How to be a less 'kiasu' parent
It's not the academics, but a child's character that makes the difference.
The recent changes in the PSLE scoring system has got many parents talking, complaining and for some, applauding. Some are saying that the new marking scheme isn't going to make it less stressful for the students. Some say it is going to be even more so than before. Don't misunderstand, I am not here to debate about the new system. I'm writing to talk about us- the parents.
Here's what I think, even if the schools and ministry roll out an easy curriculum tomorrow, parents would still be pushing their children. The problem is our 'kiasuism'. It is part of the force that drives the stress on our kids. As long as we don't shed our tiger mom (or dad) mindsets, our children and their children will still face the stress of education however hard or easy it is.
Hence, while we push our ministry to change, we, the parents, need to change too. The way to change our mind set is to shift our perspectives- see things in another angle. I've been doing some reading in bid to change my own perspective and I've extracted some excellent points that may help us shed the tiger parents in us.
1. Perry preschool experiment
Sadly, it has become quite a norm that even our preschoolers are attending tuition. We all hope that by starting early we can give them that head start. But it is really effective?
Consider the Perry preschool project. This was an experiment aimed to improve the education standard of preschoolers in the lower IQ and income families.
What they did was to select a group of children from these families and randomly divided them into two groups. One group was drilled academically while the other was left alone. The result was that the first group did do better than in their academic then the latter. But wait, their intellectual abilities were measured again when they were in grade two to three. It was then that they found no or little difference between the two groups. It seemed that the early head start given to the first group did not help in the long term.
It is quite obvious what this means. Sending our children earlier for tuition classes does not necessarily make them smarter. Why then are we scrambling to send our kindergarteners for tuition classes? Shouldn't we let them spend more time exploring and playing instead?
2. Attributes that cannot be measured are better indicators of success
However, that is not the end of the experiment. The researchers found out that the group who were given the academic head start had less drop out rates and higher rate of successful careers. Why?
It is clearly not because they are more intellectual than their peers in the other group. They found out that through the training they had earlier on, these group of children picked up attributes like perseverance, grit and hard work. What does this say? Intelligence is not a indicator of success, it is having the right characteristics that counts.
The recent achievement of Joseph Schooling has got us all riled up. I believe besides having the natural talent for swimming, he also possesses the right attitudes. He's got the grit, the resilience and the passion that brought him this far. To be able to survive that kind of training he goes through, one must have the strength and perseverance for it. Talent alone won't be able to bring him this far.
I propose that it is the same for our children. Being intelligent won't instantly launch them into successful people. If they don't have the grit and the drive, they will only be as far as their intelligence bring them.
Putting that into thought, does it matter that our children are not in the top schools? Are our children really doom to fail if they do poorly in PSLE? Or is it more important that we spend time focusing more on honing the right attributes in our children?
3. Good grades do not equate to intellectual ability
Statistics show that Singapore students has one of the highest PISA (Programme for International Standard Assessment) scores in the world. This should make us proud because it seemingly shows that we are quite a bunch of smarties.
But embarrassingly enough, we have no Nobel Prize winners. So what happened? My take on this is, we are just very good at drilling ourselves in our studies. Having excellent academic results simply means that we are very good at memorising and mugging.
Of course this isn't true for some students who are naturally brilliant intellectually, but I dare say that it holds true most of the time. In view of this, is it worth it that we spend so much time raising A-grade children but we forget to raise creative children?
4. All the children will have a part in the community
Our obsession to rank our children inevitably make us pit our kids against the other. It creates a competitive and stressful environment for everyone. Parents and students in turn become less helpful to one another least their friends outdo them. Everyone is living for themselves.
Let's compare ourselves with the native tribes. They accept everyone as equals. To them every child will eventually play an integral role in the community, no one is better than another. No job is better than the other. Everyone chips in and get the job done. They work together, helping each other up and celebrate each other success as their own.
We should adopt the same mentality. Every job, every role is as important as the other. We should perceive that without each other, the society cannot function. Yes, even for the road sweeper, the community depends on him to keep the streets clean. It's just an important job as the banker in the office. It makes him no less better or worse.
This perspective will help us to be less obsessive in ranking our children and competing with on another. It will immediately ease the stress off our and our children shoulders. Better yet, it helps us to be a less discriminatory and an elitist society.
Shedding the tiger parents in us
The stress of our education does not come solely from the MOE. It is also us parents who get the motion going. It is a vicious cycle that won't break unless we start to drop our competitive attitudes.
I challenge Singapore parents to go on a quest to shed the tiger parents in them. We can do this by educating ourselves through books. Below are some excellent reads that may be able to help us. Most of the above points are extracted from the first two books in the reading list below:
- How Children Succeed, Paul Tough
- Free to Learn, Peter Gray
- Grit, The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth
- Taming the Tiger Parent, Tanith Carey
- Raising Kids for True Greatness, Dr Tim Kimmel (religious content)
If you are a tiger parent of a preschooler, I say slow down. Spend more time to get to know your young child instead and let her explore the world around her with her five senses. Tell yourself that she will never be a five or a six year old again. Let her enjoy her preschool years instead of spending time going from one tuition class to another which have proven to be ineffective.
To the tiger mom of a primary school student, yes I understand the stress, fears and worries you have. But let's stop and tell ourselves that regardless of their school results, it does not determine who and what they will be in the future.
Our role is not to have them get the As. Our role is to equip them with the necessary attitudes and attributes so that they can be confident adults.