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Monday, November 12, 2012

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.


2 said...

6 years ago, when my elder girl was 3 years old, Flashcard, right/left brain training etc were a big hit (they are still a big hit now) but I told myself, my kids will have none of these training cos she would not need them..she will be able to learn from school when the time comes..when she entered P1, our nightmare started cos she was weak in all subjects, could not read, could not form proper sentence, could not do maths. And by P2, I had to seek help from tuition center...taking tuition in English/Maths..And now she is in P4, coping better though not in top class, but not in the last class...but imagine the self esteem she has suffered earlier cos she could not produce a decent writing like her peers when she was in P1. The school teachers did not humiliate her..they kept telling me it is okay it is normal..but that is not come 20+ gals could do it while the remaining 10= students could not? My elder gal kept thinking she is not good enough with MAths and English. And I also learnt from her, that tuition works for her because the materials from tuition center is better and similar to her exam papers. Topical test in school is easy, but SA1 and SA2 are challenging like tuition center worksheet. I spoke to her school teachers and all told me with consistent revision, attentive attitude in class - my gal will be ok. But tutors in tuition center said they usually gave material at levels beyond the school levels cos that is what PSLE is about. So which is right, which is wrong? I dare not take the risk..afterall the school only consider the SA results not the topical test results or the goodie attitudes when come to ranking right?? I die die must let my kid continue tuitioning..I have another toddler boy, now 2.5..been sending him to enrichment class since he was 12 months old to let him pick up phonics, simple counting etc..Am I Kiasu? in a way yes, but because I did not want him to follow his sister's footstep - having a earlier start in education will make his life a lot easier in Primary at 2.5yrs old, he can read simple 3 words hubby was amazed and thought he was gifted..I said all kids are gifted if you exposed time to the right material at the right time...wish I can do the same for my elder gal..

Petunia Lee said...

2 - Many thanks for your sharing. Your experience parallels mine except that mine happened MUCH later and I also know how to teach fast and intensively. I think we escaped failure by the skin of our teeth because by the time I realized, DS was in P4 already.

Like you... I dared not take the risk.

Blur Ting said...

Awww, Such a cutie!!

Petunia Lee said...

I miss him so much... that cutie.