So we are heading back to tropical Singapore in a few months’ time and I am having mixed feeling about our return.
One part of me is happy and excited about the reunion with family and friends and another part of me is fearful about the education system that Malcolm is going to face back home. I am but a typical Singaporean, born and bred in our oh-so-familiar system. Being overseas kind of give me a breather, to be away from the competition, from the comparison and from the race. I am glad that I find space to ponder on issues which may seem so obvious but without a stronger belief that comes from within, it may just be another session of regurgitation from the text which may soon crumple and fall. I have watched this video, thanks to Pauline, whom I met at a homeschooling workshop back in 2007. I have read this article Take Your Time, Son and I admire Valerie for her conviction in her belief .
I must say that I have never been very anxious about sending Malcolm to school. For a while, I believe in keeping him by my side for as long as I could for I know when the day comes for him to formerly go school, he will be doing so for the next 10-15 years. I know the luxury of time we spend together will soon be gone.
I enjoy grocery shopping with him, I enjoy having Macdonald’s breakfast on a weekday morning with him, I enjoy having the whole children’s section at Borders to ourselves, I enjoy basking in the sun at East Coast when the whole world is working and in school, I enjoy sharing our favorite cheesecake on the busy streets of Orchard Road, watching the world goes by. I enjoy his company.
During our return to Singapore in 2007, we decided to put Malcolm in school. Not so much for him to learn his ABCs and 123s but more so that he could socialize with other kids and get a glimpse into school life. So at 3 1/2 year old, Malcolm went to school for the first time. He was excited in the beginning but later resisted when he realized that it was going to be a routine. He was not really crazy over school and I must confess that neither am I.
My distaste stemmed from the fact that the school stresses academic performance even at a tender age. There were a few incidents that led me to that conclusion which I will not be elaborating. But basically, the school expects a 4 year old to be able to write perfectly without making mistakes. The school offers music, art and phonics enrichment classes in the afternoon and Malcolm was encouraged to join since he was only in school for a mere 3 hours in the morning unlike most of his classmates who were there for the whole day. I declined.
Over a very incidental conversation with the teacher, I realized that parents were expected to teach their kids how to write at home so that they could do so in school. To me, it defeats the purpose of sending the kids to school. Such expectation may be the reason why many parents feel that their children need to be ‘ahead’ in their learning, so that they could catch up with their work in class.
Malcolm’s first stint of Singapore school life lasted for 6 months. Within the 6 months, he brought back numerous homework and I lost count of the number of projects that parents were supposed to do together with the kids. Soon after that, we came over to Paris.
The french schools were a vast difference from schools back home. Rain, shine or snow, the kids play at the playground, not once but twice everyday. Malcolm hardly do any writing in class except his own name. Every week, he will lug back some drawings , yet another aircraft or rocket with unfinished colorings. Crafts and projects were always done in school. He never had to bring back work. He enjoys his lesson in class but because he doesn’t speak their language, he has a tough time making friends at the playground. Each day, we look forward to hearing him tell us that he has fun at the playground.
From my experience, the french schools are centered around free play and crafts while the schools back home focus more on training children to excel academically.
Whether academically inclined or free play and crafts centered. We want Malcolm to face the challenge that awaits him. It is like dealing with the nasty kids at the playground. It is sad but true that the society that we live in consist of good and bad. Schools may just be a miniature real world for him to learn the skills that he eventually needs.
It struck me that there will never be a perfect education system, no matter where we are. Society will never be perfect either. This is a fact that we need to accept and thus equip our child with the right values and skills to deal with reality and be happy. I don’t think the formal education system in Singapore is the best, but neither do I think that it is a failure. More importantly, I want my child to learn that there is more to life than the rat race or academic excellence.