackout on PSLE results (errrr... not that Little Boy scored anywhere near the top scores). Secondly, Little Boy is not comfortable that a whole world of faceless netizens be clearly in the know of his actual t-score. Thirdly, (unlike The Daughter at A levels) Little Boy is not the only boy in our circle of friends taking PSLE, and we don't want to make too much of his t-score because it makes no sense to make this or that other child (whom we also love) feel less worthy because of one silly number. 

Agree With Shanmuguratnam
I quite agree with Shanmugaratnam that the fine differentiation of PSLE t-score is unnecessary. Do you know that the t-score is differentiated to SIX decimal places? It's quite different from the A levels where you get As and Bs. The PSLE t-score makes stark the inconsequential difference between 2 kids with 265 and 266. The latter being more worthy than the former. It has long been well known to Human Resource professionals that performance appraisals that rank order staff OPENLY, will stimulate high levels of inter-individual competition. We usually institutionalise such a manner of staff appraisal in companies where no one needs to work in teams... e.g., used car salesmen. In an increasingly interconnected and complex world, problems need teams to resolve. I believe the power of collaboration (not competition) is the way forward.

The PSLE End-All
And I can't help but think that there are children who did very poorly indeed. The lowest score this year was an unforgiving 43 printed on a results slip like a death sentence knelling "You are a loser. You have the lowest score. You'll never amount to anything in life". What kind of monstrous mind 
(1) devised the PSLE aggregate, 
(2) prints the highest score 
(3) AND the lowest score on EACH results slip
... to break the hearts of little 12 year olds?

Has anyone thought of how the child will feel... who gets 43 ... and sees also, on the same paper that he/she has the LOWEST score of the whole country? Now, you seriously expect that child to believe that PSLE is not an end-all? Bear in mind too that the child who got 43 probably doesn't have loving and attentive parents to counsel and comfort him/her. The little 12 year old is all ALONE staring at the 43 that is HIS own score, AND the 43 that is printed in the bottom right hand corner, next to the words "This Year's Lowest Aggregate Score".

Fear Motivates
The majority of kids and parents are not kiasu because there are top scorers they will never hope to match up to. The majority of kids and parents compete tooth and nail because no one wants to be at or near the 43 aggregate. Fear is an effective motivator. However, it warps the spirit, destroys the joy of learning new things and causes burnout. 

PSLE T-Score... a Non-Event
This X'mas and CNY, we intend to treat the PSLE t-score as a non-event. It's over. It was a vastly unpleasant 2 years of stressful learning and unnecessary competition engendered by a fine-grained student appraisal mechanism. We don't have fond memories of it. That Little Boy emerged relatively unscathed is every reason to not rub salt into the wounds of other children.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Future Ready Child

I promised E. to write posts on how to develop a future ready child. This is the 3rd part of 3 posts. The previous posts are...

(1) The Problem With Fulfilling Academic Potential
(2) The Problem With Fulfilling Academic Potential (Part 2)

Actually, somebody else beat me to writing up her plan to develop a Future Ready Child, and she put her thoughts down very eloquently HERE. I felt encouraged just reading her wisdom so clearly stated. For me, in this blogpost, I would like to address some classic patterns in parent-teen relationships and how one might manage the relationship in such a way as to create a continuity between the truths of the past and the truths yet to be.

Lee Kuan Yew's Hard Truths
With all due respect to Lee Kuan Yew, a man to whom I and many others owe a lifetime debt of deep gratitude, he made the mistake of assuming that the truths of his lifetime would continue to be the truths of our lifetimes. To preserve his legacy, he instituted robust socialization programs that would ensure that every politician he inducted... every civil servant he invested, would hold in their heads the mental models of his hard truths. I am not saying that his hard truths have become totally irrelevant... but the world has changed and the external contours of his hard truths no longer fit as well without some adaptation.

For example, meritocracy was (and IS) an important value but past interpretations of meritocracy involved looking solely upon academic results as a proxy indicator for merit. That worked in the past because ...

(1) MOE did not expect parents to teach kids at home

(2) Academic standards had not risen so high that children have bandwidth for little else except studying (leading to huge lacunae in character and values development)

In view of the above 2 conditions, the contours of how we interpret meritocracy within our society needs to change. We cannot afford to define merit in terms of pure academic performance anymore because academic scores now reflect Parentocracy (the ability of parents to teach kids at home)... and since parents now have to teach numeracy and literacy, they have no time to teach values and character. Lee Kuan Yew was too successful at socializing the sacrosanctness of Meritocracy into those who inherited his mantle. Meritocracy was not to be at all questioned... not even its external contours. As a result, the leaders trained at Lee Kuan Yew's knee missed a new Hard Truth staring them in the faces.

The Daughter and I
I don't know where I obtained the insight from. I just knew when I woke up one day that I must not assume that my values (in the form I hold dear) would take the same shape in her time. I suppose that was a bit of God breathed wisdom that came to me in the night. Anyhow, I knew needed to give my teenager space to interpret our family's values sensibly for the world she evolves in... amongst her friends... in an environment alien to me... which I increasingly lost track of as she grew up and went to places I could not go... met people I did not know.

So I sat her down and gave her permission to challenge me. I explained that the world as I knew it isn't the world that she knows, and that if I preached something that made no sense, she should challenge me. As a Mommy, I cannot help preaching. By giving her permission to challenge my wisdom, I opened a way to bridge my world and hers. It was our first step towards the equal footing she and I enjoy today. Slowly, I began to understand her challenges and her world... and increasingly, I saw the sense of how she approached and handled issues in ways that I would not at first have agreed with. Sometimes, she didn't bother to explain nor challenge me. She went ahead to do what she thought best and then she explained after. I accepted that too.

She started a business delivering supper to other kids in her hostel. I believed that she was undercharging and could not accept that she would put in so much time into a business that only just broke even. After all, the value of a profit-driven business is in the money it makes.

She explained... and I saw that it made sense in her context. And that was that.

I am happy that she has developed keen judgment about her context, and I am even happier that she stays true to the values of our family, but in a way that makes sense to her and her world.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Problem With Fulfilling Academic Potential (Part 2)

Part 1 is HERE. I was talking to my friend Blurting, when I found an answer to my questions in Part 1.

My conversation with Ting got me thinking about an interesting nugget of Japanese history. In the Edo period of Japanese history, the Tokugawa government structured the society into 4 classes. At the top, were the samurai (the ruling class). Next, came the peasants (who lived in villages and produced goods). After that, came the artisans. Last, were the merchants, because they produced no wealth at all.

The Samurai: A Past Tale of Riches to Rags
Why were the samurai top of the heap?

In the era preceding the Edo period of Japanese history, Japan was at war. There was civil war and there was war with foreigners, who tried to settle in Japan. The samurai played an important role in wartime because they protected commoners and secured territories. Many privileges were thus granted them at the start of the Edo period. Wise men of that time structured society for the needs of that time, and gave thus to the samurai, generous yearly stipends that would keep them in style, for doing nothing but spar with weapons all day.

The Edo period was a very peaceful period in Japanese history. Arts flourished and consumption increased. The art of war became just that - a prestigious art with no practical value for that time.Fighting produced no wealth in peace time. The samurai lived off the taxes on what the peasants produced. The peasants were illiterate and so they allowed the merchants to take a larger share of the profits when trading goods.  As the years went by, it was the lowest of the 4 classes that became the most wealthy. Within 5 generations, merchant houses arose to organise trade and hold legal monopolies. The law prevented these merchants from living a lifestyle on par with the samurai but on the other hand, with inflationary pressures, the samurai (on their measly stipends) could no longer afford to maintain the lifestyle the law required them to have. There were many impoverished samurai floating around at the end of the Edo period.

Within 5 generations, the samurai had the carpet pulled from under their feet. Their society saw no more utility in paying them well for excelling at Fighting, for the sake of it. But how is this relevant to Singapore and academic success?

Academic Talent: A Future Tale of Riches to Rags?
In the 1960s, we had a relatively uneducated population. Systematic numeracy and literacy education provided a path to success. Foreign companies invested in Singapore and gave our newly numerate and literate populace good jobs, good salaries... aka wealth. Standards were low so home grown companies could not compete on the international arena. Entrepreneurs in the 1960s were numerous but few made it big because general standards were low. The path to success was to be an academic samurai. Academic prowess lead to wealth.

In the year 2012, things have changed. Social parameters have drifted and at present, a chorus of voices can be heard from all corners explaining that academic success is not everything. Lately, people are even saying that scholarships should not be awarded on grades alone - HERE. Perhaps the tide is turning and in the next 20 years or so, academic prowess will no longer be a ticket to wealth? Will we then see many impoverished academic samurai in the years ahead?

Consider further, the following.

In the year 2012, standards in Singapore have risen tremendously. Our entrepreneurs going out into the region now possess a certain reputation called the Singapore branding. Times have changed and the merchant classes are poised for success. What do these entrepreneurs need? They need creativity, risk appetite, incredible amounts of EQ... on top of some level of literacy and numeracy.

More than 10 years ago, the Singapore government had identified creativity and entrepreneurship as the way ahead. Schools were tasked with teaching students how to think and be creative. The PSLE exam went from tropospheric to stratospheric to positively errrrr... ionospheric in difficulty. All in the name of testing creativity on paper. Unfortunately, you can't LEARN creativity on paper. Hence, school teachers were exhorted to TEACH LESS so that students could LEARN MORE. Meanwhile armies of tutors rose up out of the ground like Cadmus' army of old and strove to teach creativity with paper and more paper. I don't think the students became more creative. They just practised more and more and more to the extent that by the time the exams came around, they were already familiar with what MOE had intended to be tests of creativity.

So... at the end of 12 years of schooling, our kids are just really really good academic samurai.

Then along comes Ting's children. To understand her kids, you need to understand Ting. She is an amazing woman with boundless energy. Singlehandedly, she brought up 2 boys. She cooks. She cleans. She makes cakes for her friends' birthdays. She runs a business that pays for all the above and more. The one thing Blurting could not do was what Petunia did to help Little Boy do well at exams. As a result, Blurting's boys struggled through school. Happily enough, Blurting is the sort of Mommy who loves her boys as they are... and focuses on what they are able to do. Through thick and thin, Ting believes in her kids - HERE.

And Ting dropped a bombshell into my pool of contentment. She said "When push comes to shove, my kids have the skills to make money from their hobbies. They are good with people. They are not arrogant because they have not tasted academic success too much to become proud. They are kind to animals and people. They are numerate and literate. They know the value of money and have had experience earning it in various ways."

I can truly believe that Ting's kids will make it good in the years ahead. They're both self-starters and voracious self-learners. There is no tuition for hobbies so the boys had to hustle to learn the breadth and depth of what they loved to learn. These are not the sort of boys who wait around for people to give them a job (give homework) and tell them how they will be appraised (marking scheme). These are the sort of boys who will know to hustle for what they want.... and when push comes to shove, they will demonstrate the spirit and will of Mother Ting, a non-grad, rebellious as he**, Boss of her own company.... with enough success to pay for a private condo apartment, a huge car, holidays abroad and visits to posh restaurants. That's Ting. With a massive dose of EQ to go along because you CANNOT help liking her.

Ting and her boys have the sort of never-say-die spirit that I so admire in the people of the Vietnamese Mekong Delta HERE. These are people who make something out of nothing. They are people who will survive when the academic carpet is pulled from under their feet. I can't tell for sure, but I suspect that our society is no longer willing to handsomely remunerate academic samurai for being good at Studying (for the sake of it)... hence the carpet is already starting to move from under our feet.

About Me and My Little Boy
I took a long hard look at my Little Boy and wondered. "Will he have the skills to make it in the world when the academic carpet is pulled from under his feet?" I think I am proud of myself. We lost only 3 years to the PSLE paper chase. Before that, we explored life in all its richness from cooking to guerrilla farming to selling French fries at 10c PER fry to schoolbus mates. Going forward, I will strive to emulate Ting's parenting style, and go easy on the academics and heavy on character and life skills.

At the end of the day, it really is all about the money no? I'm taking an educated bet that academic prowess will become an obsolete path to success in the years to come. This is already happening in Korea. I need Little Boy to be numerate and literate... and then I need him to learn to be like Ting's 2 sons. And that should ensure that my Little Boy will know how to hustle up a living for himself in his world of the future, no matter what carpet is pulled out from under his feet.

Little Boy wanted to start a rabbit farm and sell baby rabbits to pet shops. That was BEFORE my lunch with Ting so I offered him the choice of academic courses with an online US high school. He picked 2 modules... World Geography and Economics. When he's done with that, I think I will help him start his rabbit farm.

We prepare our children for the world they will live in.... not for the world we parents came from. In the next post, I will address how I have been preparing my kids for a future that only they will know.

Part 3 of this series of posts is HERE.

The Problem With Fulfilling Academic Potential

This post is not about parents who stress their kids to perform beyond their ability. This post is about parents with kids who CAN handle academic material beyond their years. Like mine.

For the past many years, loving parents have gone the step of enriching their children's academic ability by challenging them with more complex academic material whenever they see that their kids are ready to move ahead of their peers. Why not eh? After all, the child is capable and it is every parent's desire to help their children fulfill their potential. Besides, there are definite advantages to encouraging academic precocity.

(1) Firstly, schools have a habit of testing advanced material without having taught any of it because they believe that every school exam must have the ability to discriminate at the very highest levels of performance (never mind if the highest levels of performance weren't taught by teachers in class). A child who has been exposed to material beyond his years (outside of school) has a good chance of topping the class. Hey... if my child can handle advanced material, why not?

(2) Secondly, such successes build confidence and self-esteem. So hey... if my child can handle advanced material, why not? Who doesn't want a confident child?

Besides, topping the class naturally leads on to stellar PSLE results which lead on to a place in a top school, which lead on to all sorts of learning opportunities (university Professor mentorships... international competitions of all sorts... international field trips... highly competent teachers with PhDs or who graduated from internationally renowned universities). Get into a top school and the smorgasbord of learning that stares you in the face is like Sunday champagne brunch at Clifford, The Fullerton Bay Hotel. The children earn their place in their Learning Buffet by being top scorers academically, in the same way adults earn their place in their Food Buffet by being top earners in their profession.

You know, before Little Boy hit Primary 4, I was a parent who baulked at exposing my kids to academic material beyond what the Teacher was teaching or had taught. What for? I told myself. They'll get around to learning it anyway, no? And my kids should be bright enough to understand what Teacher teaches in class without my interference.

Instead, I wanted my kids to get involved in housework... do chores for me... start small businesses... wash the toilet... practise guerilla gardening... play tricks on adults and each other... bake cakes... cut carrots. For me, schools were there to teach numeracy and literacy. It was up to me to teach my children how to cope with life in general - do housework, learn to get along, have a sense of humor, honor nature and the environment, be clean and live in clean surroundings.

Little Boy learning to cook.

Little Boy learning to value "courage against all odds" by pretending to be David against Goliath.

Little Boy learning to respect nature.

Little Boy learning the value of manual labour and clean milk bottles, even though we had a dishwasher back then. Little Boy had a cute round head with sticky out ears.

I realised in Primary 3, when Little Boy scored at the bottom of his class, that his exams tested material from Primary 4 (sometimes Primary 5). So I began to teach him material in advance. Little Boy had no problems at all with the accelerated teaching. He kind of just chomped through all that I gave him, and then asked for more. There were few, if any, spots of indigestion even though some material (e.g., Chinese) required long hours of chewing. I no longer asked "What for?". I jumped in and did what I could to get him up the class rankings. He eventually made it up the ranks to 2nd in class and even won an Edusave award last year. Clearly, Little Boy CAN handle the challenging material.

However, he had no time for his chores. He had no time to clean his room. He had no time to help with the dishes. He had no time to weed the garden for me. I had to be very creative with his time management (e.g. he lunched in the car on the way home, whilst listening to Chinese audio tapes) in order to give him Sundays off to play, and Friday evenings to watch Big Bang Theory with the family. He certainly had no time for the echinacea business that I gave him to run as his own. Holidays were spent covering material in advance or catching up on the years we had wasted on grooming him in every other way but academic. The Daughter, at the same age, made UDS1500 on a now defunct business called GiftAChineseName. We have deleted her original website but I was still able to find some traces of it on the internet HERE.

But Little Boy had no time. In 2010, 2011 and 2012, he had no time for anything EXCEPT academic pursuits because even Mommy Petunia, who scored in the 98th percentile of global GMAT norms could not score more than 28/40 for Little Boy's English compositions. Undoubtedly, it was still the top mark in class... but...

NO TIME to grow in any area but academic.

With the PSLE over and done with, I have time to reflect. Did I do the right thing by Little Boy? Should I have helped him aggressively to tackle his academic load knowing that if I didn't give him time... and help, he would do very badly at PSLE and begin to think himself lacking in academic talent... suffer blow after blow to his self-esteem? Indeed, I told myself that if I had a younger child, I would start EARLY to teach in advance. How early? Oh well... as early as my child can take it. Is that wrong? What do readers think?

I have some thoughts of my own after talking to my blogger friend Blurting, but this post is getting too long...

Continue reading - HERE.