Kids should play, no kidding
The Straits Times
7 September 2012
While various moves to improve the quality of pre-school education, including the setting-up of a statutory board to oversee it, are welcome, it is ultimately the nature of parental expectations that will determine the experience of pre-schoolers. Parents need to be convinced that this phase is not about schooling and tuition. Kids simply need to play, explore and socialise at this stage, no kidding.
One reason why over-achieving Singapore parents are kiasu (afraid to lose) is that the education system might be inadvertently promoting this attitude, not by design but via the practices of some teachers.
In a recent blog entry, Member of Parliament Hri Kumar Nair hit the nail on its head when he traced parental anxieties to a lack of clarity among parents over just what their children are expected to know when they go to school. As many parents believe pre-school is a preparatory step to primary school, they opt to over-prepare their children, engaging tutors or turning to enrichment programmes to ensure they can keep up in class.
Worse, some teachers encourage parents to seek tuition for children who are said to be falling behind others in their class. But schools should be the place that children are taught the prescribed curriculum, rather than have this role outsourced to tuition centres. Besides, it is much better for children to learn at their own pace than for schools to produce a generation of neurotic achievers.
One cannot blame parents for doing what they believe will give their children an advantage, such as seeking pre-school courses that aim to boost Primary 1 performance. Parents might be reassured if there was greater clarity on the desired educational outcomes at Primary 1, and if they are assured that schools will stick to the syllabus and not assume that the curriculum has been covered in preschool. The statutory board to oversee pre-schooling can contribute substantially by educating parents and teachers about best practices here and elsewhere. As important as research into pedagogical approaches is the need to help shape parental expectations, and the mindsets that create them.
The competitive aspect of the education system might lie at the root of such parental anxieties. While competitiveness undoubtedly sharpens Singapore's educational and economic edge, pre-school is not the place to focus on performance. Pre-school offers an excellent opportunity to put into practice what the eminent American intellectual Noam Chomsky recalled of his early school years - the awareness that, "if competing at all, you were competing with yourself", not with others. One payback of making the pre-school years enjoyable is that it might help parents to enjoy the early parenting years.
1. Argue for and against the proposition that pre-schoolers should not have tuition.