If you think that anxiety in Singapore children only begins when they start taking examinations, then think again. It begins much earlier.
It was a piano recital for a group of 4 to 5 year olds. The children had played their pieces and were walking out of the music school. Parents were beaming with pride and the kids were happy with the candy, balloons and flowers that they received after performing.
This was with the exception of a little girl who walked out of the music school hesitantly. She had no flowers or candy. Her mother shoved her towards the lift and when the little girl looked up at her mother, her fear was almost palpable.
“Mummy, w..w..was it very bad? Are you angry?” she stammered.
And with that, her mother launched into a tirade about how awful the little girl’s performance was.
“You can’t even get something as simple as pressing a few keys right! I don’t know what you can possibly do. Are you sure you have been practicing?”
The little girl looked around her and her eyes welled with tears. She bent her head down and I could see her body trembling.
That’s how anxiety starts. Here’s another scenario.
Students receive their test papers. Some of them have not done well and burst into tears. Others become uncharacteristically reclusive and stare at the papers, ashen-faced.
Here is what they typically say when you try to console them.
I don’t dare to show my parents this. I don’t know what they will do.
This is similar to what happens when they finish an examination that they found tough. You can typically expect to hear this –
Die already lor. So difficult. Confirm fail. Die. How to tell parents?
Singapore has a world-class education system and our students are well known for excelling academically. In addition, many of our students are also multi-talented and shine in other areas such as sports, music and the arts. But there are high levels of anxiety in Singapore children.
Anxiety in Singapore children is a common problem.
You can’t really blame the students. Anxiety in Singapore children is no surprise given the tremendous amount of pressure most of them are placed under. Life in Singapore is a rat race, and parents do just about anything to give their children a head start.
While in other parts of the world preschoolers are skinning their knees and climbing trees, it’s not uncommon for our children to have tuition for every subject, music lessons, sports training and art classes from as young as 4 or 5 years old.
Children are placed in a pressure cooker environment and parents chide, punish and even remove privileges from their children when they fail to meet expectations.
But is anxiety in Singapore children always a bad thing?
While on one hand, too much stress and anxiety can be detrimental, damaging and even cause children and teenagers to harbour suicidal thoughts, you might be surprised to know that some anxiety and stress may not be as bad as you imagine it to be.
A study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) suggests that Singapore students experience high levels of anxiety.
The test required our students to respond to statements like,
I worry I will get poor grades at school. I feel very anxious even when I am well prepared for a test. I get nervous when I do not know how to solve a task at school.
The verdict? The level of anxiety in Singapore students is significantly higher than the OECD average for all the questions asked.
Singapore children face higher levels of stress and anxiety than other participants. | Image source: iStock
Across the other countries that the OECD studied, 66% of students said they were worried about poor grades while 86% of Singapore students worried about their grades!
76% of Singapore students stated that they feel anxious for a test in spite of preparing well for it. The OECD average for this is only 55%.
But the anxiety in Singapore students isn’t always a bad thing. At times, it is closely related to the fact that they are motivated and driven. In comparison to the OECD average of 60%, 82% of Singapore students mentioned that they wanted to top their class.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) also pointed out that the survey was based on responses from 15-year-olds. 15-year-olds are mostly Secondary 4 students set to take the N and O level examinations. This could explain the high levels of anxiety cited.
MOE noted that in the same survey, more than 8 out of 10 students said they enjoyed learning science.
While students are anxious about doing well in the Science examinations, their enthusiasm and enjoyment for the subject has not been dampened.
And as always, there are two sides to the coin. Research has proven stress at appropriate levels, to be strong motivating forces for children to do well. Overly high achievement motivation is also correlated with anxiety levels.
The ministry also assures that while it encourages students to be highly motivated to learn and achieve, they are well aware that this must never be at the expense of their well being.
Schools do put in much effort to make learning meaningful and holistic, as opposed to merely being exam-oriented.
Anxiety in Singapore children is a product of one’s expectations, or maybe even the parent’s expectations and the ability to manage challenges.
Schools thus play a cardinal role in making students look beyond achievement and to manage their expectations in relation to their strengths and weaknesses. They also hope to build more resilient and positive mindsets in students.
Teachers play an important role in helping students to manage their stress and look beyond just academic achievements.
Again, the findings aren’t surprising considering the nature of our examination obsessed education system and society. Parents end up having to pressure their children to ensure that they fall behind.
MOE has introduced some measures to lessen stress and anxiety in Singapore children. Among other measures are the changes to the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) scoring system and aptitude-based admission into post-secondary institutions.
This is in the hope to lessen anxiety and increase students’ enjoyment and appreciation of learning.
So mums and dads, the takeaway from this is that yes, there is anxiety in Singapore children so parents must first manage their expectations, then work with their children to set realistic goals.
If you and your children manage the stress well, it can turn out to be a positive motivating factor that pushes them to be the best version of themselves.
Source: The Straits Times