Smiling School-blues Away (Wai Leng, 2001)


Continuing our series of previously published articles on FAMILYPLACE, might be useful to some. FamilyPlace (a project funded by DAGS) was the predecessor of  Learning Beyond Schooling when our children were very young and reflected our thoughts as young(er parents).


The long and wonderful holiday has just ended and more than 500,000 Year One pupils had a taste of what formal schooling is all about. The Education Ministry s three-month  transition-cum-caring programme received much media attention although not all schools adopted it. The programme is an effort to help 6 and 7-year-olds get used to the primary school environment so as they are not too shocked from their leap from pre-school to Primary One, which admittedly is a wide gap in terms of environment and teaching methodology. The programme also supposedly  discouraged testing for streaming purposes but recommends that teachers carry out evaluation of the pupils instead so that remedial strategies for weaker pupils can be done . (The Sunday STAR, Jan 7, 2001)


Most parents would welcome this as a positive move albeit a very small one compared to the extent of education reform that is needed to pull our much battered education standards up from its doldrums which had plummeted over the decades. What parents really want to hear is a message of hope from the education ministry that a collective vision is in place for the greater enhancement of the quality of its system, curriculum, teaching and administration that has a direct impact on millions of students who attend public schools here. A nation without a vision is a nation lost. This is reflected in the restlessness of its youths and the stressed out population of its students, teachers and parents.

Should we continue to stream students according to their academic achievements which tends to benefit the fast-learners and side-line the slower ones? Should we continue to impose heavy burden on students with heavy textbooks because of our leaning towards text-based knowledge rather than ideas or concept-based ones? Should the student-friendly approach for Year One students be expanded to benefit all students so that learning becomes more interactive and enjoyable? The outcome of the programme remains to be seen as we watch how teachers cope with so much challenges with so little resources and our track record on experimental programmes have not been very encouraging.

The dramatic rise in cases of student suicides and even murders in several First World countries are telling us an important message  that we should not follow the same path of creating  pressure-cooker schools that only wants conformity in their students. The education ministry may be taking the right step in lessening the pressure of schooling on the young pupils. However, much more needs to be done for it to be truly effective and for starters, perhaps they could look into solving the problems of overloaded schoolbags and over-crowded classrooms and overworked but underpaid teachers. Let us hope that these issues are being tackled effectively so that our students do not get a raw deal as they usually do.

By merely asking pupils to adopt a smiling face when confronted with problems as advised by the Education Minister recently seems rather simplistic. But perhaps that is better than crying over spilt milk or harping over old issues. Judging from the lack of real progress in our schooling system, perhaps we parents should heed the minister s advice and put on our best smiles as we watch our children struggle with their heavy loads on their backs. There isn t much that we can do anyway.

Or is there?

Chong Wai Leng

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