Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Breeding excellence via a culture of fear

I was supposed to collect my kids' report cards from their school last Sunday morning but since I could not make it, I left a message to their teachers that I'd see them the following Tuesday, which was this morning.

Academically, my kids never give me any cause for complaints because they have always managed to do quite well in all their subjects, getting an average score of 80% and above.

And I'm rather proud that they have managed to cope with the very strict demands of studying in an exam-oriented environment where you get hit on your hands (hard!) with a ruler for every single spelling mistake that you make during the weekly spelling test. That's how perfect you have to be in order that the system can continue to churn out scores of straight As students in public exams.

Once, a friend of mine found J in tears because she got whacked 5 times for getting 5 of the 10 spelling questions wrong. And she was only in Year 2 then and Chinese was her weakest subject. Well, what did she learn from that lesson? Paranoia, I'm afraid. And a love-hate relationship with the language of her ancestors.

Initially, I had my doubts about enrolling them in such a fear-based school environment but my husband thinks that if they have a secure environment at home, they will stand to learn great life lessons from the demands and expectations placed on them by an external source. In other words, they will toughen up when given no choice but to adapt.

I wish the guardians of Chinese vernacular education can shed some of the rigidity that is so ingrained in the system because it always works against those who are more inclined to think out of the box. In fact, I'd say it does more harm than good to the non-conformist.

But that's just wishful thinking, I guess.

Much like the heavy load of schoolbags laden with workbooks that they carry on their backs to school each day, nothing really changes year in year out.


The teacher who handed me J's report card was pleased with her academic performance but wished to gripe about her less than perfectly beautiful handwriting. And she needs a haircut because the back of her hair has touched down on her collar.

When I saw my son's teacher, she too has no complaints about his test results but wishes that he could improve on his handwriting and at the same time, tone down his exuberance and chattiness. And, he ought to have another haircut because his hair stuck out when she ran her fingers through the top.


No wonder Ellie, who scored 7 straight As in her UPSR exam last year was so glad to finally ditch the system for good.

Now, she is having a whale of a time in her new multi-racial Methodist secondary school of her choice. She ran the 100m and 200m events during her school sports day and is active in a number of clubs including drama and Interact club. She looks forward to going to school each day and comes home happy and full of stories to tell of classroom happenings.

She positively glows in her new environment. Along with that, she is also thinking of dropping out of Chinese lessons because she too had a love-hate relationship with it throughout her primary years.

And yes, she is finally free to choose to grow her hair long. But surprise, surprise. She did not feel that it is a style that suits her personality and opted instead to keep it at shoulder length.

The thing is, it is now HER choice. And, it was an empowering feeling for her.

And for the young ones who watch her blossom in awe.



Blogger mumsgather said...

At the end of the day, do you regret sending them to Chinese school or do you think it was a good thing for them?

I just registered my child for chinese school after much contemplation but I'm still contemplating!!!

27/3/07 16:17  
Blogger Anak Merdeka said...

Hello there! I suppose this must be your first comment here. Allow me to extend a warm welcome to a fellow mom .. :-)

Frankly, I do not regret the decision at all once I take into account the only other alternative that I could afford to take.

J has a kindy friend whose mom put her in a national school and from the stories I heard, I feel that I'd rather bear with the lesser of 2 evils here.

Although it can be tough to understand and conform to the rigid rules imposed on most students of Chinese primary schools (esp. so for parents who never studied under such conditions before), I have to agree with my husband on this.

My kids do take it all in their stride after the initial period of adjustment in Year 1 and I suppose, sometimes it is their mom who complains more than them.

I don't know if it is the system that have subdued them but they mostly shrugged off the unpleasant bits and get on with what must be done, even if it takes them all night to finish their tonnes of homework.

And I think such an attitude will serve them well when they grow up and join the workforce. But that's just my opinion because ultimately, I still do WISH to see some changes which will make the whole experience of studying in these schools a happier and more holistic one for the kids.

27/3/07 20:15  
Blogger Twisted Heels said...

Hello AM! You've finally blog!

I come from a national school, and compared to what I seen my younger cousins went through in primary chinese schools, I respect them because they have to be hardworking but in a way, pity that children nowadays don't get to play. Heheh.

But now most of them were sent to national secondary school, they do tell me they prefer it this way (and oh, that long hair thing is a giveaway if you're english or chinese ed!)

If it was my choice, I'd preferred my parents sent me to a chinese school. At least I would have known how to speak, read and write a lil mandarin!!

But it's okay. I came to UK and I learnt how to speak mandarin!

27/3/07 22:19  
Blogger Maverick SM said...


All my 3 children goes to national-type school; no problem. It's family discipline and attention to their weaknesses. The school, vernacular or kebangsaan don't make a difference. It's the parent, All my 3 kids are straights As child and without pressure from school and parent. It's their own effort; we just instill and motivate; the rest, up to them.

28/3/07 00:11  
Blogger Anak Merdeka said...

Yeah ZR, I too wished that my parents had sent me to Chinese school because I would have loved being able to read & write in Mandarin. This is one language that
is not easy to learn in adulthood. And this is also one of the main reasons for sending my kids to Chinese schools.


Dear Mave, I applaud you & your wife for successful parenting! That really matters more than all the certs that you have collected so far, eh?? :-)

I suppose you are right. It is really up to the kid at the end of the day. We can provide them with the best care & guidance but sometimes, it takes more than that to motivate them.

Modern parents take on too much responsibility for their kids, don't we?

28/3/07 13:34  

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