My Take on Schools

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.



  1. Tin says:

    Hey Rachel
    are you coming back to Singapore for good? Welcome back!!! (despite the mixed feelings about the return and the education system)

    Like you, I’m also not very keen in sending the kids to school at an early age. Xuan only went to school at age 4 for her K1. I let her go mainly to socialise and not so much to learn the ABCs. Most importantly I don’t want to jeopardise her health at such a young age. Going to schools means more sickness for the poor child. Moreover kids nowadays are deprived of the lot of fun we had when we were younger. I wish they can more of these before they were thrown into the cruel reality of life. Sigh! Life is such. Sometimes, I even contemplate on home schooling for both kids… but I’m not sure how that would work out.. so right now, I’m also going with the flow. *sigh*

    Rachel : Hey Tin, thanks for sharing. Hopefully will be back for good 🙂

  2. Ann says:

    I was also wondering if you were coming back fro good (considering you were talking about education) or for holiday!

    Ya, got to admit, heard Spore schooling is very very competitive!

    Rachel : Hey Ann, hopefully coming back for good. Maybe ultimately, we do have a choice to opt out from this competition.

  3. Spore Male says:

    Sorry ppl but it seems to me that u’re all speaking of your own fears probably from your personal childhood experience *lol* Spore sch competitive?The only grouse i had was the curriculum was boring stuff,esp for my generation.I’m glad dat they’ve included more projs rather than rote learning.C’mon,if there’s any stress or pressures,it’s probably the parents themselves.So refrain from keeping up with the joneses and everything’ll be A-ok 😉

  4. Rachel says:

    Spore Male,
    S’pore shcools may not be competitive for you. But it does not seem that way to us nor others. Check out the news. Ppl are calling it too tough. Ppl send their kids to endless enrichment classes one after another. It seems to me that this enrichment class industry is the only one that is not feeling the full effects of the recession. You got to ask yourself why do they do that? Why is a 4 year old expected to be able to write in nursery school? I don’t even remember touching a book at 4 years old much less write.

    And since you are presumably not from our generation, you probably know nothing about our generation.
    ‘Schools during our time were not competitive’. Yes,
    ‘it was quite boring but competitive’, no not really. I had a great time when I was a kid, in fact I still remember it vividly because it was so good.
    And since you are again not from our generation, you probably won’t understand the pressures parents might face. You probably won’t understand what it’s like to be a parent too. So you should go ask your parents what were their fears and hopes for you as you were growing up so that you can get an little inkling.
    Yet, you will never understand until you become one yourself. So, you know what? I suggest that you keep your self righteousness and your “you know it all” attitude to yourself because it speaks very poorly of you.

  5. thefarmerfiles says:

    Ahhh we all just want the best for our very precious “gold” our precious children. I too am pondering our choice for the education of our children with our impending move.

    Rachel : hi the farmerfiles, I share your sentiments.

  6. Florence says:

    Well, I had the same sentiments about public//private school thou Singapore education is far better than Malaysia!

    Maybe you wanna try homeschooling? 🙂

    Rachel : Hi Florence, I did consider homeschooling mainly because we foresee frequent relocation due to my husband’s job. However so far, after trying out public school, we love the fact that Malcolm is given a chance to learn to handle and deal with problems he faced in school. So for the time being, I shall shelf my idea on homeschooling.

  7. Karen Yee says:


    I can understand your fears, especially since you and Malcolm have experience a far more open system of early childhood education in Paris. I agree that some of the local preschools here are focusing alot on academics rather than play eventhough many claim they are not worksheet base. My reason for sending Ethan to school as young as 20 months was also for the mere reasons of socialisation and adaptation. Having visited several schools before I made my decision was something I never regretted. You will certainly find one that will meet your criteria. Worry not and welcome back!! 🙂

    Rachel : Hi Karen Yee, thanks for sharing your experience. yeah probably I will have to try and find that perfect fun place for my boy when we get back.

  8. Rachel says:

    I am waiting for the day when the government starts incorporating the so called ‘real world learning’ in the education system. Even so, I don’t think things are going to change much. Spore will still be a meritocracy based.
    We are still just going to end up with a bulk of adults 20+ years from now that are book-smarts, but totally lack in EQ, initiative, personality or creativity.

    The question is do we want to keep with with societal expectations or doing what is best for our child? We need to make that choice to raise our children to be morally good people, not just one who focuses on moving to the top of the social ladder.

    It’s not easy being a parent. And being in Singapore sure makes it harder.

    P.S – Sounds like “Spore male” is another born in the 80s kid. Not that I have anything against them. Just that they all act and think the same.

    Rachel : Hi Rachel, thanks for sharing your view. Totally agree with you on raising our children to be morally good people. Of course some may argue that morally upright and being at the top of social ladder is not mutually exclusive. So is climbing up the social ladder really that important ? maybe if that is how a person define success and happiness.
    MOE may have a great vision but in reality, the result can be very different. Maybe more effort should be put into the implementation part?
    Singapore is meritocracy based with too much emphasize on academic credentials and with little or no emphasize on experience and expertise.
    Need expertise ?! Ship them from overseas.
    Need creativity ?! Start training now to churn out more entrepreneurs.
    I agree it’s not easy being a parent, even harder to be the parents we want to be but I believe WE CAN DO IT 😉

  9. Angeline says:

    With a teacher background, a student, a mother of 2 pre-school kids, can I share my 2cents?

    Times have changed and the system in Singapore too. Just last year, the school was still teaching my elder one how to read and write.

    This year, the system changed. The focus has become nurturing the child to be a self-motivated learner. Received the curriculum’s details just 3 days ago… and it says it all, they do more hands-on stuff instead of the usual paper and pencil work…

    but seriously, it all comes down to one thing. Which centre is the child in? cos’ I have friends’ kids in a school who gives 8 spelling words every week when they are only 4 years old. The children were so stressed, they cried and feared when the word ‘school’ was mentioned….

    yet, my elder one didn’t and will not have spelling for this last pre-school year of his.

    some kids can handle the pressure, some can’t. One human is just different from the one sitting next to him, isn’t it?

    its about a perfect match between the centre and the child… but to find such a match is no easy task too…it comes with luck as well…

    Rachel, are you coming back for good? so many have asked, but you haven’t answer….

    Rachel : Hey Angeline, thanks for sharing. r your boys in private preschool? Looks like I have to start hunting for the perfect match.
    oh yes, we are coming back, hopefully for good. Fingers crossed!

  10. Spore Male says:

    Haha..relag gal,ur cow temper’s still hot as i’m not pretending to be mr know-all,jus testing ur reaction ;p i’m definitely of ur generation n i meant sch’s not competitive during my time,jus dat wad was taught’s boring,oso dun think our parents were dat anxious abt our education 😉 seriously,i think u’ve been away from here for too long.Although i’m not a parent but i’ve got peers who are young parents and they sent their toddlers to interesting programmes which stimulate their children’s learning interests rather than rote learning.I know i wud get flame again for saying this but u’re becoming over-protective of your kid.C’mon it’s a jungle out there,it’s time for him to do his walkabout if u know wad i mean 😉

  11. Karen Yee says:

    We have to be careful of many so-called stimulating programs for kids too. Many as I have seen, are merely training the child hard to memorise stuff at speed, reading at speed and parents who send their kids to these brain power boosting programs think they are doing the right thing. Memory and speed reading are not the only tool to success in life. Why are our preschools still so worksheet based eventhough they try to steer away from it? Well, majority of the parents are still asking for them…they feel insecure to see no concrete stuff being brought back from school, they fear their toddlers learn nothing in school, they fear their money going down the drain….so preschools here are still facing the pressure from their clients (the parents). It will surely take awhile for things to change completely. 🙂

  12. Hoonie says:

    stimulating programs for pre-schoolers can be as simple as a walk in the park. letting them help out in the kitchen. playing with sand, dirt, mud. It’s just whether YOU have the time to do it with your child. Something which i think most Singaporeans, sadly, do not have the time to do. We are so caught up in our work, our job that we leave the upbringing of our children to a grandparent, a helper, a nanny. Does your child cry for you when he/she needs something? Do you understand what your toddler is saying, or does someone have to translate it for u?

    Frankly, I do not like the education system in Singapore. My eldest son starts P1 this year. I haven’t felt the stress yet… but i’m just taking everything at its pace. He’s only P1 now! I did however sign him up for Mindchamps. So does that make me a ‘kiasu’ parent? I do not believe in tuition though. Why Mindchamps? It is the learning method. I think training the left and right brain to work together does make a difference. What you learn at tuition should be learnt at sch. They need time to play! He started formal school only when he was 4.. and that was in USA. It’s only a 3 hour class, twice a week. He’s not slower than his peers now? He knows how to read, how to add. But he also knows about volcanoes, desert plants, geysers, and bats.

    Just this week, I picked up my 2nd boy from childcare and since there’s just abt half an hour break to picking up the elder boy, I decided to just park by some grass. Let the 2nd and 3rd boy run on the grass, look at leaves, they were fascinated by the ‘touch-me-nots’! The next day, we sat on the grass, lied on it and chat, beside a concrete park. I bet people jogging along the track must be thinking ‘aiyoh, so dirty’… hahahaha… didn’t we rolled on the grass? played in the mud? and lived to tell the story? grass is NOT dirty. it is nature. Do you know that man-made things will harm you more? Go check out my blog.. now i’m inspired to write something… hahaha…

  13. Rachel says:

    Hi Karen, thanks for sharing from another perspective. It sounds like a vicious cycle. Don’t expect everyone to think the same, but do hope that I can stick to my belief in raising my child.
    By the way, I pop by your site, really like the way you write 🙂

  14. Rachel says:

    oh hoonie girl, I can’t say it better! We love the walk in the park, the cooking, the sand, the dirt, the mud, the grass! oh and the geysers and volcanoes! WE LOVE THEM ALL!
    thanks for sharing!

  15. Rachel says:

    Hey spore male,
    my innate temper is reserved for the privilege few.
    Now we know who are the people lining the pockets of these early childhood educators. So are the kids interested or are the parents just trying to be ahead? I don’t remember having to pay a single cent, much less a premium to get my senses stimulated when I was a toddler.
    u r entitled to your own judgment.

  16. Leonny says:

    Hi Rachel!

    I share similar thoughts as what you’ve shared too! About the schooling system here in Singapore, about the lack of ‘play’ time there and strong emphasis on academics achievements, etc.

    That’s why, as for us, we try to spend time with the kids doing all sorts of other things that may seem simple but not ‘academical’. As shared by Hoonie, it may even be as simple as a walk in the park, helping out in the kitchen, playing with sand and stuff.

    To me, finding the right balance is not always that easy, but I think in the long run, the strong family bond – achieved through quality time spent with each other – will better build the character of the child and better prepare the child for what lies ahead in life.

    Academics is important, but life is not just about academics and achievements.

    Anyway thanks for sharing Rachel! 🙂


  17. byihui says:

    Wow, so many respondants! Can I have my turn? daughter is in full-day childcare since two plus and she loves going to school for the play, for the friends, for the teachers etc. I’m thankful I found a school that’s got loving teachers and an established curriculum that I dun think stresses my daughter out.

    Although she misses me, I can see she’s happy and developing well in school. I managed to find myself a part-time job (intro by ex-colleague) that takes up my morning so that I continue to feel connected to society and to earn some pocket money, comes home in the afternoon to settle the housework and cook her dinner, and basically leave my nights free with my daughter doing things together like drawing, reading, playdoh etc. I think both of us end up happier becos we get a break from each other and therefore appreciate each other and the time spent together more. Terrible 2 Tantrums greatly reduced firstly becos we were not seeing each other 24-7 anymore n also we enjoyed hearing her sing songs she learnt from school n telling me the things she did with her teachers etc. Her energy was also well expended so her bedtime need not be so late anymore.

    I’m not sure if I wil ever homeschool my daughter, although its always something lingering in my mind as it’s definitely something I may have to opt for if my husband is posted overseas. But when I see her enjoying the interaction with her friends in school, learning mandarin from her teachers in a manner she can never pick up staying at home with me, I thought its just better (in our case) for me to supplement her learning rather than keep her home with me full-time. But at the same time, I appreciate that parents love to spend much of their time together with their child thru homeschooling. It’s therapeutic 🙂

    Rachel : Hi Byihui, thank you for sharing. Lucky u to find the perfect match for your daughter!

  18. Angelia says:

    yeah..the pressure given to the kids from a young age is idea of having my kid attend school early on is so that he can socialise with other kids too especially since im a wohm. but children are pretty adaptable..aidan enjoyed school tremendously and looked foward to going everyday, even on spelling days!

    you are right..there isn’t a perfect education. we just have to make the best with what there is to offer and as parents, to not add unnecessary pressure to the child…

  19. Rachel says:

    Hey Angelia,
    Aidan is such a jovial boy! yeah guess we just have to learn to make the best with what we have and I think u r doing it very well.

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