Joseph Schooling

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Our hearts swelled with pride as we watched Joseph Schooling explode in the pool to win Singapore’s first Olympic gold. We could faintly hear cheering in the distance as Schooling punched the water on realising that he has beat his childhood idol and created a new Olympic record. As the Singapore flag was raised in Rio and our familiar Majulah Singapura was played, we could feel the celebratory mood all round Singapore. Yet, soon, we also heard murmurings that Schooling should just stay in the US because Singapore did little to contribute to this historic moment.

Did Schooling win because of the Singapore system or in spite of it? He had to pack his bag and go to boarding school and university in the US in order to get the training he needed. If his family was not well off, could he have gone on this path? In fact, his parents had to go to extraordinary lengths to fight the Singapore system to get a long term deferment for National Service. Some arguments could also be made that the Singapore system supported his quest for Olympic gold. Would Schooling have been successful if he was born somewhere else? Did Singapore not provide the environment for him to at least start his journey towards Olympic gold?

The fact remains that his parents went to extraordinary lengths to support Schooling. From getting him the best coach, deferment of his NS, uprooting him from the local school and sending him overseas. They did not limit themselves to what the country had to offer. They took things in their own hands and made things happen.

But, which olympic champion was not made through extraordinary actions, effort and a path less well trodden, both by the individual and his support structure? If we agree that champions are only made through extraordinary action and effort, then the question thus is how can we repeat this feat as a nation? Should we not facilitate the individuals and parents in making this extraordinary effort? Should we not make our system extraordinary to groom our future olympians. We can reduce the burden on the parents when they decide to take the path less travelled.

We have invested heavily in sports infrastructure and to try to encourage sports. We built a new Sports Hub, opened the Singapore Sports School, blew a fortune to host the Youth Olympics, etc. This was a good start. But it is time to move on and take the next step.

The Schooling family had enough fortitude to decide that swimming was a viable career path for Joseph. They had enough courage to go forth and do something totally different. Singapore has benefitted tremendously from their courage. What can Singapore do to create the conditions for our sporting talents to consider sports as a viable career path? We are indeed small and I am not sure how, but surely we can innovate and find a way?

While I am glad that our government is now showering attention on our newly minted Olympic gold medalist, I wish they could do more for athletes who wanted to try. I wish they not just show love to those who bring home medals. Perhaps it’s idealistic. But I wish our government is like the type of parent I strive to be. To bring out the best in our sons and daughters. To believe even if they can’t see (yet). Nurturing and supportive. Not mercenary and calculative.

There is a difference between our table tennis team bringing home medals and Joseph Schooling winning last week. The former probably stirred up more controversy than support from fellow Singaporeans.

We can identify with Joseph Schooling, a true blue Singaporean who was born and bred here. In fact his Eurasian heritage most aptly represent Singapore’s multiracialism. His success story is an inspiration to fellow Singaporeans. His parents probably went through the same anxiety when it came to choosing Primary school and Schooling taking his PSLE. They believed and were courageous enough to take the path less travelled. Schooling’s story was part of the Singapore story. His experience was part of the Singapore experience.

For a young multi-cultural and multi-racial nation that is becoming increasingly polarized along socio-economic and political lines, nation building is no mean task. For me, sports can be an integral part of nation building and that is why we should invest in sports and stop buying mercenaries to play for Singapore. It’s not just about winning. It’s how we get there, as a country, as a nation.

What do we really have to unite us? Singlish? National Service? The national anthem? A national dress? Food? Every time I meet someone from another country, I would be amazed at how proud they are of their history, traditions, culture, and things that make them unique. I tried many a times to find something uniquely Singaporean.

In recent times, I began to find anchors to the Singaporean experience that transcended all racial, religious, and social boundaries. One such anchor was the passing of our founding prime minister LKY. The memory of that week long mourning still brings back goosebumps. It reminded me of our unique experience and journey to the First World. I began to understand that what really makes us Singaporean is the unique Singaporean experience. Our own little histories, stories, idiosyncrasies, and traditions no matter how small and silly they may look.

In that 50.39 seconds that Joseph Schooling took to win the 100m butterfly, he didn’t just give us our first olympic gold medal, he made Singapore stronger as a nation as we rallied and cheered him on, regardless of race, language or religion.

There is no KPI for nation building. There is no direct economic return for nation building. It is not quantifiable or measurable. But it is the glue that bonds us together as a nation and do amazing things.

To the Schoolings, congratulations to your amazing win and thank you for making us stronger and prouder as a nation, as a Singaporean.

 
 
Here’s what Joseph’s 50.39s taught this mother

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We Should Encourage Reading In School

The National Library Board (NLB) recently launched the National Reading Movement, a 5-year comapaign which kicked off with a 2 month pledging drive to encourage all to Read More, Read Widely and Read Together. A few days ago, my boys brought home from school a sheet of paper. In it, parents were urged to attach a picture of us reading together and write a short reflection on reading as a family.

My boys go to a neighbourhood school and apart from the sheet of paper that they brought home, the school also initiated a program where recommended books from the library will be wheeled to the canteen during recess time. Students are encouraged to read during recess time.

It is good that the school is supporting this nation wide initiative to encourage students to read. But does the school really expect the kids to be reading during recess time? I know my kids won’t because they will be too busy gobbling down their food so that they can have time to play in the field.

My boys love to read and to be read to. My 6 year old started reading not too long ago. My elder boy is an avid reader and he told me that he had to hide his story book under his desk during lessons so that the teacher won’t find out. I suspect he rushes through his work most of the time so that he gets to read his book. I realised I might have a reading problem but I guess it’s a happy problem.

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Reading is an important skill for learning and a foundation for higher learning for any subjects, not just Maths and Science. It opens up a world of knowledge and imagination. Children should read not just textbooks or worksheets. They should read for pleasure and to gain knowledge in whatever topics that interest them.

One has to agree that in Singapore, a child is at the losing end if he doesn’t know how to read by the time he enters Primary school. How can he follow instructions on worksheets and solve maths problem sums when he can’t read? It is ironic that despite being such an important skill for learning, reading hasn’t been made part of the school curriculum or made compulsory in school.

Children who are lucky enough to have adults to read to them and are exposed to a wide variety of books since young will naturally pick up reading when they are about 6-7 years old. For those who are not so lucky, they most likely struggle with school work when they enter Primary school.

There are students in my boys’ class who have to depend on financial aid to buy food during recess time. These children do not have the luxury of owning books and having their parents read to them. Without a conducive environment at home, they need help from school to learn to read, gain proficiency in reading and hopefully inculcate a reading habit.

My boys’ school has a 10 minutes of reading time every morning before assembly, ie. if the kids arrive in school early enough. The kids get to go to the library with the class sometimes once a month, but mostly none. During recess, they are not encouraged to go to the library because the school is worried that they might disturb other classes which are having lessons. (recess time are staggered for different levels) The library is closed after school because they don’t have enough librarians to man the library. This means that students don’t have the option of going to the library while waiting for CCAs or other supplementary lessons to commence.

All these seem legitimate reasons for the school library to be grossly under utilized. I shan’t say that this is the case for all schools and I think ultimately it all boils down to the school’s ethos, whether the school believes that learning goes beyond getting good grades. It might not seem worthwhile to put in that kind of effort and resources for something that doesn’t contribute directly to the schools’ ranking and KPIs.

While I am glad that the MOE is making considerable change to the education system to encourage students to focus on their own learning instead of competing with their peers, I am skeptical that this will reduce the over-emphasis on academic results. I also have doubts that it will encourage students to focus on their own learning. Schools and students will continue to focus on what will help them get good results and consequently their choice of schools.

Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers ~ Harry S. Truman

In today’s world, knowledge is power. Learning shouldn’t stop after graduation day. Yet, I know many of us stop reading once we leave school. A local survey has shown that only 44 per cent of Singaporeans read one or more literary books in the past year. My anecdotal experience overseas tell me that many first world countries (e.g. France) have a much stronger reading culture than us.

If there is only one thing that MOE can do or fix, I think it is to strongly encourage a habit of reading in our students. I think MOE can do much to create a culture of reading among our young Singaporeans.

Allocate period to reading. Allow the students to read anything. Discuss what was read. Expand the quality and accessibility of the school libraries. Celebrate those that read and not frown on them as indulging in useless pursuits.

Doubtlessly, there is much to learn beyond books but books and the written word continue to be one of the most important sources of learning. There is so much knowledge captured in the written word and that’s what separates civilisation and primitive societies.

Nobody knows what the future holds. But we can prepare our children for the unpredictable future by equipping them with the ability to learn by themselves, to be avid readers and independent learners.

It might be too simplistic, but reading could help that child in my boy’s class who doesn’t have enough money to buy lunch in school and bridge the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

A book a week makes 52 a year. If we only get a little smarter after every book, we will be a whole lot smarter after a year. Extrapolate the results. To me, that’s what lifelong learning is all about.

 
 

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My Silly Boy

My 6 year old is a funny guy.
He has an infectious laughter and has his way of charming strangers with his smile.
He isn’t fazed by who’s nice and who’s not and he doesn’t sweat the small stuff.
like that day when a whole bunch of little guys “attacked” him in the school field
he took them down one by one, as he proudly put it
and next day had his own group of little friends fight back.
He plays fighting, the kind that bothers his elder brother.

A tough guy he might seem
He’s also the boy who will write you a note and surprise you with a handmade gift.

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He loves silly books and stories of Mr Men tickle him.
Asterix and Obelix are his favourite bedtime stories.
And from the older boys at home, he had learned to appreciate the subtle jokes of the 2 Gauls
He think that it is funny that Obelix thinks that Helvetia is FLAT
and he will say that peppered with gestures and all
It makes you wonder who’s funnier, Obelix or him

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Apart from Lego and ipad, trash is his next favourite plaything
He gathered a pile of them and told me they were gifts for my birthday and for Mother’s Day
In those boxes where my Thai mangoes, tea set, cookies and miscellaneous used to lie
I found doodles, love notes, paper puppets, heart shaped bookmarks, a silly book he wrote and more silly stuffs he made

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During our last holiday, he discovered that coffee stirrers made good toys.
I bought him a pack of ice cream sticks and he had many hours of fun making what he called ‘stick bombs’

In case you are as clueless as me
The challenge is to make the most intricate ‘stick bombs’ (no glue used) and watch them ‘explode’ when they hit the ground

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During our recent DIY project, he kept one of the left over wooden block, doodled some logos on it and made a game out of it.

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Sometime he will take his pile of trash and turn them into castles and forts for his Lego people

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Other times, he would churn out a TV complete with remote control

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On days when he feels inspired, he would play me a tune or 2 on his ukulele

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His brother and him made a little something for their Dad on Father’s Day
They don’t have a name for it.
Some scraps they spent a couple of hours putting together

They had LED lights saved from his Dad’s fallen drone
Some Arduino stuff they brought home from school and have them controlled by a computer program

They only managed to automate half of this dancing light thingy.
So the little brother had to be the manual controller controlling the other half
pushing 2 ends of a row of alkaline batteries that were tucked away from sight to make the dancing lights dance

Dad was of course exhilarated to receive the mobile disco along with
what looked like a jet plane that had crashed, all dancing to their favourite dance music.

 
 
This post was inspired by Auntie’s Pam Carnival Games who made some really cool carnival games using recycled materials!

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